Most successful businesses are built on hard work, a good idea and a bit of divine intervention. In 2009, Allan Schofield and Alex Fulthorpe’s paths collided across a major oil and gas producer’s packed boardroom table, and they quickly recognized talent in each other. Over late-night beers, they spoke about how poorly the sector was being serviced and how they knew there was a better way. With a common entrepreneurial itch, they agreed to stay in touch.
“We realized we both had quite a bit of skill, and we knew we could develop a far better experience for both customers and employees alike,” says Alex Fulthorpe, executive vice president of Blackstone Industrial Services.
It took a few years, but when Schofield saw an opportunity with a multinational oil and gas company in 2012, he jumped at it. The client was streamlining the business by reducing their maintenance staff and bringing in a third-party millwright service to maintain their Fort Saskatchewan plant. Schofield launched Blackstone Industrial Services from his kitchen table with a team of one, offering critical industrial rotating equipment service. When the client had an equipment breakdown shortly after, he recruited four of the best millwrights he knew to work on the site, and very quickly four, turned into 16 working days and nights to get the client running.
With a loan and a significant purchase order from the client as proof that he could cover payroll for the first months, Schofield learned how to grow his company.
“I was a millwright, not a businessperson, so I had to learn the concept of fast invoicing, fast collections, and cash flow on the fly. I got these instant lessons in business, and it was happening really fast. I managed to keep the ship off the rocks while figuring out how to drive it,” says Schofield.
He carefully captained the ship and wanted to ensure Blackstone was sustainable before he brought others on board. He knew the risks of starting a business and wasn’t prepared to invite other professionals to uproot their lives and join him if it wasn’t successful. It only took a few months to see that Blackstone was on an upward trajectory and that Schofield needed a team to continue the rise. Fulthorpe, an engineer turned sales professional, joined Blackstone in February 2013, and together they set out to realize their goal of redefining service in the industry. As an independently owned company, they didn’t have to fixate on quarterly earnings for shareholders and instead they could build a company on integrity, quality service and reliable relationships knowing that success would follow.
“We were a small independent company so, we could focus and prioritize what we knew was critical to clients and employees, and we allowed financial performance to be a byproduct of this new definition of success,” says Schofield.
Establishing a steady pipeline of work and hiring the best people in the business was essential to execute it well. Blackstone worked to qualify itself with several multinational companies and continued to prove its ability to deliver. They were the new experts in town focused on rotating equipment with an appetite to execute and a barn full of capable staff.
Schofield and Fulthorpe vowed from the start to provide something unique in the market, and they have made that a reality through acquisitions and partnerships. In 2017, Blackstone expanded to the U.S. with the acquisition of Nuovo Parts, a key North American parts distributor. Its Italian roots lie in Florence’s Nuovo Pignone, which was owned by GE Oil & Gas (now Baker Hughes). This acquisition strengthens Blackstone’s relationship with Baker Hughes and allows it to provide even better service and solutions for clients.
“Italy has an interesting history and society. They have these industrious minds but also very artistic craftsmanship that goes along with it,” says Fulthorpe, and it is critical to preserve all that knowledge and craftsmanship to ensure it endures for generations.
By 2018, Blackstone acquired its first shop in Edmonton to facilitate major repair work. To assist the one-stop-shop approach Blackstone provides, they acquired assets for pipeline and environmental services from Trican in 2020. This division focuses on engineered applications from the “wellhead to the gas pump” to ensure client assets operate safely and smoothly.
A year later, Blackstone invested in the Italian engineering company Compressor Service Technology (CST Firenze) started by the engineer who designed the first Pignone compressor in the 1960s. It is staffed by mostly young engineers who are dedicated to preserving industry knowledge, making it as much a university as a business. This partnership allows Blackstone to always have answers to the complicated questions that arise onsite to ensure they provide the best quality products and services possible.
Over the past 10 years, this small Alberta company has grown into a global one with two repair shops, multiple offices, a staff of 165 (swelling to 400+ depending on project loading) operating across Canada and into the United States, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Europe.
“A big focus was always developing the product as we grew to be that class-leading service provider, and at the same time building a culture people coveted working in,” says Schofield.
In a market that suffers from a scarcity of tradespeople, especially the highly skilled trades required at Blackstone, the company continues to attract and retain quality people with its team atmosphere, high standards and the desire to help employees develop and grow in their careers.
“We have a high level of extremely talented individuals that are armed to the teeth with knowledge. We all share knowledge and we bring ourselves up as a collective group, so it doesn’t matter who goes into any site at any time, clients are getting a world-class product,” says Schofield.
Employees are proud to represent the Blackstone brand every day, and that pride shows in their professionalism and quality output for clients.
As the company expands into other markets and explores new opportunities, it will continue to be a valuable partner to its elite clientele and provide that world-class product and quality service that has become synonymous with the Blackstone brand. In many ways, 10 years is just the beginning.