Foundry grew using permanent molds to cast aluminum parts
As a young man in back in his native India during the 1960s, Kris Gupta got impatient with the long wait to get permission to immigrate to Canada. So he wrote a letter to then-Prime Minister Lester Pearson about how he would make a good prospective citizen.
Surprisingly, Gupta got a reply back from Pearson's office, which was no doubt impressed by his enterprising attitude, and he soon got bumped to the front of the line. Although almost four decades have passed, Gupta hasn't changed much.
"When I see an opportunity, I go for it," Gupta, president of Powercast Manufacturing said with a laugh. "Life is too short to wait around."
It's that hard-driving attitude and optimistic disposition that vaulted Gupta from the bottom ranks at Joslyn Canada, the Lachine forging firm that gave him his first job, all the way into the president's office.
Then in 1994, Gupta made an even bigger leap. He bought the assets of Powercast Manufacturing, a St-Eustache firm that melts aluminum ingots into custom-made parts for the electricity, construction and housing fixtures industries. It turned out that Gupta was just as successful at building a business as he was at running one. In the few short years after he took over, the company's annual sales had quadrupled to almost $7 million and the number of employees rose from 20 to 70.
According to Gupta's son Ravi, who has an MBA from McGill, and recently joined his father in business after a stint at Nortel, Powercast operates in a highly competitive market.
"Furnaces, molds and the casting process date back thousands of years," Gupta who heads Powercast's sales efforts said. Many people know how to do it. "To stay ahead we have to choose our markets carefully and execute effectively."
Powercast's strategy has been to focus on producing short-run, high quality products made out of aluminum. During the past half century the number of North American metals foundries has dropped by more than half, as companies rationalized and out-sourced operations overseas. Most the foundries that went out of business specialized in ferrous alloys such as steel and cast iron.
But aluminum, which is lighter and acts as a effective conductor of electricity has soared in popularity. According to Gupta, the number of foundries in Canada that specialize in transforming aluminum has shot up from four to about 20 during the past two decades. And according to one key customer, Powercast has been among the most successful.
"They were one of the first companies that figured out how to produce highly complex parts using aluminum," said Mario Lemay, vice-president (operations) at Lumec Inc. The company uses about $1 million worth of Powercast products each year in its street-lamp assembly facility, which is situated just 10 minutes away from Lumec's plant.
"Their quality is very good," Lemay said. "And their proximity helps too."
Another of Powercast's key competitive advantages lies in the company's use of permanent molds, as opposed to the traditional sand molds. Permanent molds can be pricey, costing between $15,000 and $80,000 to make, but they are more precise, last longer and are less harmful to the environment.
The fluctuating Canadian dollar has been a mixed blessing to Powercast. It's low value during the past decade gave the company a leg up on U.S. competitors, enabling it to grow total exports to almost 40 per cent of revenues. But although most of Powercast's new growth is expected to come from south-of-the-border, Gupta concedes that the loonie's recent strength has hurt.
"We have to work harder, to make the same amount of money," Gupta said.
Yet despite the competition among aluminum casters, Kris Gupta sees opportunities everywhere.
"There is a huge market," Gupta said. "I could double sales in the next couple of years. But I need to move slowly"
A cautious man by nature, Gupta has resisted the impulse to grow too quickly. Despite the fact that several years ago he bought land adjacent to Powercast's plant to provide the room to expand its clogged 30,000 square foot plant, Gupta has been reluctant to act. But that could soon change.
The arrival of his son into the business is bringing new energy to the father and Kris Gupta now seems intent on acting.
The first step will be to add a new layer of professional managers between Gupta and the line workers, who have traditionally reported to him. In addition to Ravi Gupta who heads marketing efforts, the company recently hired a professional controller and is presently looking at taking on an operations manager.
With the new managerial staff on board coupled with the anticipated bigger manufacturing facilities, the stage will be set for the company take on new accounts.
But like his father, Ravi Gupta remains cautious.
"We got where we are by growing slowly but surely," Gupta said. "I see no reason to change course now."
Photo caption: According to Kris and Ravi Gupta, Powercast Manufacturing has managed to stay ahead of industry trends by using a permanent-molding process, as opposed to sand molds, which are less environmentally friendly.
|© 2004 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.|