Podcast Episode 61

Carpe Opportunitas: A Story of an International Career Built on Trust and Relationships

With Guest:
  • Ceri Howell of 2M Solutions, President

In this episode of The Water Table, Jamie sits down with Ceri Howell to discuss the importance of relationships in business. With a career spanning more than 40 years in the pipe industry, Howell has seen the shift from corrugated metal to plastic pipe and talks about how the people he’s met over the years have been instrumental in building his career.

Watch the full episode on YouTube!

Episode 61 | 44 min
We weren’t managing by spreadsheet, as we call it. We managed by relationships and by looking forward, looking ahead to see where the opportunities lay.
— Ceri Howell

Guest Bio

Ceri Howell is a pioneer in the field of agricultural drainage in Canada. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College of Science in Great Britain and has spent more than 40 years in the pipe industry.

Howell worked for Armtec in Canada for more than 30 years, establishing their international division and eventually taking on the role of Vice President of Sales and Marketing. He is currently the President and Owner of 2M Solutions in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, a consulting firm that provides market development, sales and customer service training, management support and leadership training along with facilitating relationships between Canada and international markets.

Speaker 1 (00:02):
This is The Water Table.

Speaker 2 (00:05):
A chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues.

Speaker 3 (00:09):
A place for people to go find information and education.

Speaker 4 (00:13):
Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.

Speaker 5 (00:17):
How misunderstood what we do is.

Speaker 6 (00:22):
I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie Duininck  (00:31):
Well, welcome back to The Water Table podcast. Today, I’m going to talk to Ceri Howell. Ceri is a good friend of mine. Been a friend for about 25 years, and Ceri was the VP of sales and marketing for Armtec in Canada for most of his career. And then more recently, after retiring from Armtec, he started his own company, which he’s president and owner of, 2M Solutions, and does a lot of consulting in that role. Ceri is a engineer by trade, and so he’s been around the manufacturing, water management, pipe industry for 40+ years. We’re just going to talk about his career. We’re going to talk about pipe. We’re going to talk a little bit about agricultural pipe, and what he thinks about that from his past, and where he thinks that’s all going in the future, and have a great conversation. So welcome to the podcast, Ceri.

Ceri Howell (01:32):
Thank You, Jamie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Jamie Duininck  (01:34):
Yeah. It’s fun to have you in-person. Somebody that I have thought about many times, getting you on the podcast, but just kind of neglected to do that. When I heard you were going to be in the area, I thought, “Let’s do this, so we can do it in-person and talk a little bit.” Ceri, you and I met back in the 1997, ‘8 timeframe. Somewhere in there. And somebody that is a little bit older than me, and kind of took me into the industry as I was getting going, and helped me navigate industry association and relationships.

(02:14):
One of the things that I admire the most about you is, you are an ultimate relationship-builder. We’ll talk about that later, but I just wanted to start with that, and say thank you for how you have mentored me over the years and helped me. Just as we are competitors to a certain extent. Didn’t compete directly, but work for different companies that did the same thing. Yet, you were kind enough and good enough to help me as a young man getting involved in the industry. So, thank you for that. I’ll have you tell some stories after a while about some of the things that I have learned from you about building relationships.

Ceri Howell (02:54):
You speak very kindly of me, Jamie. There’s one word that I would’ve inserted into there that has developed over the 25 years we’ve known each other, and that is friendship. It really is the most important thing, I think, that exists between us. Between myself and the whole of the Duininck family, the Duininck group of companies. It is what has made life fun and enjoyable, and it is why I keep doing these things, even though I’m now in my seventh decade on this Earth. Because of friendships.

Jamie Duininck  (03:26):
The friendships grow deeper by adding more people to them, and knowing you know some of my family members, and I know your wife. And then we have other connections with people we’ve worked with or worked alongside of, and have been able to do some things together, both business-wise and have some successes together, and then have some fun along the way too. There was a time where we would get you Canadians to take us to a hockey game every once in a while in Canada, and the stories and memories that come out of that were fun and just continued to build friendship. So I’m glad you mentioned that, because it’s true.

