Jeff Lloyd may run what is now a leading designer, manufacturer and installer of helical piles in North America, but his tenure as president of Edmonton-based Almita Piling has been punctuated by peaks and valleys.
For anyone requiring a helical-pile primer, they are a quick, cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional building foundations. Made of steel and resembling a screw in shape, they are installed with a hydraulic-torque-driven engine. The helix-shaped blades allow the piles to pull themselves into the ground—no loud, disruptive pounding required. They have many applications in oil and gas (to build pipelines and other infrastructure), but their use isn’t limited to the energy industry: Almita recently built the foundation for a public funicular in Edmonton’s river valley.
The Lloyd family invested in Almita Piling in 2005. The business was expanding rapidly at the time, thanks to Alberta’s booming oil and gas economy. By 2011, sales had expanded tenfold, and the growing pains were evident. “Our jobs were bigger. Our contracts were more sophisticated and more complex. The company wasn’t equipped to do that,” says Lloyd. “The good news was we had the revenue. The bad news was we needed to know how to manage it and complete it in a profitable way.”
So when Lloyd, a lawyer by training who had worked at a large Edmonton engineering services firm for nearly two decades, became president in 2012, one of his first tasks was to “professionalize the business.” Employees now needed better project management and sales skills, and the systems to deal with bigger clients. Management needed to delegate. “We knew we had to equip people to solve their own problems, so only new or significantly challenging items would filter to the leadership team,” Lloyd says.
Implementing those processes was a peak. Then came a valley. The oil price slump in 2015 “really hurt our company,” says Lloyd. Layoffs reduced Almita from a peak of 300 staff to just 150 by 2017. Thanks to a healthier Alberta energy sector and a weakened competitive landscape (many competitors did not survive the slump), things are looking up today. The company returned to pre-downturn revenue in 2018 and has rehired some staff. Almita is now leaner, with a more diversified client base to make it less beholden to the volatilities of Alberta’s energy sector. It landed a major transmission-line project in Minnesota, has an ongoing contract with SaskPower and bought an additional production facility in Guelph, Ont. It is eyeing a B.C. office, and a new outpost in Denver will help the business expand south of the border.
Lloyd attributes much of Almita’s buoyancy to its five company values, which are made relevant to all employees through a codified process. Taking a page from the common energy industry practice of starting each meeting with a “safety moment,” Almita adds a moment to recognize an employee who exemplifies one of its values. This process, Lloyd says, builds loyalty and fosters a friendly, team-based culture. “It’s not about winning a prize,” Lloyd explains. “It is about being recognized as a leader.”