In January, Junior achievement of Northern Alberta & NWT announced its Alberta Business Hall of Fame inductees for 2019. It’s a diverse list of individuals, and not just from a business standpoint. The inductees not only represent different types of businesses but also different generations of business development in the province. The Alberta Business Hall of Fame was establishes in 1980 as a way celebrate and honour Albertans who have used their leadership skills and community spirit to shape Alberta’s business community. Since its founding, 83 Albertans have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Kurt Feigel Sr. launched his company, Universe Machine Corporation, in 1965 with two business partners to manufacture, modify and repair metal products for heavy industry. Over the next 54 years, Feigel (and his descendants) bought out the partners and expanded the original three-man welding set-up in a 2,000 sq. foot building into a major manufacturing company in a 100,000 sq. foot facility in Edmonton’s southeast industrial area. Feigel also expanded his business reach by establishing Feigel Investment Ltd., a property management corporation specializing in industrial property leasing. That side of the business now has over half a million square feet of property in 11 locations.
Technology self-starter Ashif Mawji is also being inducted into the Alberta Business Hall of Fame. Born in Kenya, Mawji moved with his family to Edmonton where he studied computer and technology systems at NAIT, graduating in 1992. Instead of going to work for a company like many of his classmates, Mawji began his own company, Upside Software. He built the company over the next 12 years, working with clients such as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and Hewlett Packard before accepting a $22 million bid to sell the company to U.S. based SciQuest Inc. in 2012. He now serves as a Venture Partner at Rising Tide, a venture capital firm in San Francisco.
Steel manufacturer Paul Collins is also joining Mawji and Feigel in the Hall of Fame. Collins began his company, Collins Steel, in 1984 on the heels of failure of another company during the bust years of the times. This time he got it right and Collins Steel operates out of a 65,000 square foot production facility and its steel has been used in many projects such as the Edmonton International Airport and Cross Iron Mills shopping centre in Calgary. Now semi-retired, he's turned company operations over to his sons.
Each of these Hall of Fame inductees have plenty advice for entrepreneurs. Here are a few of their top tips.
“I say to my children and grandchildren, ‘go into a field you love, not where the big bucks are’,” says Kurt Feigel Sr. “If you have a passion for something, you’ll be good at it and the money will come from that.”
Ashif Mawji agrees. Running your own business is going to take a lot of hard work, so it’s best if you actually enjoy doing that work. “Passion is key, if you don’t have it, I'm not sure if this is going to work because when you're an entrepreneur, you have to put in a ton of hours; you're going to be kicked several times over. It's going hurt, and the only way you can keep going is if you love it,” he says. “If you’re just doing it for the money, it's not going to work for you.”
In the lobby of Collins Steel there’s a sign that reads: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” And that’s a core value of the company.
Being in business, Collins believes, is a team sport. Both his sons, Jason and Ryan, who now run the business, were semi-professional hockey players, and they all know that only way a team succeeds is if they support, listen and respect one another.
As a result, Collins Steel has many employees who have worked for the company for a long time. The same goes for Universe Machine Company, which considers business like family.
“We have a strong retention because we run our company like a family. Everybody is important,” says Feigel. “We’re not just a machine shop; we’re a big family. We treat people right and make them feel that they’re part of our family.”
Trust Your Employees
It’s important to trust in yourself but also to learn how to trust others earlier in the business journey. This is a hard one for entrepreneurs because trust also involves letting go.
“As an entrepreneur, as a Type A, you have that personality of being controlling,” Mawji says. “I guess you believe in yourself, and you believe you can be the only one to do it the best way. It's about trust, trusting a team, and I would say that I was a slow learner in that. But what I learned is you should never be afraid to ask for help.”
Part of creating trust is to listen, especially those who to work for you “Many times the ideas need to come from the people that work under me And I will give them full support," Feigel said.
Give Back to the Community
All three inductees to the Alberta Business Hall of Fame give back to the community in various ways.
Paul Collins and Collins Steel is a founding member of the CISC Steel Centre at the University of Alberta, an education and research network to create linkages between the industry and education.
Universe Machine Corporation was a sponsor for the Edmonton Indy, an IndyCar race series that was held in Edmonton through 2012, as well as a supporter for Canadian driver Stefan Radzinski.
Ashif Mawji has served on numerous boards and commission including his current positions at the Edmonton Police Foundation, as well as former work at the Sarah McLaughlin School for Music and NAIT Board of Governors. He recommends that other entrepreneurs do the same.
“There are several benefits for entrepreneurs. One of them is to network, so you meet other very successful people and you can learn from them,” he says. “The second part is that you'll learn about the not-for-profit world and you learn about where you make a difference. You may not be able to give money, but it's your skills and time that's worth way more than the money. For example, helping an organization become more efficient or more tech savvy can really help them.”
The Alberta Business Hall of Fame will induct these three new members on May 15, 2019.