Starting a business takes a great deal of investment, personal sacrifice and, in many cases, a leap of faith, and this is something that the owners of Birch Mountain Enterprises know all too well. When brothers Chris and Lee Wilson, along with their childhood friend Ivan Boucher, made the decision to leave long and secure careers at Syncrude to start Birch Mountain in 2005, the future was full of possibility.
Through hard work, dedication and strategic growth, Birch Mountain Enterprises has grown from a one-truck, heavy-duty mechanical company to become fluid handling and steaming specialists in a highly competitive industry with a fleet of over 125 pieces of equipment and over 250 employees. The company, which primarily serves the Fort McKay and Fort McMurray region, has expanded its services, its fleet and its staff to meet its clients’ varying needs.
Birch Mountain gets the job right the first time. The safe and reliable high-quality services provider brings value to its growing network of clients. Birch Mountain has modified itself to meet the growing demands for its service and now satisfies the numerous contracts it holds with some of the biggest names in the industry. Besides its work with Husky Energy, Birch Mountain has secured long-term contracts with Syncrude, Shell’s Albian Sands project and Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake operations.
“We all began our careers there,” explained Birch Mountain Enterprises owner and co-founder Ivan Boucher of company founders’ previous employment with Syncrude. “The shortest one there was eleven years, right up to fourteen years of service, before we decided to start Birch Mountain.” It is fitting that they have returned to Syncrude years later as a service provider using knowledge and skills that were developed there.
Boucher attributed much of Birch Mountain’s initial success to the training and experience the group gained at Syncrude. “It took a little while and some growth before we could offer any kind of larger service that they would require, but the learning that we had from within the company – the safety, the work ethic that they taught us while we were there – we draw on that.”
Birch Mountain undertakes projects of varying size for more than a hundred vendors in the marketplace. The company has the capacity to service fly-in/fly-out locations which are the most remote and difficult-to-access areas in the region. As they were born, raised and still reside in Fort McKay, the owners of Birch Mountain know the region and the industry very well.
Birch Mountain has reinforced its reputation for quality and success as it has grown and expanded its market presence. Boucher noted, “The growth was really through the diversity of the company, so we could offer more services that were all still related to each other.”
Birch Mountain offers hydro-vac (pipeline and utilities exposure, trenching), vacuum (waste, sewage and water removal and disposal), semi-vac (large-volume hauling and disposal of waste and hazardous materials), potable water, raw water, high-pressure steam (cleaning and thawing), combo-vac (cleaning and maintenance), equipment rental and fuel services.
Leadership has been investing in the future of the company as it continues to diversify an ever-expanding repertoire of complementary services delivered by qualified people. “We spend a lot of effort developing our staff and training,” said Chris Wilson. “You have to have a lot of training if you’re going to develop a diverse workforce; putting the time and effort into people from the ground up who might not get a chance elsewhere, especially from the local community. We’re developing some good talent here.”
Boucher explains this as, “A trickle-down effect when you offer a value-added service. They can also pass on the savings that they get from us and the services they get from us, so they can offer a cost-effective final service when they go out and look for their bids.”
“I think another great strength of ours is with the size of our firm and the fully engaged owners,” Daryl McIntosh, controller with Birch Mountain added. He elaborated on the highly responsive nature of the company’s operations: “We’re a close-knit team and having the owners around and good people from within – who know the owners – who know how to act quickly,” is a recipe for success, he said.
Management spends a great deal of time on site, ensuring that expectations are clearly communicated between the client and the team. “We like to spend a lot of time in the field with our guys,” Boucher explains. “We also ask our supervision and management to try to spend seventy-five percent of our time in the field so that we’re giving maximum value to the client for whatever service we perform for them.”
Birch Mountain values its clients’ business so company leadership and employees will go to great lengths to ensure world-class service. Its trained and reliable employees, paired with detail-oriented managers and supervisors and the company’s dedicated health, safety and environment team work collectively to complete projects correctly and safely.
“We have a firm commitment to safety,” Lee Wilson emphasized. “We ‘walk our talk’. We put the resources there. We have safety personnel there to make sure that safety is a focus, as it is with all of our clients.” The company is certified by Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations.
As an Aboriginally owned and operated company, Birch Mountain is also a full member of the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association (NAABA). The company is located in the Fort McKay Business Incubator Park, which is a joint effort of the Fort McKay First Nation and Suncor that is designed to support local business start-ups and small to medium enterprises.
Boucher acknowledged the support of Fort McKay First Nation and the role it played in Birch Mountain’s growth and success. “If they could give us any kind of work, they sent the work towards us, making sure that we stayed somewhat busy when we were first starting,” he said. “It’s paid dividends for us.” Additionally, Birch Mountain attributes much of its success to the experience gained working with the majors on their world class projects, and to the rich diversity of projects with which all the team’s clients entrust them.
Having built strong relationships and gained a breadth of expertise, Birch Mountain asserts itself as a leader in both the industry and in the community. The company backs local initiatives which give back to the community that has long supported it. Beyond its efforts to employ locally, it is a strong supporter of – and financial contributor to – Fort McMurray’s Keyano College, local youth programs and hockey teams and community events such as Métis Days.
Birch Mountain was the recipient of the 2014 Regional Aboriginal Recognition Award (RARA) which celebrates the company’s growth, success and the many positive contributions it has made to the communities of Fort McKay and Fort McMurray. Company ownership continues to look for new opportunities for Birch Mountain to develop industry relationships and reinforce its reputation.
This is a company founded on hard work, quality, safety and strong business ethics. It has established itself in the marketplace with integrity and by bringing the highest level of service to its customers. It continues to re-invest in itself by expanding its fleet, diversifying its services and developing its people, meaning Birch Mountain will continue to deliver project success and client satisfaction.
Birch Mountain has carved out a niche for itself in a highly competitive industry, remaining resilient in the face of falling commodity prices and global economic challenges. With a focus on growth, success and the future of the company, the company will continue to play an important role in value creation in Alberta, both as a service provider and as a community member.