(04:08):
But let’s talk a little bit about your career and being in the pipe industry. You started working with Armtec, which, at the time was, a corrugated metal pipe company, and did a lot of other technical things. I call technical, but within the metal pipe and, oh, let’s say construction industry, with bridge plate and other products. And you really came at that from the sales and marketing side as a engineer, and getting your product spec’d in Canada. And then you branched out, I know, into an international role for Armtec for many of the years toward the end of your career. But let’s talk a little. Just tell me a little bit about what those early years were like, before you got involved in plastic pipe, of your career.

Ceri Howell (05:01):
45 years ago, when I moved to Canada, after spending seven or eight years with the Royal Engineers, with the British Army, where I was fortunate enough to get my education. I got my degree in civil engineering. Left The Army, and I came to Canada. And I got off the boat, so to speak. It was a plane, really, in Vancouver. And I was interviewed by a chap called Jim Watson. Now, just as a little aside here, Jim Watson was also the name of the man who patented and invented corrugated steel pipe in the 1880s. So I felt this was sort of fortuitous, that I was making a link with history that sounded interesting. However, here I came, a recently-retired British Army officer. Landed in Vancouver, and I was interviewed by this formidable guy, Jim Watson.

(05:53):
Now, fortunately, Jim himself had been in the Canadian Forces. Exactly the same career path that I had. He was then regional manager in Vancouver, and when I went for the interview he said, “How do you feel about being a sales engineer?” And I remember the very word that I used at that time, and it was, “Um …” I really had no idea what a sales engineer was, or what a sales engineer did. So I said to Jim, “Well, tell me what it’s about, Jim. And maybe I can answer the question more fully after that.” That was the beginning of another long professional and personal relationship that exists to this day. Jim is now 84 years old, living on Vancouver Island. Still a good friend.

(06:39):
However, let’s get back to the story. So I started as a sales engineer for Armco, as we were in those days. And we were in the corrugated steel pipe business, and other products as well. Or the wrinkle tin businesses, as some people who’d want to put us down a little would call it. And I worked as a sales engineer for him for five or six years in Vancouver, in Bridge Columbia, developing specifications, going on job sites, talking to contractors and consultants, and promoting our products in road-building, and mining, and forestry, and other really interesting things for a guy who came off the boat from little-old England, and arrived in great-big Canada, and was set out into the wilderness. Almost a complete freehand to do what I thought was beneficial to the company. And it was great fun.

(07:32):
So, I moved on from there. I went to Alberta, one of the great prairie provinces. And I went as the manager, doing much the same thing, but this time in charge of a team who was challenged to do the things that I had done for those five or six years in Vancouver. Moving on from Alberta, I moved to Ontario in 1989, and that was just when Armco had then turned into Armtec. Change of ownership. And we were acquiring the business called Big ‘O’, which was a plastic pipe business. A former competitor of our corrugated steel pipe. This was an interesting time to move, and what I found was that this competitor turned out to be one of my best friends. It hugely broadened our range of opportunities in drainage. And really, we took the business, and we folded it into our own steel business, and became the largest provider of storm drainage and surface drainage solutions in Canada.

Jamie Duininck  (08:39):
So way back, why Canada? Why did you move?

Ceri Howell (08:43):
Well, when I was 19 years old and a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers of the British Army, I was at university, sponsored by the Army, and I went to my unit during the summer. Long vacations. They weren’t vacations. I had to go to work. I went to my unit in Southeast England and the commanding officer said, “Well, Lieutenant Howell, we have two choices for you. You’re either going to Western Canada, or you’re going to Kenya for the summer.” Before I could say anything, he said, “And I’ll tell you where you’re going. You’re going to Western Canada. Chilliwack, British Columbia.” So I scurried off, and I got an atlas, and I found Chilliwack, British Columbia. And four days later I was on an RAF plane, flying from London to Reykjavík, and Reykjavík to Vancouver, where I spent two delightful months. Those months were consumed with building three or four kilometers of road and three timber bridges. I was absolutely in heaven. I saw black bears, I saw moose, I saw salmon leaping in rivers. This was amazing.

Jamie Duininck  (09:52):
Is this is about 1970-ish?

Ceri Howell (09:54):
This is in 1971.

Jamie Duininck  (09:54):
Okay.

