It was mid-1992 when the original founders of Langtree Controls—Noel Lambe, Jonathan Wong, and Wes Trevail—first exercised their collective vision for a different approach to providing service related to the controls business in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley.
The trio—parts of each of their last names were used to form the Langtree name—had worked elsewhere and, like many entrepreneurs before and since, they saw opportunity.
That vision was also about “doing things right the first time,” says David Woodill, an electrical engineer who joined the firm two years after its founding.
“The three founding partners were very practical, hands on people, and that’s one of the things that continues to set Langtree apart—in the field expertise and experience when it comes to finishing a job,” said Woodill.
Another current key individual in the firm is Alpesh Patel, who immigrated to Canada from India in 2000, when he joined Langtree as an electrical engineering specializing in controls and instrumentation.
Patel, Woodill and other key members of the Langtree team (identified as such on their website), understand the relationship that is constantly being built with clients and, by extension the general public who ultimately relies on the services provided.
“Our first duty is to the public,” notes Patel. “That’s our number one priority and it’s our license—the public and public safety.”
But in a complementary way, as clients depend on the expertise represented in the people who work at the firm, trust plays a big part in a relationship that continues to build upon years of work.
Consider as one example ARLANXEO, the current name for a firm that began doing business as Polysar, where Langtree has provided services longer than many of its own employees.
That kind of institutional knowledge, about the reasoning for the installation of various control systems, would be hard to duplicate.
In short, experience counts.
“We’ve always had a deep connection with clients,” says Woodill.
Not only that, but the company’s guiding principle for being customer focused sets a tone for the kind of approach that goes a long way toward sustaining those relationships.
“It’s about the quality of our services and really understanding what the client needs, not necessarily what they want,” notes Patel.
Woodill continues along that line of thought.
“We can do work that makes more money but that doesn’t always work for the client. Our mission is to see that what gets put in the field is what the client needs. It might be something that’s big and shiny, but it may not be what is really needed if it doesn’t fit with what they want to do in the long term.”
That also factors in when it comes to an approach to growth for the company itself.
Along with Woodill and Patel, Langtree, which is an employee owned firm, has some 65 staff in total, at least 15 of those 65 being licensed professional engineers, plus another eight or so that are Engineers in Training, the formal name that the Professional Engineers Ontario uses for the five-year period before the coveted P. Eng. designation is earned.
And while the firm has had significant growth over the last 10 years, it’s what Woodill and Patel both refer to as “controlled” or “managed” growth, not at a pace that’s too fast.
As the company grows, it does so with an eye not to the next job but for what the relationship with its clients will be in the next 50 years.
That also means working well with others, an important way of doing business for a firm like Langtree, which has its specialties, well-recognized and appreciated in its market.
“We have pretty well-defined areas that we’re responsible for handling,” notes Woodill. “We try do make sure that’s outlined right up front, so it doesn’t become a problem and that works for us and for the firms we work with on various projects.”
Another key factor for engineering in this area is a healthy respect for the industrial environment, where dealing with operating pressures of various gases at 40,000-50,000 pounds per square inch are not uncommon.
For those key reasons and beyond, safety is engrained in the mindset of people that work at Langtree Controls, both current and future.
Hiring new graduates out of various engineering schools is part of a process that’s intended to renew the firm over time, notes Woodill.
“We stay in touch with the schools—pretty much all of them—and give them all the opportunities possible,” he adds.
Sometimes, someone who is from the area has a preference that they’d like to have a career locally, and that is certainly becomes a possibility when the desire and the need aligns.
“We’re always in need of the quality people that want to be here,” says Woodill, who hails from Whitby, although his wife is from the area.
“She was happy when we came here.”
In Patel’s case, spending five years working in India before working another five years in Saudi Arabia eventually lead to his introduction to the opportunity at Langtree. Woodill became part of the standard process Patel needed to prove he met Canadian qualifications and the rest is history.
One initiative that Langtree management employed was to engage the services of a firm that provided a series of team building exercises, done one day a month for four months. Every employee, including management, was involved in the interpersonal skills training.
An extension of that kind of thinking has played out in a series of conferences where all employees and spouses visit a resort for several days, the last being a four-day, three-night trip to Mexico. There have been eight trips like that over the last dozen years.
Those kinds of personal interactions ultimately pay long-term dividends for the company as employees are able to relax together and get to know one another outside normal work hours.
It also goes a step further as a culture of cooperation and consultation becomes stronger.
Having employees work in a team also means you’re also helping to minimize risk, says Woodill. “There’s a better chance of correcting something before it goes out, which means there are multiple layers of protection.”
Now, Patel sees the culture of Langtree as being critical to the ongoing success of the firm.
“It’s not just words,” he says. “It’s the way we want to run the company. If people work together in a way that’s going to be a success, they need to understand each other, and we work hard at that.”
This article first appeared in the March/April edition of Lambton Shield magazine.