From Experience Comes Growth

Control Tech
Written by Ryan Cartner

Control Tech is a leading provider of instrumentation, electrical, and automation services to the oil and gas industry. With a focus on developing expertise and delivering the highest quality workmanship on every project, Control Tech is truly committed to excellence.
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Founded in 2001, the company is a shining example of what co-owner Greg Kjemhus calls the Alberta mindset. “We’re a typical Alberta company,” he says. “Started with three guys working out of a garage. Three friends became business partners, and through hard work we’ve grown the company in seventeen years to 300-plus staff and multiple branches in two countries. That’s the Alberta mindset: hard work and determination. We rolled up our sleeves, went to work, and grew a company.”

When Kjemhus established the company with his two friends and business partners Tali Hughes and Dustin Richarde, they hoped to grow it to around 15 technicians primarily serving the Grand Prairie region. In 2018, the company peaked at 325 staff with five branches serving northern Alberta and British Columbia, and a U.S. division serving New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Today the company has over 300 employees and is poised for expansion.

As investment continues to grow in U.S. markets, Control Tech plans to expand its footprint in that region going forward. As a result of the team’s expertise and dedication to quality, it has grown to be a regional leader, much larger and much more capable than the founding partners could ever have anticipated.

Control Tech has earned a reputation in the oil and gas industry for providing the highest level of customer satisfaction and quality workmanship for a full suite of electrical and instrumentation services. These offerings include project management, construction, maintenance, repair services and much more. In each of these areas, Control Tech has developed the experience and the expertise to consistently exceed customer expectations on every project, and a reputation for quality workmanship that is well recognized in the markets it serves.

From a project management perspective, Control Tech’s expert team of electrical and instrumentation specialists can help clients coordinate highly complex projects and ensure that controls are properly installed, running safely, and at optimal performance levels. They will help plan the project from the outset, oversee it throughout, and perform a comprehensive evaluation in the end. Control Tech’s project management team are experts and can significantly improve the efficiency of any project, reducing the likelihood of expensive mistakes and delays.

Beyond managing projects, the company is also staffed with field technicians qualified to perform all construction services on site. Control Tech has worked on a wide range of oil and gas projects including processing plants, compressor stations, well sites, and more. With a focus on providing high-quality results on time and within budget, Control Tech is a valuable asset on construction projects of any size.

To be sure, oil and gas companies depend on the reliability of complex equipment and instrumentation on a daily basis, and Control Tech is committed to ensuring its clients are consistently operating at peak performance levels by providing continual and comprehensive maintenance services. The company’s maintenance technicians visit customers at their facilities to examine electrical and instrumentation components, driving fully equipped trucks with a wide range of tools that enable them to make sure all quality and safety specifications are being met. They are qualified to ensure that all equipment meets the standards set by the Energy Resources Conservation Board and Oil and Gas Commission.

Preventative maintenance significantly reduces costly downtime, but equipment can and will break down eventually even with the most thorough care. To help clients reduce the impact of equipment failure, the company’s purchasing department has a combined forty years of experience sourcing electrical and instrumentation parts. It has four warehouses stocked with an inventory of lower cost parts from over 1000 suppliers and it’s always working with clients to keep its inventory updated and suited to their needs.

When part replacement isn’t the solution, Control Tech has a repair shop providing a wide range of maintenance services including instrument calibration, liquid meter proving, and in-house rebuild services for pumps, values, actuators, and more. “Our slogan is ‘Committed to Excellence,’” says Kjemhus, “and that’s what really differentiates us – quality of workmanship and a very highly trained team of technical tradesmen.”

Control Tech has been able to set itself apart from competing companies by building a team of experts that it considers to be the best in the region, but finding qualified people who met the company’s standards wasn’t easy. For many years the Alberta market was highly competitive from a recruitment and employee retention standpoint. “We thrived in a market where there was a lot of work, but no one to hire,” explains Kjemhus. “We were able to grow in that market on reputation alone. Our employees were our recruiters. They told their friends and former coworkers about our culture and our leadership style, and by word of mouth we had people crossing the street and knocking on our door to work here.”

A key part of employee retention is providing a work environment that people are comfortable working in. Control Tech has a strict, comprehensive, and highly accredited safety program designed to protect workers, property, and the public from injury. Every employee, from the office to the field staff and management, are responsible for their own safety and the safety of the organization. Subcontracted workers are expected to follow the same rules and procedures as Control Tech employees when on the job. The company’s safety policy follows the industry standard Guiding Principles for Worker Safety, and has a long list of certifications including ABSA, B.C. Electrical Contractors License 2015, Alberta Certification of Recognition, B.C. Certification of Recognition, and an ISN 10 Year Certification.

Finding people was only part of the challenge. In a market where quality workers are hard to come by, there are always competing organizations offering attractive options. Despite this, Control Tech has always been very successful at long-term employee retention. “We’re a service company with a bunch of tradesmen that go to work every day, so we’re only as good as our crew,” says Kjemhus. “Our marketing and our growth has always been on reputation alone.”

All members of the ownership team are committed to making themselves available to employees at all times with an open-door policy. Employees are encouraged and empowered to grow within the company, and the leadership takes pride in promoting from within for all management positions, frequently bringing tradesmen up through the ranks. In fact, after buying the company back in December of 2011, an ownership stake was offered to three of the company’s key managers – all long-term Control Tech employees – Justin Burwash, Sam Owen and Paul Thomas. When the business expanded into the U.S. in early 2013, Blair Alfred also joined the ownership group on the U.S. side of things.

For most of its existence, finding and retaining staff was a substantial challenge, but by working to promote an employee-centred culture, Control Tech has built a highly skilled team of experts. Over the last three years the market has shifted; staffing is no longer the limiting factor, but rather a lack of infrastructure. There is a surplus of oil and gas product but a lack of pipelines to transport it. The company has been able to adapt, but it’s a challenge facing the entire Canadian oil and gas industry.

“There’s a lot of money that’s not being invested for political reasons,” says Kjemhus. “As long as we can get some pipelines past the approval stage, that investment will come back. I’m hoping we can get some pipelines built in the next year or two. If that happens then investments will come back to Western Canada, but until then money is going to continue to be invested in other markets, mainly south of the border.”

One of the ways that Control Tech has adapted to these changes is by focusing its growth strategy on expanding its U.S. footprint. Currently, the company has an office in Troy and Wysox, Pennsylvania that has been serving the Pennsylvania and New York markets for the last five years. The company recently opened a branch in Morgantown, serving West Virginia and Ohio, and is in the final stages of opening a branch in Oklahoma. The success of the United States division has prompted the company to consider expanding into Ohio, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Certainly, Control Tech is poised for growth. Whatever the future holds for the oil and gas markets in western Canada, the company is prepared to expand its capacity and its capabilities to take advantage of the investment wherever it is.

“We’re setting up the company now to handle major E&I (Electric and Instrumentation) construction projects,” shares Kjemhus. “We’ll take on projects from multi-well pads to full plant construction. We have a really strong quality control program and we’re committed to excellence.”

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