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Feature on OTS Ltd.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nova Scotia Business Inc. sat down with Craig MacMullin, Corporate Controller/Contracts Manager for OTS Ltd. in Sydney, which works with startups in the mining and oil & gas sectors during the commissioning process. Here’s what Craig had to say about OTS’ presence in Nova Scotia and the future of the business.

Q: Can you talk about your success in Nova Scotia and why you chose Nova Scotia?
A: All three owners of the company are originally from Cape Breton and continue to reside in Nova Scotia, so headquartering the company here was natural. Our initial projects were on the Newfoundland offshore, so headquartering in our home province to work on projects in the North Atlantic seemed like the right fit.

When our client base expanded to include projects in Western Canada and internationally, we decided to keep the corporate office in Sydney with the mindset that geography was never going to be a barrier to doing business. We can find all of the business talent we need right here. The approach from the beginning has been to build a world-class company with a global outlook and there is no reason that cannot be done in Nova Scotia. That may seem a bit simplistic, but we believe our success to date supports our viewpoint. As a Nova Scotian startup that has done the vast majority of its business in other provinces or countries, we have never found our location to be a detriment and our employees love to call Nova Scotia “home,” so in many ways it’s a competitive advantage.

Q: What advice would you give to other Nova Scotia companies looking outside of the borders for growth?
A: Borders are lines on a map; they aren’t impenetrable obstacles. If you are going to be successful in business, then obstacles are meant to go over, under, around or through, but they should not limit your vision or your opportunity. If they do, then you as the businessperson have made a choice and you have to take responsibility for it.

That is not say that doing business outside of Nova Scotia is without its administrative challenges; every one of those lines on the map has a reporting requirement, piece of legislation or tax associated with it that you have to be aware of, but really that should not be a limitation if you have done your homework and constructed a sound business plan for the activities “outside the border.”

Going international is much easier when you do it with an experienced partner. Our international projects started as partnerships with other Canadian companies that had already experienced the “school of hard knocks” and were able to help us negotiate the challenges of working internationally. Companies that do work in international environments are more than happy to mentor a partner that is bringing value to the partnership.

Q: What was your biggest learning or a-ha moment?
A: The realization that you have to build a foundation under your company to support growth and that it is an investment in the future. OTS saw the potential in its market but it was obvious that unless you were willing to build true differentiation from your competitors, you would find yourself competing solely on price. We had to hire people with new ideas and skills in areas that we didn’t have. From quality systems, to IT infrastructure, to strategic investments in sales and marketing, we spent time and money working “on” the business as well as working “in” it.

Q: What does being recognized by your local business community mean to your business and your employees?
A: The recognition is a validation of the great work that our employees do. When we are in the midst of the work day and dealing with some of the largest resource companies on the planet, it is easy to get lost in the details. The recognition serves to remind us that we are accomplishing something that our little corner of the province desperately needs. To say that the Cape Breton economy has had its challenges would be an incredible understatement, but OTS is an example of what can be accomplished by a dedicated group of individuals with a focus on building a world-class company. From a four person startup in the back of convenience store in 2004, to over 100 employees, a client list that includes blue-chip resource and engineering companies, and completed or active projects in almost every province in Canada, the Dominican Republic, Syria, and Morocco, OTS is still growing. The recognition is important for not only our employees, but if it inspires one more entrepreneur to push that much harder — to reach for that which is currently just beyond their grasp — that starts to change the dialogue from a victimized “why”, to an optimistic “why not.” That kind of dialogue serves as a basis for business success and, by extension, community sustainability.

Q: What do you consider will be key to your success going forward?
A: Continue to push and not settle for the status quo. Although we feel we have made some good moves in making OTS a good commissioning and startup company, we don’t think it is a great commissioning and startup company yet. We are continuing to push toward that goal.

The next year will see OTS pushing for ISO registration of its quality management system, continued development of some software tools that increase the efficiency and quality of our services, and continued development of domestic and international opportunities. The key to our success is continue to do what we have been doing … only better.

OTS Limited recently received an Export Achievement Award from the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce. In addition to this accomplishment, OTS received a 2014 Nova Scotia Export Achievement Award recognizing its success.

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