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Colin Davison on overcoming rejection

Globe and Mail Update

When Colin Davison lost a bid on a project for the Canadian unit of global giant Siemens, he didn't let it get him down.

Siemens Canada had asked his company, Stealth Acoustical & Emission Control Inc., to provide a bid for work on equipment to be used at the Suncor Firebag oil sands project in Fort McMurray, Alta. So Calgary-based Stealth, which designs and fabricates acoustical enclosures and noise-abatement systems for equipment such as power generators and gas compressors, worked night and day for a week to prepare the bid by Siemens' deadline. He knew that landing the $6-million job – double the value of any project the company had done in its almost two years of business – would mean big things for Stealth.

Although Siemens liked the bid, it didn't give Stealth the job because the company Siemens was working for, Suncor Energy Inc., said it would not have time to qualify Stealth as a vendor, a process that involves checks on quality controls and safety programs.

When Siemens came back to Stealth, exactly a year later, asking it to bid on the next phase of the job, “we busted ourselves again to do it,” Mr. Davison says.

This time, in September, 2008, Siemens awarded Stealth the contract to provide acoustic packaging for its electrical equipment.

Now that the company has an established relationship with Siemens, Stealth is in a strong position in its bid for three other Siemens projects across Canada that could amount to upward of $30-million over the next few years. As a result of the Siemens deal, other opportunities have opened up for Stealth.

Mr. Davison joins us live now to talk about his company's breakthrough. Your questions and Mr. Davison's answers appear below.

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Dianne Nice: Hi Colin. Welcome and thank you for joining us today to talk about Stealth Acoustical & Emission Control. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got your start as an entrepreneur?

Colin Davison: I was born and raised in a family of eight in Edmonton, grew up as a competitive curler and went on to win the Canadian and World Curling Championship in 1994. I studied sociology and political science at university, and have a college diploma in law enforcement. I studied to be a cop and due to a car accident injury to my hearing in one ear, I could not pursue this career.

That led me to get into marketing with Cummins Engine company, where they owned an exhaust silencer company. It was during this time, regulations in noise control on industrial packages were in their infancy in Alberta, and so as this legislation developed, so did the demand for understanding by my clients of Cummins. Through this self-study of the legislation, I became extremely knowledgeable on technologies and legislation regarding noise control.

After a five year period, and the desire to push myself intellectually and in life in general, I decided I could not only build a better apple cart, but also provide much needed guidance to clients in the oil and gas industry regarding noise.

In January of 2006, Stealth Acoustical & Emission Control was born, and we haven't looked back from the days in my basement to three short years later, employing almost 100 staff this winter and having operational facilities in Calgary and Denver.

Dianne Nice: Some people would have given up on Siemens and not bid again for the contract. What was on the line for you if you had not succeeded the second time? Where does your drive to succeed come from?

Colin Davison: Nothing but my time and effort, and ego was on the line to bid again. If lost, then besides a bruised ego (which typically results in my desire to succeed galvanizing even more), and my personal time, there would have been nothing lost. With or without Siemens, Stealth will be a success because we are a company building a good core attitude and processes and we believe if you can have the best attitude and processes, you can champion any market, sport or aspect of your life. If you focus on the prize, you'll never win; if you focus on the processes it takes to win, you can't not succeed.

Kelly Mills from Halifax writes: What impact, if any, did your past curling failures and subsequent successes have on your approach to your business generally, and the decision to bid again on the Siemens project?

Colin Davison: Kelly, curling has had a tremendous effect on me as an entrepreneur in general, and is more relevant than purely Siemens. I still use many of the same goal-setting and team-training techniques coached to me, and subsequently coached by me to other curlers. My use of setting clearly defined goals, having confidence in my knowledge and abilities, and then the ability to continue to drive forward in the face of fear and perform are at the core of who I am as a person and entrepreneur.

This drive for success is always the reason to continue to bid, although the thought of how much work it was to bid and lose the first one briefly crossed my mind. There are always hurdles to success. It isn't the prize that is satisfying at the end, it's the appreciation for clearing the hurdles and who helped at each one. Glad to answer this questions, as it is insightful as to our success as a company.

Eric Atkins from Toronto writes: How do you juggle the obvious frustration of the rejection while maintaining a business relationship, one that obviously paid off?

Colin Davison: Haha....Life is about frustrations and losses, and so to be successful, I believe in myself and what we are trying to build. I believe in the long run, companies who do not choose us now will some day.

Eric Atkins: What lessons did you take from the experience?

Colin Davison: Hindsight is 20/20, like anything, really. I would have hired a document-control person to handle the high volume of paperwork better when dealing with a large company. The documentation requirements and flow of information can only go in certain forms and in one direction with large companies. We could have done better at this and it would have made it easier at the end of the project to close it out.

Dianne Nice: You say in the story that you're trying to grow in a sustainable way. How are you trying to do this?

Colin Davison: Development of standards and processes of course is the easy answer, but the more complex and balancing answer is through the partnerships with our sub contractors. We have a strict policy of if we need two people, we hire one and contract the other. This allows us to remain loyal to our employees in the slow times, as we are not overpopulated, as well as it gives us bigger infrastructure to be able to partner and go after large projects, versus purely weighing our resources alone. The start of a large project is not the best time to learn if you partner well with a subcontractor.

Dianne Nice: Do you do a lot of business in the U.S. or are you mostly concentrating on Canada?

Colin Davison: We have a manufacturing facility in Denver and we are equally focused on the U.S. market, although primarily in the West and the Southern U.S. We do some high-end noise work in the Ontario market, but freight is always an issue.

Jeff Labow from Toronto writes: Why do you think it is that having your staff work from home wasn't successful?

Colin Davison: This was purely at the start of our business. It worked fine, we just outgrew it quickly.

Dianne Nice: How do you keep your staff engaged and energized?

Colin Davison: Be honest and be open. My staff know that I care, not because I tell them, but because I demonstrate it and it is a choice and a responsibility to lead in this fashion. They don't respect me because of my card or title, they respect me and our company because we lead by example. I am typically the first one here and the last one to leave. If someone needs help, I or we help. We try for consistency at all costs with our employees, like they are our kids and be fair to the oldest and the youngest mentality.

Dianne Nice: Do you view Siemens as having contributed to the future success of the company, or purely the profit from this project?

Colin Davison: Although Siemens has been a vehicle for us to break into a longer-term project, we have been doing large projects for other companies for quite some time, so if the project with Siemens didn't come along, we have had others recently come along that would have given us equal opportunity to make the most of our company's success. We were happy to work with Siemens and Suncor on this particular project, and we look forward to working with other companies as well, given we are already sending projects to Russia and other parts of the world.

Dianne Nice: Colin, on behalf of our readers, thanks again for joining us today to talk about Stealth's breakthrough. Is there anything you would like to add?

Colin Davison: My pleasure, it was great to be involved. My final comments are to encourage others to do what they believe in. Success is believing in what you do and what makes you, you. That has been my guide and Stealth's guide and it carries us through good and bad. Thanks so much!

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