“ What gives me hope is that everybody has the same challenges . Everybody wants to move forward . They don ’ t stand still . We ’ re talking about human resources ; recruitment is very hard . Automation is something we think about ; the steel industry and construction are old business sectors . We are probably late [ with this ], according to some other business sectors . I can see people are moving forward and the technology is there . Since we all want to move that way , it will happen . This will bring the steel industry to be more competitive against sectors like wood structures and concrete structures .”
Careful , strategic evolution is critical , according to Tony Bégin , a respected , senior member of the Québec CANAM Group and one of the early founders of SPN with Mark Dutil .
“ At CANAM , my role is looking after the structural steel side of the business and collaborating collectively with our customers ; joining forces together . The binding [ together ] of the people who got involved [ from the ] first is still there . The evolution was always that they were sticking together , to get stronger as a group , [ in order ] to go through tough times and recessions . That has been the base . Now , the evolution is constantly to understand the needs and challenges the members face together , to adapt . It ’ s constant if you want to survive . It ’ s like the antelope and the lion in the jungle . If you don ’ t run , you will be catch /[ caught ],” Bégin said , with his peers erupting in laughter .
Humour aside , Bégin nailed it .
STICKING TOGETHER IS THE BEST WAY FORWARD THROUGH CHALLENGES THAT INEVITABLY LIE AHEAD IN THE STEEL INDUSTRY . THAT ’ S THE BOTTOM LINE .
The core fabric of SPN is its strength in numbers ; working as a collective . It ’ s why most members have stayed with SPN for 20-plus years , and it ’ s also why a new generation is eager to become part of something bigger and more resilient than themselves .
Jeff Bas is the chief operations officer of Victoria Steel in Oldcastle , Ontario . Bas is the youngest board member and started out interning at CANAM . He ’ s the third generation from his family to help steer Victoria Steel . Bas has grown up in the industry . He represents the future of SPN .
“ To be honest , right now , I ’ m doing a lot of listening . I ’ m trying to learn as much as I can . Mike [ Holleran ] had a good point , ‘ What does good look like ?’ It ’ s basically trying to define where you ’ re at , where you ’ re heading , and if you ’ re heading in a positive direction . That ’ s the question I find myself asking in the day-to-day operations at work .”
Answering those questions accurately has become more attainable since Bas joined SPN and the board . Like all members , he now has access to the collective wisdom of the well-established and experienced peer group , people living and working across Canada and the United States . That ’ s also key for past chair Tom Skinner , vice president of finance at R . K . O . Steel in Dartmouth , Nova Scotia . Skinner leads the board ’ s Finance Committee .
“ It ’ s more than the rebates . You can crunch the numbers — and I like numbers , because I ’ m an accountant — but that ’ s only a piece of it . It ’ s the level of engagement that you can get with the people in your industry from all over North America . We all suffer the same pains . Hearing other people ’ s pains and what ’ s causing them , gives you a comfort level [ and the realization ] that maybe you can ’ t fix it in the short term , but we ’ re all in it together .”
That sentiment rings truer today — across provinces , regions , and countries — because of the challenges both SPN and the industry are still facing , according to Ed Cote , the board ’ s vice chair .
Cote is the president and general manager of Whitemud Ironworks Group Inc ., based in Edmonton , Alberta . Cote has been a member of SPN since Dutil first founded it in 1995 .
“ If you were just a few members in an association , it would have died in the lean periods . But because there are so many members , and so much passion around what we do — as a body — you ’ re able to cross that massive divide . We have a very engaged board , president , and employees who want this to be something new , vital , and relevant . We ’ re investing in it . It ’ s always that constant search for finding new value for the members and the organization .”
Understanding where an organization or industry is heading requires examining the history . SPN ’ s philosophy , from the get-go , will be key to moving forward , according to CANAM ’ s Mike Holleran :
“ The ‘ N ’ in SPN keeps us together . A rebate program is good , but there are thousands of those . The networking aspect is the glue . Look around the room [ at the Halifax hotel ]. In that stable core of 52 fabricator members , you ’ ll see [ that ] a core group has been there from the beginning , with 20-plus years in the network . It ’ s the collective wisdom and engagement to make things better that keep us here — plus the people .” +
Author ’ s note : board manager Shaun Christensen , of Utah ’ s Gem Buildings , was not able to attend the Halifax meeting . Christensen represents the US western region .
At the Halifax board meeting , SPN president Colleen Doucette asked her board a challenging question : “ What is one word that describes you and what you have to offer the Network ?”
Here is what everyone present answered :
Jacques Labbé : Energy Ed Cote : Humour Tony Bégin : Vision Tom Skinner : Finance Mike Holleran : Servant-Leadership Jeff Bas : Ambition
Brian Carmer : Vintage (“ like a fine wine ,” he added , to laughter )
Ken Ballweg : Outspoken Judith Gray : Support Colleen Doucette : Passion
14 • STEELPLUS . COM