Hewitt Equipment Limited’s business may revolve around machines, but the real reasons for its success are its people, Chairman and CEO Jim Hewitt says. “We do have a pretty good product to offer our customers, but we also have a very skilled technical workforce,” he says.
So skilled, in fact, that the business has a strong record of delivering products and services to remote locations, Hewitt says. “There wasn’t a corner store to go to and get [our clients] out of trouble,” he says. “That has been a great capability of ours.”
Based in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, Hewitt Equipment is the authorized Caterpillar dealer for its province and western Labrador. Additionally, the company deals to the Maritime Provinces through its subsidiary, Atlantic Tractors & Equipment Ltd. and Hewitt Rentals, and to the Ontario through its subsidiary, Hewitt Material Handling.
Founder Robert Hewitt started the company in 1952 with approximately 40 workers. In its first major project, Jim Hewitt notes, Hewitt Equipment supplied and supported equipment to build the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway.
Since then, the company has grown to employ a staff of more than 2,300 and operate 52 branches. The company sells, rents and services Caterpillar products through its Heavy Equipment, Material Handling, Energy and Trucks.
“Complex, large logistics projects have always been part of our history,” Jim Hewitt declares, noting that the company has participated in the majority of the mining developments in Quebec since 1952.
Hewitt Equipment also serves a diverse customer base that includes “a huge panoply of miners,” Hewitt says, noting that its clients explore for gold, silver, zinc, lead and even diamonds. “It’s almost whatever you want, we’ve got it.”
Investing in Itself
Hewitt joined his family’s company 46 years ago and during his tenure the company has invested strongly in its operations. “We haven’t been shy to put our money where our mouth is in terms of putting in [the necessary] facilities and tools,” he says.
One example is D•tech, a condition monitoring system that has been in place since 2010. With the system, Hewitt Equipment can help customers keep track of their equipment and improve performance and efficiency, Hewitt says.
“We’re focused on trying to [catch] things before they become a problem,” he says, noting that the company has had many cases where it proactively advised customers on avoiding issues.
One example, he notes, was a fuel injector that was not functioning. “We’re able to see the degradation in horsepower and the decrease in cycle times,” Hewitt explains. “[Our services can prevent] catastrophic engine failure.”
Hewitt Equipment has won awards for its work, including being named the Company of the Year by the West Island Chamber of Commerce in 2012. “I also received the Queen’s Jubilee Award a couple of years ago,” Hewitt adds.
The company also has performed strongly on its annual employee opinion survey. “We have a high level of engagement, and our level of participation in those surveys [recently] was 95 percent,” he says.
The survey looks at areas such as collaboration, communication, training and development. “Sometimes you get messages you don’t want to hear, but it gives you [info] on what you need to work on,” he states.
Hewitt Equipment is coping with a downturn in its market. “There has been a huge drop in new mining machine developments,” Hewitt says. “Our Quebec market is down significantly in the mining and heavy equipment side.”
The company also has experienced a drop-off in sales, even though it expects to enjoy more than $1 billion in revenue this year. “That’s about 30 percent below our peak in 2012,” Hewitt explains.
Despite the downturn, “We decided to [maintain] our workforce,” he reports, adding that the company has coped thanks to product support work. “As we participate more with our customers, they’re doing more with repair than machine replacement.”
Hewitt predicts a strong future for the company, although 2015 looks uncertain. However, there are many minerals waiting to be mined “in Quebec’s basement,” he says. “There’s a good drive to those projects being developed in the future.”