Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. This article was posted on the newspaper website on December 27, 2010.
The Sudbury Area Mining Suppliers and Services Association (SAMSSA) represents the largest concentration of mining suppliers in North America. Northeastern Ontario is the hardrock mining heartland of the Americas and Sudbury is its epicentre.
Being honest, being yourself and treating everybody equal are qualities that Ivan Beljo and Bob Rappolt support and live by. These traits that have led both men down their respective roads of success were recognized by their peers as the 2010 Sudbury Area Mining Supply & Service Association (SAMSSA) Hall of Fame inductees.
Their sons proudly shared their fathers’ stories with humour and affection at the association’s annual general meeting in December.
Ivo Beljo, son and business partner of Ivan, talked about the daily demands of running Rematech Industries, a designer, manufacturer and distributor of conveyor belting, rubber and urethane moulded products and linings.
Like many other supply and service companies, Ivan and Ivo have felt the challenges of a cyclical mining industry, lengthy local strikes and global economic downturns. Ivan learned about hardship and hard work growing up on the family farm and vineyards in Croatia after the Second World War.
At 15, his father’s death prompted him to work construction during the summer months to help support his mother and 12 siblings. Three years later, Ivan escaped from the communist regime of Yugoslavia to Austria and eventually Canada. He spent the next seven years learning English while working as a house painter.
Then it was on to Rema Tip Top – the predecessor company to Rematech – where he was hired on as an apprentice before being promoted to shift boss five days later. A year later, Ivan’s skills and work ethic advanced him to a partnership position, and eventually, branch manager.
“He always had a gift of simplifying massive belt installations and complex rubber lining projects,” said Ivo. “He needed to be the best at what he did, which I think was a survival technique from his early working years.”
What began as a four-man crew, with some part-time helpers working in a small shop, has flourished into a new 20,000-square-foot facility with a workforce of 60. He has earned the respect of his employees, suppliers and customers by treating everyone equally and setting the bar for quality products and service. It’s resulted in loyalty from long-time suppliers and low staff turnover.
His pursuit of quality earned him the 2009 Canadian Croatian Business of the Year award.
“It wasn’t always easy,” Ivan said, referring to the changes in his diminished forestry and mining customer base and past contracts with Elliot Lake’s Denison and Rio Algom, Temagami’s Sherman Mine, Kirkland Lake’s Adams Mines and National Steel’s Moose Mountain Mine on the outskirts of Sudbury.
Despite industry cycles and strikes, his company hasn’t missed a beat. Diversification of his product line has led to business relationships across Canada. “He hasn’t laid anyone off for 35 years,” said Ivo. “The closest he came to that was almost firing me a few times.”
Fellow inductee Bob Rappolt was feted by his son Robert, who shared a similar pride and admiration about the qualities that have made his father a success.
Now Stantec’s Canadian vice-president of mining practice, Bob was born in Cambridge, Ont., where he grew up on a dairy farm. After graduating from Queens University in 1976 with a mining engineering degree, he obtained work at Inco’s Sudbury operations.
In 1987, he joined the engineering arm of North Bay’s J. S. Redpath Limited, a mining contracting company. Six years later, the engineering division was sold off to Scott McIntosh. It wasn’t long before Bob led the mining engineering group as president of Canadian operations, until the firm was acquired by Stantec in 2008.
Bob was a leader in developing strong budgets and cost records, something that seemed a challenge to many others in the engineering field. He often served in the uneasy role of being a facilitator between engineers and contractors.
Yet his passion for the industry and exceptional compassion for people contributed to his personal and professional success.
Through 20 years of work in more than 30 countries, Bob established solid relationships that became major clients with Stantec. He attributes that success to the people around him.
“I’ve been very lucky in life to surround myself with excellence, and whatever strength I have it is because of the people I have associated with.”
His ability to be honest, open and establish trust in relationships has served him well. “I’m a people person,” Bob said. “I like to look a guy in the face and shake his hand. I think it is really important.”
His son Robert reaffirmed that during the cycles of the mining industry, he was committed to keeping people employed.
For Bob, the most difficult times were letting people go during industry downturns.When he joined Redpath, there were 37 people employed. When it was sold, it had dwindled to 12. But by 2008, when McIntosh joined Stantec, it was up to 180 people in Canada.
“We were flying,” Bob recalled. “Three months later, the crash hit. Unfortunately, we had to lay off 25 per cent of our employees.”
On a happier note, they currently have almost 200 employees. “Laying off people is a difficult thing to do, but hiring them back is a great feeling.”