View LEHDER's 20th Anniversary Press Release here:
By Sid Lethbridge, President
In 2015, LEHDER Environmental Services Limited is celebrating twenty years in business. For some of us here today, twenty years seems to have flown by and for others it is a lifetime, literally!
In early 1994, four Sarnia area men were discussing what their future might hold after being told that their workplace was going to be closed permanently. That discussion led to the formation of LEHDER by those four original principals - Sid Lethbridge, Des Hayles, Mike Denomme and Mark Roehler. The company name is pronounced LEADER and is derived from the surnames of the founders. The name was selected to reflect our commitment to being an innovative leader in consulting services. The company was incorporated in October 1994.
The four founders were all employed by Fiberglas Canada Inc. (later Owens Corning Canada) until the operations ceased in Sarnia. At that time, we decided that there was a need for the type of expertise that we had developed as the Fiberglas Canada Environmental Affairs group. Our business plan was simple - find a first customer and work hard. We approached Owens Corning with a proposal to provide environmental services to the remaining Canadian operations. They liked the concept and we entered into a two-year contract with Owens Corning.
Bright and early on January 2, 1995, LEHDER Environmental Services Limited commenced operations in Point Edward, Ontario.
We started out in the same building that our Headquarters is based by subleasing some space from Owens Corning. Later that year we entered into a lease agreement with D’Andrea Management Incorporated (the owners of the building) that saw them build our first office overlooking the atrium.
The first five years were a whirlwind of developing new capabilities, adding new people and growing our firm. LEHDER was managing large remediation projects for contaminated sites; MSDS management seemed to be a big opportunity and our stack sampling capabilities were constantly growing. In 1999, LEHDER expanded to Western Canada when we acquired Airworks, an Edmonton based source testing company. Things looked very sunny, but there was a dark cloud over the horizon!
If the first five years were sunshine and roses, the second five presented a hard reality that tested the mettle of the firm. It began in 2000, Owens Corning, then our largest client, encountered financial difficulties and ultimately entered Chapter 11. Needless to say, this adversely affected our financial performance significantly because our work load dried up almost overnight. Those folks who were here then can remember how slow our business was that year! After rebounding in 2001 and 2002, there was another challenge ahead in the form of a slowdown in the economy beginning in late 2003 and extended to the third quarter of 2004 that again adversely affected our business.
However, good things can come from bad times. During this period, the LEHDER Environmental Information Management Service (LEIMS) saw rapid development from a concept largely based on managing data from soil and groundwater studies to the key Air Quality Management tool that the Industrial Service Group uses on a daily basis. Additionally, from a business management point of view we learned a very important lesson about the risks associated with having all of your eggs in one basket. LEHDER established and met goals aimed at broadening our customer base to minimize the possibility of a similar event happening again.
The third five years were like the first five with year after year increases in sales. In 2008, LEHDER put a sharp focus on our core expertise with the objective of carving out a specialized niche in air quality consulting. LEHDER's Emissions Testing Team became recognized as one of the largest and most experienced in North America. The ISG team expanded both in numbers and capabilities in order to meet the rising demand for emission inventories, air dispersion modeling and MSDS authoring and management. New capabilities such as shut down support for large petrochemical facilities were added. Reflecting our increasing number of employees, we expanded our offices in both Edmonton and Point Edward giving us even more space to grow. 2009 saw a worldwide economic slowdown that raised questions about the future.
The fourth five year period presented both continued growth for LEHDER and a new challenge for the leadership team. Three decisions made years earlier – first, to expand into the western Canada market; second, to diversify our client base and; third, to specialize in air quality consulting – bore fruit as our business continued to grow even in the midst of a global recession. In Sarnia, we embedded employees at key local industries which resulted in the creation of strong, long term relationships with several large petrochemical/refinery facilities. In Edmonton, LEHDER undertook a management structure re-organization leading to vastly improved integration of all branches of our firm. In 2014, we added e-learning capabilities and successfully initiated a complete upgrade of our enterprise management software.
Since commencing operations, LEHDER has grown from the original 4 partners in 1995 to 36 people in 2015. And four retirees! We are now one of the largest Air Quality Management consulting firms in Canada and our emission testing capabilities make LEHDER the premier stack testing company in Canada.
A company does not stay in business for twenty years without great customers! From our original single client, LEHDER now has a portfolio of well over 800 customers. Our client base is almost entirely industrial facilities representing a broad range of sectors including petroleum and petrochemical, pharmaceutical, organic chemical, inorganic chemical, steel and metallurgical and mining. At the end of 1995, LEHDER had eight clients (counting Owens Corning just once). Of those original clients, LEHDER did business with five in 2014! The very high proportion of repeat customer business reflects the loyalty of our clients and the quality of the work that LEHDER provides to them.
An absolute key to our success is that LEHDER has great employees who recognize and relish the extra effort that is required to make sure that the client’s requirements are met. Four of our first five employees, after the partners, are still with LEHDER and have taken on leadership roles. Carol O’Grady, our very first employee, who retired in March 2007, was our General Manager in charge of administrative aspects of LEHDER. Peter Pakalnis became a partner in 2003 and helps lead the Emissions Testing Group; Brian Goodman is a Senior Project Leader in the Industrial Services Group, Chris Ungar is a Project Leader with the Sarnia Emission Testing Team and Marnie Freer became partner in 2005. Penny McInnis, another early employee, joined the management team as a principal in 2012.
We look forward to writing more chapters in the LEHDER history as we address new opportunities and challenges in the coming years! We don’t know what the future will bring, but, if history is any indication, we know that the partners and employees of LEHDER will rise to the occasion.