Ceri Howell (09:57):
Of course, I had to go back to England at the end of that summer and continue my education. Once I completed my education, I had a commitment of at least five years with the British Army to pay back for the tuition costs, which was thoroughly enjoyable. It was great time. But when I left The Army, I went back to Canada. I went to Chilliwack, British Columbia. That was one of the best decisions I’ve made, and yet it was an impetuous decision.

Jamie Duininck  (10:27):
If we look at that first part of your career, and then you get to the late ’80s, ’89, when it was your entrance into the plastic pipe business. It was also your entrance … You were an engineer. You were selling drainage projects, really for construction projects. A lot of heavy highway stuff. But that was your first entrance into the agricultural market, and what plastic pipe does for storm drainage on agricultural land. And learned a lot in that, and met good friends that you have to this day because of that side of the business. Talk a little bit about that, and what you learned in the beginning about agricultural pipe, and we’ll just get into that a little bit.

Ceri Howell (11:18):
It’s very interesting, because when I moved to Ontario from Alberta, in that time, 1989, I didn’t even know that agricultural drainage existed. And in those days, in Alberta, there was a very little. There were a few areas in the South that drained their fields, but I really didn’t know what was going on. And I learned very quickly about yield, and drainage, and how many feet of corn could be grown from inches of pipe installed, and all the … I used to have all the figures at the top of my head, but I-

Jamie Duininck  (11:57):
Bushels of corn.

Ceri Howell (11:58):
Bushels of corn. That’s what it is. Yeah.

Jamie Duininck  (12:00):
You’re a metric guy. You got to be.

Ceri Howell (12:01):
That’s right. Yeah. I am a metric guy now, from north of the border. But I learned a lot about that, and I was absolutely astonished by the quantity of pipe that was installed in the ground that you never saw again. I remember somebody said to me, “You know when you’re successful when you never see your product after it’s gone out.” I wondered about that for a while, and I realized what they meant. I used to see these great-big black rolls of pipe going along the highway, wondering where they were going, until I got involved in the business myself.

(12:38):
Then I’d go out looking for trucks. “Why haven’t I seen a 50-foot trailer of 5,000-foot coils of four-inch pipe going down the highway today? Something must be wrong.” It was a great introduction, and the numbers were staggering. I was used to thinking in thousands of feet here, and thousands of feet there, and a few-thousand tons of steel here and there. And all of a sudden, we’re talking about 40, 50 million feet of sub-drainage pipe going into agricultural land. It was a wonderful experience, and I met some great people.

Jamie Duininck  (13:15):
Yeah. Yeah. What year did you move to Ontario then?

Ceri Howell (13:19):
That was in 1989.

Jamie Duininck  (13:21):
Okay. That was ’89.

Ceri Howell (13:23):
Yeah.

Jamie Duininck  (13:25):
When you bought Big ‘O’.

Ceri Howell (13:25):
That was when we acquired Big ‘O’.

Jamie Duininck  (13:26):
And that’s where, and still is today, for listeners may not know, that’s kind of the epicenter of North American agricultural drainage, is Southeast Ontario.

Ceri Howell (13:39):
Southwestern Ontario. That’s correct.

Jamie Duininck  (13:40):
Excuse me. Southwestern Ontario. Just for reference, that’s kind of between Detroit and Toronto. And when you live in where I live, and got to know you, it took me til after that point where I realized that that region of land, Detroit to Toronto, is actually south of Minnesota. Minnesota’s north, geographically. So it’s really flat, really fertile land. It’s also got some heat units to it, because it’s a little bit further south. But you get a lot of rain over there. So, that is really where North American drainage started. I mean there’s a lot of pipe in the ground in Ohio, and in Indiana. Very southeast Minnesota, Northeast Iowa is a really intensely water manage area. But, when you really look at it, that Southwest Ontario is where this all started from a North American perspective. Of course, Europe was before.

(14:46):
So that’s really interesting, and you were able to understand that was a big market now that you were serving under the Armtec brand. Or Armtec company, under the brand of Big ‘O’. And were able to build your business and relationships through that. Talk a little bit more about that, and how the market was different, and still is different, in Ontario than it is in other places. Because it’s a lot of footage, but it’s a small area geographically, and more competitors at the time. Just, how did you navigate that? You’re a real relational guy. How’d you navigate that, coming from a perspective of knowing more of the construction side of the industry, and now being catapulted into a leadership position for a manufacturer of agricultural pipe? And having expectations, and having people that probably know quite a bit more than you do about that side of the business. How’d you go about that?

