Equity Sweat

by Steve Macleod

Tom Kenny started in trucking in the mid-’70s when he was 18 and his grandfather lent him the money to buy a ’77 International cabover.

Working in Hardesty, Alta. — about two hours more east than south from Edmonton — Kenny hauled fertilizer, grain, and livestock for a year before joining L.E. Matchett Trucking.

Although Kenny says he didn’t have CEO aspirations when he took the keys to his first truck, having a wife and four boys was motivation enough.

And though he’s worked his way up to the top of the operation and a life behind the desk, Kenny still feels the pull of the road. He oversees about 435 trucks; he’s lived through a number of acquisitions — seeing them from both sides — and he no longer works for a trucking company but rather a division of an investment company. He still heads out on the road from time to time to stay in touch with the drivers; and he loves getting behind the wheel.

But these days, he’s Tom Kenny, CEO of Westcan Bulk Transport, a division of a private equity firm called TriWest.

More and more Canadian truckers are toying with equities. Kenny’s is the story of one that worked as planned. Almost.

Kenny first came on board the Edmonton-based bulk hauler about 16 years ago when Westcan purchased L.E. Matchett Trucking. At the time, Kenny owned two trucks and they were both leased to Matchett.

Westcan, meanwhile, was a division of Winnipeg’s Paul’s Hauling, owned by Paul Albrechtsen. When Westcan purchased Matchett, Kenny was offered a managment position with the larger operation and became general manager in Edmonton. The company grew and developed a strong position in the bulk transportation market in western Canada; so when TriWest showed up in 2007, Kenny was able to provide the equity firm with the basis for a solid investment.

Westcan wasn’t TriWest’s first trucking effort. The equity was formed in 1998, with more than $425 million in committed capital. The goal was to invest in established well-run companies with proven track records and sustainable competitive advantages. Its first trucking purchase was Highland Transport.

Kenny says the synergies formed with sister
companies allows Westcan to strengthen its position in the marketplace.

 TriWest bought Highland in 2001 and sold it in 2004 to TransForce. After that, TriWest purchased the venerable Northern Alberta general hauler, ice-road specialist, and family-owned RTL Robinson

Then came the Westcan purchase and more recently, TriWest expanded again when Paul’s sold off another asset — Gardewine — to TriWest for an undisclosed price.

According to Kenny, these types of buyout are designed to create minimal uncertainty around the office. The biggest change for Westcan was losing Paul’s Hauling as a sister company, but RTL Robinson substituted into that role.

"The transition from Paul’s Hauling to TriWest has been fairly smooth in terms of day-to-day operations, not much has changed," explains Kenny. "Our goal is now to grow the business and the experience and knowledge TriWest brings to our company will help achieve this goal."

While the trucking operations have retained their own management structures under TriWest, the carriers work closely to align best practices and maximize growth opportunities.

Westcan focuses on providing bulk transport services for a number of different industry sectors, primarily in western Canada and the northwest U.S., and they’ve been at it since 1964.

RTL Robinson had transformed since 1968 from a transportation company to a provider of transportation, construction and logistics services. Established in Canada’s North, the carrier provides LTL service across the western arctic and is a key member in both summer and winter road construction.

The Gardewine Group has six divisions and dabbles in a bit of everything. While the company has expanded its reach, primary service in the past has been in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

Each of the carriers under TriWest operates in different markets and growth for each carrier likely won’t come through diversification, so the fleets will lean on each other create a better support network.

"Our sister companies have a positive impact on our business, and vice-versa," notes Kenny, who in 2005 was given one of Alberta’s most prestigious trucking industry awards. "Through our relationship with RTL, we are able to develop synergies that will ultimately allow us to strengthen our position in the marketplace."

"We are looking to achieve growth both organically and by acquisition if the right opportunities present themselves," says Kenny. "Alignment of our companies is another primary focus. This involves determining best practices, applying them in a way that is mutually beneficial, and working together as a cohesive team."

Increasingly, acquisitions are being viewed less as takeovers and more as an injection of new money, new ideas and new optimism. In other words, growth.

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