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Small Spaces: The niche of noise

Small Spaces: The niche of noise

By Heidi Staseson


All cities have bylaws to control noise. Whether it’s motorcycles revving at high decibels or the ear-sore-inducing clamour coming from construction sites—municipal bylaws are enacted to mitigate noise pollution.


Similar acts are in place regulating noise in the energy, oil and gas and industrial sectors of business where company infrastructure noise is controlled through an array of sound suppression services. Father and son team Scott and Rod MacDonald have cornered that niche as purveyors of sound suppression through their Calgary-based company Noise Solutions.


When they opened their doors 15 years ago, the business of noise control was virtually an untapped market in industrial technology. They were initially met with skepticism owing to a concern the quiet-inducing products were more theoretical than proven. Only six months later they doused all apprehension proving their systems worked across a variety of industrial sectors.


They landed deals with global industry giants from Encana to Shell to United Space Alliance/NASA—the latter whom Scott McDonald refers to as their “sexy client.”


“When you mention NASA people tend to perk up a little bit,” says McDonald, who landed the coveted contract back in 1999 and provides his equipment on NASA’s crawler transporters in Cape Canaveral, Florida.


When you’re responsible for making sure the Space Shuttle gets out the launch area, there’s a lot of due diligence involved.


Locally, oil giants such as Encana, for example, will use Noise Solutions to ensure the design around engine and cooling systems at rural plants select the best-suited equipment so as noise to the nearest resident is impacted the least.


MacDonald’s team draws from a large database of noise sources and associated power levels and can determine early on how loud certain equipment is going to be using acoustic modeling software.


“Not only are they getting the appropriate horsepower required, but they’re also getting the best and quietest equipment right at the beginning,” he explains.


Say for example, Encana puts in a new gas compression facility where the permissible sound level, at the nearest resident or 1500 metres is 40 decibels. The goal, explains MacDonald, is to make sure the resident’s quality of life is impacted as minimally as possible through his noise-control designs that are created from the ground up.


Scott attributes Noise Solution’s success to a few factors. As president of Calgary’s chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global group committed to the sharing of entrepreneurial best practices, MacDonald proffers particular advice to his fellow small business owners.


First, he suggests, stick to what you know and grow that. For example, Noise Solutions focuses on the industrial side of large companies and their associated equipment. He notes that many entrepreneurs are wont to veer off into other areas too quickly, losing sight of their tried-and-true success gems.


“My wife calls it the ‘Squirrel Principle,’” he chuckles, referring to the common instance where you’ll be talking with someone and mid-sentence your dialogue partner suddently points and shout, “Squirrel!”


“It’s not even relevant to what you were talking about before!” says MacDonald.


“It’s easy to be distracted and look for other opportunities. But to really put that time, focus on to a current idea or a project is really what’s required to be successful.”


Second, he notes entrepreneurs shouldn’t rest on laurels alone. His company is always looking out for the products and/or services that complements his existing line.


Above all, he says, commitment to client excellence, reigns supreme. He credits company Vice-President of Development Steve Morgan as saying it best: “When a client has given us a purchase order he’s also given us his reputation at that time. And we want to be able to hand him his reputation back at the end of the project in better shape than it was when we received it.”


And he says if you do it right, referrals will follow: “You can pay for all of the advertising in the world but when you’re getting referred by your clients and they’re the ones telling other people about you, that’s where your growth really comes from.”


A fourth cornerstone to cultivating a successful small business stems from Commitment to Social Responsibility . MacDonald says clients want to know companies they’ve partnered with have placed a large stake within safety and that they themselves are environmentally safe.


“It’s absolutely vital to myself that all of our employees feel safe,” he says. “Not only when they’re on the job site and they’re around different tools—but when they’re driving, when they’re in the office, when they’re out on the shop floor.”


Aligning with various not-for-profit organizations and volunteer initiatives is another key aspect of social responsibility, according to MacDonald. As an example, Noise Solutions is a staunch supporter of Alberta Children’s Hospital.


Finally, MacDonald suggests to keep environmental responsibility at the company helm. Not only does his company do its part with typical recycling initiatives but he sees the thrust of environmental responsibility as stemming from “the environment in which we work.”


That, he explains, involves consistently following his company’s core values of respect, courage and fun. “It includes respecting one another and making sure that we respect our vendors, our clients and, in turn, making sure we are respected.”


And while he says his is an open-door culture where employees know they can talk to their boss at any time, there’s a balance between open-door and making sure you get your work done.


“We’re all answerable to somebody,” he says.


That somebody is his clients – without whom he wouldn’t have a business. For MacDonald the proverbial company “org chart” is inverted. As president he’s at the bottom of the diagram.


“My job is to empower and enable my team to provide the product, service and client excellence to the clients which are at the top of our chain,” he says.


A prized mission statement emblazoned on his company’s wall entrance is something he found in a Kingston, Ontario Starbucks:


“Our client is the force behind our actions and our decisions; they are not dependent on us—we are dependent on them. They are not an interruption in our work but the purpose of it. They are not an outsider in our business but a part of it. We are not doing them a favour by serving them; they are doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so.”

A quipping MacDonald credits the original author as one Mahatma Gandhi whose words the president modified and tailored to reflect his company ethos. “It’s why our company grows and why we continue to be in business and why we continue to attract some of the most amazing team of people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” he says.

As for revenue and profit figures MacDonald is slightly less forward. More important for him is the growth of his people which, he remarks, often comes through challenges and making mistakes. That’s where humility is another attribute of a successful entrepreneur.

“The day I stop learning is the day I die. It’s through those experiences [that we] become better people,” he emphasizes, adding a the telling example of a happy company employee is when someone leaves the nest to try out something new—only to return later.

Another company value he sees critical to success is carving out time to have fun. “Fun is one of our core values [at work] and we try to carry it into families. I don’t want to be the guy that goes, ‘Ugh! I don’t want to get up and go to work today!’”

But, says, MacDonald, fun is a result of being organized and he suggests entrepreneurs get a handle on work-life balance where “me” time is valued alongside the work horse.

“Successful people are going to spend a large part of their time at the office so they ought to enjoy being there. As an entrepreneur there are lots of nights and weekends where you need to work on your business, but it’s also very important [to] spend time working on your personal relationships as well,” he explains.

MacDonald is a stickler for scheduling—both at work and play—and believes that recharging one’s batteries in order to rejuvenate is key to keeping employees and business fresh and as focused as possible. He admits he’s revved whenever Monday arrives and he’s presently charged by numerous internal and external prospects.

He’s also excited about an already-planned family trip next May in Panama and more recently he feels fortunate to have the means to provide each of his children golf lessons.

For MacDonald cornering the noise-control niche has been entirely rewarding–and certainly within earshot.

“I love what we do. We really do help improve companies and the quality of life for people in communities. It’s an evolving industry; it’s very scientific. There are a lot of growth opportunities and it’s exciting times.”

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