Ceri Howell (15:55):
Well, the first thing I had to do, of course, is rely on the people that have the knowledge. And there was a lot of knowledge there. Big ‘O’ was, of course, I’d say the oldest tile drainage company, certainly in Canada, and had developed a wonderful reputation for themselves. The big difference that I found when we first got involved in agricultural drainage was that this is not a tender-bid-type market. In the construction side of our business, including the large-diameter Big ‘O’ corrugated pipe for road construction, forestry, and other things, that was a bid type of market. Yes, relationships are very important, and getting along with the contractors and having them on your side is wonderful.

(16:43):
But in the agricultural drainage business, it was so personal that our conversations would happen sitting down on the opposite sides of somebody’s coffee table or somebody’s kitchen table while other members of the family are scurrying around doing the jobs that they do. It was intensely personal. And what I enjoyed about it most, and really, when I say enjoyed, I do mean enjoyed, was, it was an opportunity to build relationships with individuals rather than corporations. Yes, the businesses evolved into large-scale drainage tile contractors. But even there, so much business is still done effectively over the kitchen table.

Jamie Duininck  (17:33):
Yeah, and it still is. And that’s translated from Canada, from Ontario, into the States too. It still is predominantly a family business, right?

Ceri Howell (17:43):
It really is. And those tiling contractors, as we call they, as you call them here too, they were farmers. They were farmers that bought their own equipment and did their own tiling. And then maybe the neighbor said, “Look, Joe, can you do some for me?” And Fred said, “Can you do some for me?” But all of them, I think, started as farmers, doing their own business, and grew until it was tens and tens of millions of feet going in every year in a relatively small area. Southwest Ontario is smaller than Ohio. The little corner of Southwestern Ontario where this business developed. Now, it has spread, obviously, further east and into Quebec. Quebec is the second-largest agricultural drainage market in Canada. But along much the same lines. Relationships, sitting down at the kitchen table.

Jamie Duininck  (18:34):
Yep. Yep. I think that’s what makes, for me anyway, that’s what makes the industry and being part of it so rich and so rewarding, is the relationships. At times, I think the negative of that is how our industry grows is through relationships, and through that connection, and being able to share the experiences. The experiences that a farmer’s had or that a contractor’s had in growing that, in installing that, and seeing the benefits of it. But that means it’s a little bit slower of a growth than maybe just pure data. And we’ve come a long ways over the years, in which there is lots of data and lots of knowledge now around. There isn’t too many people that wouldn’t do a drainage project because they don’t understand the value of it. Everybody understands that now, but I think in the beginning, it was really just all relationship-driven.

Ceri Howell (19:38):
Oh, no question about that. Before we had the hard facts and the science, as you say, in the early days, we knew. I mean, it was way before I got involved in it. So, the early pioneers knew that putting tile drainage in the field increased the yield. Instinctively, I think farmers knew that. The question is, how do you quantify that? How do you balance the investment with the return? In the construction business, you measure return on investment in 10-year periods, 12-year, 15-year periods. But what is coming evident in the agricultural business is that those yields deliver the return on your investment in one year, or two years, or maybe three years tops. It is almost an immediate gain. And as you say, Jamie, with more and more science attached to it, you can actually quantify those gains. We know it’s good, but I think in the early days we didn’t know how good it was.

Jamie Duininck  (20:44):
Yep. Yep. Another challenge, especially as you move west, whether you’re in Canada or whether you’re in the United States, the same challenge is true. As you move west, land was less expensive. So part of the challenge in selling the concept was, “Well, I get it. It works. But if I’m going to pay …” In just hypothetical numbers. But, “If I’m going to pay $1,000 an acre to do this work, or I’m going to pay $1,800 an acre to buy more land, why don’t I just buy more land?” That equation isn’t too far off from reality, how I just shared it, back 20, 30 years ago. But today, Western Canada, Western Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, places that had cheaper land, that land is now much more expensive. It might be 6,000, it might be 10,000, might be 14,000 an acre, depending on where you are in that Western region of our two countries. But drainage hasn’t gone up near that much.

