Movers & Shakers TWENTY11: Ed & Pat Cote, Whitemud Ironworks Group Inc.

Looking for warys to stay out in front

Growing up on a farm in northern Alberta with six other brothers, Ed Cote and Pat Cote weren't planning to create a thriving steel fabrication and erection company. But that's just what they did with Whitemud Ironworks Group Inc., a homegrown operation headquartered in Edmonton that calls many major contractors valued clients.

Ed, president of Whitemud, wanted to be his own boss and Pat, now vice-president of sales and marketing, was a welder when Whitemud was founded 20 years ago. "There was only one employee other than ourselves," remembers Ed. "Paycheques were few and far between. We would do miscellaneous fabrication and installation, and we weren't too choosy about the work."

Today the company employs about 250 people and has two facilities in Edmonton, one in Surrey B.C, and a drafting office in the Phillipines. Its crews also work in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Neither brother has had formal business training, but both have plenty of common sense that has translated into sound business policies and procedures. Ed says he hires the best in the business and, rather than micromanaging them, gives them the freedom to contribute their own ideas.

Process improvement is a major focus. There is a formal step-by-step plan for process improvement in which an improvement team is established and charged with the task of improving something. The team's mandate, goals, description of what success will look like and responsibilities are clearly defined and written down. Finally, a schedule-with due dates-is created and a person from management is appointed to help the team meet its goals.

"We have seen great benefits from the process. We also spend a great deal of energy working on improving the quality of our work as well as improving our skills," Ed says.

Moving forward, both brothers are concerned about labour shortages. "We're already seeing shortages, and it's going to get worse," Pat says. Several strategies are in place for helping ensure that Whitemud can keep growing. Whitemud's human resources department works diligently to source qualified labour from within Canada and abroad, and Whitemud is working to adapt to a changing world.

"New workers coming out of school might not know how to weld, but they do know how to use a laptop," Pat observes. "We're looking for new ways to automate and watching what's coming out on the market, trying to stay in front of things."

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