Motivation and Innovation – Creating customer value through employee ownership

Spartan Controls
Written by Ryan Cartner

Spartan’s customer-centric approach and employee ownership model go hand-in-hand in helping the company work toward its mission of delivering real customer value.
Company profile
Spartan Controls is the recognized leading provider of automation, valves, measurement and process control solutions and services in Western Canada. As a local business partner of Emerson, a global industrial automation solutions provider, Spartan offers a broad range of solutions for all process industries including oil and gas, oil sands, mining, pulp and paper, power, pipelines and municipal.

Unlike most companies within the automation space, Spartan is a Canadian, employee-owned company that empowers its employees, whom they proudly refer to as “Spartans”, to think outside the box and do what it takes to meet the ever-changing needs of their customers.

“Whether you’re producing oil and gas, combining molecules to create ethylenes for making plastics, mining potash for use in fertilizers, or purifying water for the city,” says President and CEO Grant Wilde, “our valves, measuring devices, and control technology are at the heart of those operations.”

Founded in 1963, Spartan Controls was established to represent Fisher Controls in Western Canada, a control valve manufacturer from Marshalltown, Iowa. Jasper Fisher, the company’s second generation of family ownership, wanted to expand and realized the most effective way to sell products beyond his regional borders would be to hire people who were invested in their own local markets. Fisher established a network of representative companies, including Spartan Controls, that would sell, supply and service the valves.

The company name ‘Spartan Controls’ was chosen by the company’s founder Bill Flegal to reflect the efficient and competitive nature of the Spartans of ancient Greece. “We’re a competitive group, and we like to win,” says Wilde. “When you think of the Spartans of history, you think about an efficient and effective culture. These values are symbolized by our name.”

Emerson purchased Fisher Controls in 1993, giving Spartan access to a broad suite of new process control and automation technologies. Emerson translates global market and technology trends into innovative products and solutions and Spartan understands the local market, provides regulatory expertise and offers responsive and flexible support to the local customer. Today, Spartan is Emerson’s exclusive representative in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and is part of a group of 21 Emerson local business partners in North America.

Spartans live and work in 14 towns and cities across its territory. Their primary facility for sales, warehousing, assembly, and service operations is based in Edmonton, Alberta. The company has numerous service and repair centers from Burnaby, to the oil sands of Fort McMurray, to the heart of natural gas production in Grande Prairie and as far east as Regina. Spartan employs roughly nine hundred people and operates over 700,000 square feet of facility space to support its customers.

Committed workforce
Spartan culture is often cited as a key advantage by customers, the companies it represents, and even its competitors. From its inception, Spartan’s leadership structured the company around the concept of broad employee ownership. They understood that allowing employees to own a piece of the company and share in its profitability would result in a more committed workforce. Everyone has an opportunity to purchase a piece of the company, and this drives a high level of dedication to customers. “We’re not employees; we’re owners, and when you have owners serving customers, there’s a higher level of attention, focus, detail, and energy,” says Wilde.

The company’s values reflect this foundation of ownership culture. Spartans are focused on establishing long-term customer relationships built on integrity and trust. From a management standpoint, Spartan leadership works to support frontline people by empowering them to be leaders and to make decisions. Particularly people who are interacting with customers are given latitude to take an active role, make important decisions and act as owners rather than employees.

Creating and sustaining value for the customer
“When we talk about customer value, it’s really how we’re wired,” says Wilde. “Our strategy is about creating and sustaining value that the customer wants. Whether it’s a simple transactional order, or a broad and complex application of control technology that gets implemented over many years, we’ve built our company on being able to serve specific customers and their needs.”

Through various representative agreements and acquisitions, Spartan has continuously added to its product line, assembling a very broad portfolio of solutions and services. This has allowed the company to provide a complete process control loop solution to its customers. Before 1971, the company was only selling components as standalone products, but that year, it decided that to better serve the needs of its customers, it would begin packaging the various parts together into complete solutions. Today, Spartan is Canada’s largest supplier of control panels and assemblies for the oil and gas and petrochemical industries. Spartan encourages its people to collaborate with its customers to come up with new solutions to meet their needs.

Environmental leadership through innovation
For the growing environmental compliance needs within many process industries, Spartan has a portfolio of implementation-ready clean technology developed to address environmental challenges such as energy conservation, reduction of vented and fugitive emissions, and increased production efficiency.

“We deliver these technologies based on very low abatement costs,” says Wilde. “They are as low as two dollars per ton of carbon dioxide — very cost effective. You can achieve environmental compliance and still have a return on your investment.”

Spartan’s customers in the oil and gas industry are leveraging its patented REMVue and Slipstream technologies for engine driven gas compression controls and are on their way to reducing CO2 emissions by over 1 megatonne per year. That is the equivalent to taking about 200,000 vehicles off the roads.

The company has also brought together a dedicated team focused on supporting customer operational excellence. This group brings together solutions and expertise to help optimize customers’ plant operations, making them safer and more reliable while performing better, resulting in more output with fewer material inputs and a reduction in energy and emissions.

“When you combine a number of our local innovations and solutions that we have been developing for 10 to 15 years now with those of Emerson’s, we can help our customers collectively reduce CO2 emissions by more than 15 MT,” says Wilde.

Industry recognition
Spartan’s commitment to its customers, Spartans and communities has not gone unnoticed. For the past 17 years, Spartan has been recognized as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies and is now considered a Platinum winner. This is an annual award given to companies that can demonstrate a clear strategy, an ability to achieve the goals that they set, financial health and stability, and a culture of commitment to the company.

Focused on the safety of its people, Spartan has also been recognized by the industry for its exemplary safety performance. It has received a Certificate of Recognition including being rated number 1 out of 190 industrial supply companies by the Workers Compensation Board.

“We recently received the Instrument Societies of America (ISA) Corporate Achievement award for the field of automation, The University of Calgary’s award for Corporate Leadership and maybe most rewarding is the United Way Division Excellence award for outstanding campaigns in charitable giving,” says Wilde.

Support for education and community involvement
Investing in future experts of the industry through support of education is another core value at Spartan. In partnership with Emerson and other principals, substantial investments have been made to provide students in post-secondary institutions with the most comprehensive suites of technology. Spartan supports key technical training institutions such as the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and other leading centers of learning with over $10 million of its equipment in place.

Spartans are encouraged to be active in the communities in which they live and work. Through various community initiatives, such as a fundraising campaign for the United Way, supporting families in need during the Christmas season, and assistance for community infrastructure programs, they strive to support families and children in need.

As an employee-owned company, Spartan is dedicated to customers, Spartans and communities. Like the Spartans of the past, they are tirelessly devoted to the success of the vision they share.



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