Ceri Howell (22:00):
No, absolutely not.

Jamie Duininck  (22:00):
It was $1,000, it might be 1,200 now. Might be the same. So, that also has been a great … Where people knew it was important to do, but couldn’t justify it because of land. Now they can justify it, and actually they’d say, “I can afford to buy more land. I got to improve everything I have first.”

Ceri Howell (22:20):
Absolutely. If you did an aerial view of our intensely-farmed agricultural areas, the United States is a big country. Canada is a big country. But when you look at the actual intensely or the more-concentrated farming, the areas are relatively small. Because we’re not talking here about 16,000 acres in the prairies. We’re talking about concentrated 640-acre farms, 160-acre farms in Southwestern Ontario growing corn, say. Incredible increases in yield in those areas.

(23:02):
Now, today I was traveling. I had the delightful experience of traveling with a couple of Australians who were over here for a visit, and we were talking about farming and ranching in Australia. And there, they’re talking about a 60,000-acre small holding. They’re talking about cattle grazing with one cow per four acres. And you think, “If you tried to squeeze that into Southwest Ontario, or Ohio, or Nebraska, or Idaho, or something, it would be crazy.” We just don’t have the space. We live in huge countries, but we don’t have very much agricultural land available to us for the intense farming that is needed to make these businesses profitable. It kind of threw it all into perspective. I couldn’t imagine tiling a 60,000-acre small holding, as they call it, in Eastern Australia.

Jamie Duininck  (24:03):
Yep. It’s all perspective, and relative to where you’re at. Ceri, just kind of moving throughout your career, after you’d moved to Ontario and had been there for, I don’t know, several years anyway. You can probably tell me when that was. But you took on another role, or a new role at Armtec, which was more of an international role. And started working with some of the products, some of the metal products that Armtec made, and could be sold internationally, and you got some really interesting stories about that. Again, it’s how, like I said at the beginning, you’re a master relationship-builder. Talk a little bit about that. First of all, how did that happen? How did you switch over from what you were doing to more of an international sales and marketing role?

Ceri Howell (25:01):
Yeah. That was very interesting, and it was a great period of my life that I still … Again, there are relationships that exist still today, even though I’m not directly involved in many of those businesses. But in 1980 … Sorry. In 1996, I think it would be. In 1996, ’97, and I was running the Ontario region of Armtec in those days. Mostly involved in road construction, residential site development, forestry, those kind of things. Steel products, short-span bridging, drainage, stormwater management, water control. And I was getting a few inquiries from other countries. Now, if I go back in history, the old company that I was part of, Armco, was a worldwide company. They had operations in Australia, South America, Central America, Europe, all over. But that had sort of petered out with the change of ownership down south in the States. But I was getting inquiries from people that said, “Look, we used to deal with Armco.” And the internet was starting to come in, and people were starting to do research. And they said, “We see some of the products that you have look like some of the products that we need.”

(26:20):
And I get an inquiry from Africa for nestable pipe and various things. And then a really key moment in my life was when an old friend of mine, who I’d known in Alberta, Leonid Mikhailovsky … And I’m sure he won’t mind me using his name here. But he and I knew each other back in the ’80s in Alberta. He was working with Alberta Transportation. Our kids were the same age. They went to preschool together. Those kids are now well into their 40s, by the way. And Leonid had been invited by one of his old Russian friends … Because he’s a Russian, as you can probably guess from the name. Russian originally, Canadian citizen now. But he was invited by his old friend to come to Partizansk in the Russian Far East to help solve the issue of flood damage on road bridges. Leonid has his master’s degree in bridge engineering. So Leonid went to Vladivostok, and then he went to Partizansk, as far as you can go in the Russian Far East.

Jamie Duininck  (27:25):
Now, just for my sake, is that getting close to the Bering Sea, or no? Is it not way North?

Ceri Howell (27:33):
The Bering Sea is North. This would be just 50 or 60 kilometers north of the Korean border.

Jamie Duininck  (27:39):
Okay.

Ceri Howell (27:39):
North Korea.

Jamie Duininck  (27:40):
Okay.

Ceri Howell (27:41):
So really, on the edge of the Pacific.

