When a service company has someone in the office taking calls on Christmas Eve, that’s a plus. And when the company can get a team to work over the Christmas holiday to make an important repair – that’s going above and beyond. Paul Crawford, CEO of NorthPoint Technical Services, tells the story.
“This was a company that builds gas compression packages. They had put together a new package for their customers but when they were doing the final testing, they damaged the shaft on the motor. This was a 2,000 horsepower motor that drives the big compressor. So, you can imagine it was probably five tonnes,” Crawford explains.
“Our customer was beside themselves because the package was ready to ship and they had liquidated damages and all the rest of it.”
The NorthPoint Calgary team responded immediately and, over the next three days, took the motor apart, welded the shaft and re-machined it, balanced the motor, put it back together, and tested it for optimal performance. By December 30, the customer got the motor back and was able to meet its obligations.
“You can have the best technology, the best equipment, the best shop, but that will only get you so far,” Crawford says, proud of his staff of 180, with nine locations across Canada. “It’s the people who will ultimately make the company successful.”
NorthPoint Technical Services doesn’t shy away from difficult challenges or getting the job done, even though it may mean having to forgo turkey dinner with family and friends. The company’s niche is expert repair and maintenance of electric motors, turbines, pumps, generators and “anything that rotates” in electromechanical equipment.
In fact, the Calgary, Alberta-based company makes a rock-solid commitment to customers in each local market to know their equipment and be at their service 24/7, 365 days a year. Because you never know when something is going to break down and jeopardize your delivery schedule.
For any given month, NorthPoint handles between 800 and 1,000 projects for industries that depend on technical engineering expertise and high-level service. Those sectors include oil and gas, power generation like hydro dams, forestry, pulp and paper, mining, marine and transportation.
“It’s really working with those folks to repair their motors, turbines, pumps, generators,” says Crawford. “We also do field service work – for example, a hydro dam in a remote area. We’ll go in there and these are very large generators. We will send in crews that will take the old windings out and put the new windings in, which can happen over a couple of months.”
In NorthPoint’s Moncton facility, for example, a power company looked to the technicians to realign its large generator. This was the kind of generator that would supply power to a small town from a hydro dam. The team had never done a unit that large before. It was also high voltage.
“I happened to be in Moncton while they were rewinding this,” Crawford says. “I was really blown away by the complexity of the actual job of the winding and the intricacy of the whole process. It worked very well and we got it done on time and on budget. And now the company wants us to bid on another project they have coming up.”
The project sums up what Crawford is most excited about taking the company forward: driving innovation and developing long-term, loyal customers. “That’s the entrepreneurial spirit where there’s risk here, we’ve never done that before, it will be complex and we need to pull a team from different locations and come together to make it work,” he says.
NorthPoint is more of a successful start-up than a long-time established service provider. The company was formed in April 2018 through acquisitions of plants from legacy companies like Westinghouse and Siemens. While the company has respected the history of these individual groups of employees and values the experience, Crawford and his management team have built a new collective culture – one that is committed, hardworking and entrepreneurial. “Decades of experience from those days at Westinghouse is a big one,” he says of the NorthPoint story.
“Westinghouse has a really long-standing history of producing these very large special motors for industry. Another is Kadon, a company known for its quality and customer service. Others are Prairie West, TurboCare and Siemens. Eight of the locations were owned by Siemens and we added another company, GPR Industries, which was family-owned and successfully run for 50 years, so it is great to add that experience to the team.”
Crawford himself knows the business from the shop floor up. He was a machinist apprentice in Calgary after he graduated high school and went on to get a mechanical engineering degree. Prior to NorthPoint, he was President of Solex Thermal Science Inc., a pioneer in heating, cooling and drying bulk solids, that sold a special piece of clean technology equipment around the world.
He says joining NorthPoint presented a unique opportunity because he knew a lot of the technical side of the business and it needed a new team. When a private equity company purchased the plants from Siemens, the whole back office disappeared, so there was no HR, finance, or health and safety.
“The idea was to be able to assemble that team… we already had all the customers, we had the shop, we had all the general managers that run the shop and all of our great skilled tradespeople already in place. So, in some ways it was a well-established company and in some ways it was like a start-up.”
As Crawford sees it, the only way a company can be successful is for the CEO to work with people every day to build a culture and a vision. “Our folks are shifting their mindset from a big corporate entity type of a culture to a more entrepreneurial culture where we are really in charge of our own destiny. There’s a real sense of ownership.”
While there’s a lot of exciting growth, there are challenges, especially the shortage of skilled workers like machinists, welders and electric motor system technicians. To offset retiring tradespeople, NorthPoint works with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, which has the only program in Canada with an apprenticeship component. NorthPoint offers program scholarships and helps cover the costs of schooling and wages to entice apprentices to pursue the specialized training. The company has also partnered with the federal government to recruit international talent and plans to have its first hire from South Africa this fall.
Electric motor growth is one of the fastest growing and steady industries in the world, and the conversion to electric motors across sectors is gaining momentum. A prime example is how many companies in oil and gas are converting from diesel engines to electric for the improved efficiency. In fact, Crawford sees six to eight percent compound annual growth for electric motors and support work.
“We have a fairly aggressive growth strategy that is providing opportunities for our people to acquire new skills so that they can be more versatile to keep up with the demand. It’s very exciting because of all the opportunities it presents to our company,” Crawford concludes.