Jamie Duininck  (27:42):
Very, very mountainous and-

Ceri Howell (27:44):
Mountainous. Lots of mountains, rivers. Lots of forests, wild country. Vladivostok is a city of about 600,000 in those days. Anybody who’s watched Doctor Zhivago, part of that was filmed in Khabarovsk, which is just north … Well, just north, but eight hours north of Vladivostok. Anyway, Leonid called me, and he was so excited. He said, “Look. Look.” He said, “You’ve got to come to Russia.” This was back in 1997. He said, “You have to come to Russia.” I said, “Why?” “Well,” he said, “They need so many bridges, and we have the perfect solution. We can make these in Canada. They can ship them to site disassembled. They can go out in trucks, and we can build them on-site, and we can save this part of the world.” That’s how excited he was getting.

(28:35):
So I talked to my then boss and I said, “Look, Leonid wants me to go to Russia.” And my old boss, the Jim Watson that we referred to earlier, said, “Well, why don’t you do it?” So, I did it. I flew from Toronto to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to Moscow, and Moscow to Vladivostok in an ancient, old Ilyushin Il-62, where the seat backs were sort of collapsing, and you didn’t dare go into the washroom on the plane because it hadn’t been cleaned in the 44 years the plane had been in service. But we landed in Vladivostok, and Leonid took me out to the site to show me these washed-out bridges. And they were washed out. Then we went into the cafeteria of the city hall in Partizansk, just south of Vladivostok.

(29:23):
There, on table napkins and pieces of paper with old pens and crayons, we sketched out some plans for five replacement structures using long-spanned corrugated steel structures. Structures that would be manufactured in Canada from steel made in Canada, shipped into containers, and sent over there. And I came back with an order for five bridges, all done on napkins, and pieces of paper, and scratchings. We put it together. We got the order. We shipped the structures over there. They were assembled. They were very successful. And over the years that Leonid and I worked together on those projects, which was adding up to 15 years, we have now installed 250-some structures in Russia, mostly from the Black Sea and east towards the Pacific side.

Jamie Duininck  (30:24):
Yeah. Amazing story, and I’ve heard it before. But I think some of the things that are really amazing about, first of all, again, when I talk about relationships and stuff. You met Leonid in a preschool parking lot.

Ceri Howell (30:41):
That’s right.

Jamie Duininck  (30:42):
With your children, both your children, and you saw something that made you interested in connecting and building a relationship. And then, just how that continued from that day. You’re going almost 15 years ahead before you actually did business together, and it wasn’t about business. It was about building a relationship in the beginning. So, that’s neat. And then just the trust. There had to be a lot of trust was already in that relationship and existed in order for you to take an order, and to know the sincerity of the order, and then vice-versa on his side. That you and your company could actually produce and come through with this order for something that was basically done because you said you would do it. It. was on a napkin. Well, big deal.

(31:38):
It was something that you said you could do, and he had the confidence and trust that you would do it. So, well done. But it’s a really cool story. I asked you to tell that story earlier because I’ve heard it before, and to me it’s just really inspiring, around how you built a career and what you did. And even though the relationship between you and Armtec has been over for quite some time, after you retired, the relationship between you and Leonid continues to flourish even today.

Ceri Howell (32:13):
It does. As recently as two weeks ago I sat down, again, at his kitchen table in Toronto, and we talked about how long he was going to carry on. Leonid is a little older than I am, a few years older. So he’s in his mid-to-upper 70s, and he’s still going strong. But yes, absolutely. Built on relationships, built on trust. Not just the trust between myself, and Leonid, and our companies, but within the company that I was then working for in those days. I mean, things have changed a lot over the years, but we weren’t managing by spreadsheet, as we call it. We managed by relationships and by looking forward, looking ahead to see where the opportunities lay.

(32:58):
I used to have a little Latin saying written inside my folders, and it said, “Carpe opportunitas.” For those of us that aren’t Latin scholars like me, it means seize the opportunity. And that’s what we did. We seized the opportunity. And do you know what? Every now and then, something may not have gone the way we wanted it to go. We may have had a bad project here and there, but on the whole, 95 out of 100 went really well. And they served us well. They served us well. They served the customer well. They served the community well, and we had developed a relationship that far exceeded myself or Leonid. It was broader than that.

Jamie Duininck  (33:41):
You had a lot of other interesting opportunities traveling internationally. I don’t know if I’ve ever asked you this, but do you know how many countries you’ve visited in your lifetime?

Ceri Howell (33:54):
I think … It may sound a bit exaggerated. I’d say 56. But that is, if I look at Central America, where we had an operation in Guatemala for seven or eight years. We owned a business there making corrugated steel pipe and selling plastic pipe. I mean, I look at Central America. There are seven countries. Now, yes, I did go to all seven of those countries. Did we do extensive business in all seven of those Central American countries? No. But in four of them we were very regular, and we were number one on the choice of products. So yeah, I’m there.

Jamie Duininck  (34:33):
Well, I mean, I’m really asking, how many places have you been? So, it doesn’t matter if you sold anything there.

Ceri Howell (34:33):
Yeah. That’s right. Oh, I’ve definitely been to 56. I have a map at home in the basement, which my grandkids helped me to populate one year on a winter day. We stuck pins and they said, “Papa, where have you been? Nana, where have you been?” We stuck pins in the map, and I had 56 pins, and Janet had 28 pins. She has traveled with me on a number of trips. Some of them are just pure vacation trips, like she came down to Machu Picchu with me ain Peru. But we had an office in Lima. So yes, we did business in Lima. We did business in Chile, and in Argentina, and in Brazil, and other countries. Not a lot in other countries. Ecuador. I remember standing across the equator in Ecuador one year. What an experience. We traveled to Africa. I traveled to Africa. Janet didn’t come. We did several mining projects in Africa, throughout Eastern Europe. We did jobs in the UK, even. France, Germany, Spain. I can’t remember all of the countries, but there were a number.

Jamie Duininck  (35:38):
Sure. Sure. And then you had some partnerships and relationships in Asia too?

Ceri Howell (35:44):
Yes, we did. We had a very good relationship in South Korea, where we were joint owners of a manufacturing company making long-span corrugated steel structures for short-span … I call them long-span corrugated steel, but they’re actually short-span bridges, which is anything up to, say, 60 feet. 60-feet span. So, we did a fair amount of work there. We did work in Hong Kong. We didn’t have any fixed businesses there, but we had customers there. We had customers in the Philippines and in Malaysia. Never cracked Thailand. Difficult country to crack, unless you’re actually there. But yeah, we had a lot of fun there. A lot of fun.

Jamie Duininck  (36:28):
Yeah. Again, that all comes back to being able to do business in places like that. There’s so many cultural differences. So many things that are different. So if you can’t relate to people, understand people, and build a relationship, it makes it very difficult. Like I said, and have said many times in here, it’s one of the things I admire a lot about you. But one of the things I don’t want to forget to mention either, and you mentioned earlier, was, so much of what happens in agricultural water management is our customers buy our product, they install, it and it’s gone. You don’t see it anymore. So I think it’s pretty cool that, a few years back, I had a chance to drive from Calgary to Banff on the Canadian Highway.

Ceri Howell (37:18):
Tran-Canada Highway. Yes.

Jamie Duininck  (37:20):
Trans-Canada Highway number one, Highway 1. And as I’m driving there, I went through a tunnel. And I just remember, because I had been told, that that’s a project that Ceri Howell had sold. I don’t know what you call that. What would that be, that structure?

Ceri Howell (37:40):
Well, it could be an avalanche protection structure if it was on part of the snowy area, or it could be just an underpass.

Jamie Duininck  (37:47):
It was an underpass. Yeah.

Ceri Howell (37:49):
It was probably a bridge-plate underpass. I think I remember the one you mean. In that case, we had roads over the top and roads through the middle.

Jamie Duininck  (37:56):
Yeah.

Ceri Howell (37:56):
We did a lot of those.

Jamie Duininck  (37:57):
So for all of our customers listening, when you don’t get to see your product after you’ve installed it and have pride in that, if you ever take a vacation with your family to Banff, you’re going to be driving through a place where you had a lot of success-

Ceri Howell (38:14):
Right. Indeed.

Jamie Duininck  (38:15):
… from the standpoint of selling that bridge-plate underpass.

Ceri Howell (38:18):
In fact, if I could just add a little to that.

Jamie Duininck  (38:20):
Yeah. Absolutely.

Ceri Howell (38:20):
That reminds me that when we first began to realize that there was a lot of opportunity in Russia … And I should say, this is the old Russia. I mean, Russia today is not the Russia that I know. I have to say that. But the old Russia, it was modernizing. It was moving much more towards Western values. And after that first Partizansk job, we had a visit. We had a delegation of Russians from Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. The Russian Far East. Primorye territory. They came over, and we took them out West. We went to Banff, and we drove through snow sheds. And when they stood inside those snow sheds, inside a 60-foot or a 50-foot-span arch, they said, “This works for us.” And from those visits, we again built relationships. I’m still in contact with a couple of those guys 25 years later. They spoke no English. I spoke no Russian, other than [Russian 00:39:27], and [Russian 00:39:27], and [Russian 00:39:28], and things like that. But we’ve just built relationships, and they endured. It’s why we were successful there.

Jamie Duininck  (39:36):
Yep. Yep. Like you said, you and I have a friendship. But really, why I wanted to expose our listeners to a discussion between you and I, and to you, was hopefully that we can all … I feel like I learn a lot from you almost every time we’re together. Not every time, but almost every time. But just on how to do that, and how to build relationships, it’s really important. Communication, number one. How you communicate your career is rather interesting too, and I think that’s why you can build relationships, is you have a capacity to just be really clear about things. So I hope that this is time that is encouraging to people that are listening, just on how important relationships are. Whether it’s with your employees, with your customers, with your family. All of that is important, and how it can be really fruitful for a really long period of time when done right. So, thanks for joining me. I don’t know if you have anything else you want to share, or any last words for The Water Table?

Ceri Howell (40:48):
Well, I think I want to add something a little personal.

Jamie Duininck  (40:51):
Sure.

Ceri Howell (40:52):
That is about the Duininck family and the Duininck Group. Because when you look at beyond Prinsco, look to the whole Duininck Group, this is a large organization. I’m not going to bandy about numbers on the air, because A, I get them wrong, and B, they’re probably confidential. But this is a significant business. This is a family-based, trust-based, relationship-based business that has been enormously successful. And for all of the reasons that Jamie and I have talked about today. It is the people.

(41:26):
So often now, we think of successful businesses as only being those big, public companies, and names that we see in the paper every day, and CEOs with enormous titles and egos. But really, all businesses can be successful, large or small. And I would count the Duininck Group as a … It’s a good-size business. I don’t know what, in the US, it would be called. A mid-sized business. In Canada, it would be mid-to-large. But all of those values that you and I have talked about today are inherent, and born and bred in those businesses. I just want to ask a question that was asked of me today by my Australian friends. What generation of Duininck … Are you the third?

Jamie Duininck  (42:16):
I’m a third, yes.

Ceri Howell (42:18):
So there are fourth-generation Duinincks in the business now.

Jamie Duininck  (42:21):
Yes. Correct.

Ceri Howell (42:23):
That says it all.

Jamie Duininck  (42:24):
It is true that, when you think about it, when you talk about, you don’t see that very much. We’re very aligned in America to the large business, the big CEOs, and all the things you hear about that. I think part of that is because the other thing, you talked about it but you didn’t make a strong point on it is, the one maybe negative to relationships is, they take time. And I think the big businesses don’t afford time for that, because they’re public companies, or whatever they might be, that they have to produce quarterly. And sometimes relationships don’t work that way. A lot of times they don’t work that way. Where, if you look at it from, “What did you do from January to March?” In a relationship, it’s maybe nothing. But when you look at it from January to 15 years from now in March, that’s where the good stuff happens.

Ceri Howell (43:28):
Absolutely.

Jamie Duininck  (43:29):
But I appreciate your time. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m glad we got to do this in-person rather than over-the-phone, and look forward to continuing our relationship and continued success for you and your business as we go forward.

Ceri Howell (43:47):
Appreciate it. Thanks very much. I’ve enjoyed this.

Jamie Duininck  (43:48):
Yeah.

Ceri Howell (43:49):
It’s been great.

Jamie Duininck  (43:50):
Thanks, Ceri.

(43:55):
Thanks for joining us today on The Water Table. You can find us at watertable.ag, find us on Facebook. You can find us on Twitter, and you can also find the podcast on any of your favorite podcast platforms.