Gordon Bain, Founder & President, OCEAN
Entrepreneur, visionary and philanthropist, Bain founded his own company at age 20 and has been growing it ever since.
(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2017 edition.)
TELL US ABOUT YOUR EARLY LIFE. WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND EDUCATED?
I am from Trois-Rivières, from the Mauricie region in the Province of Quebec. Following my teenage years, I headed for Vancouver to the Northwest School of Deep Sea Diving where I obtained my deep-sea diving diploma. I also obtained a Hyperbaric Chamber Operator Certificate.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE COMMERCIAL DIVING BUSINESS?
I swam during all my youth. For me, it was natural to follow in this path.
YOU FOUNDED AQUA MARINE IN 1972 AT A VERY YOUNG AGE. TELL US ABOUT THAT.
For me, it has always been natural to be my own boss. I wanted to develop my own business according to my vision, which was to create an integrated maritime services company, a company that would offer superior quality all along the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes.
In the beginning, Aqua Marine offered underwater work services. With my Northwest School of Deep Sea Diving diploma, I now had the competencies to offer quality services to my customers. I came back to Quebec when I was 20 years old, determined to create a company specialized in underwater works. At 21, I bid on a Hydro-Québec project for the maintenance of submerged dams. I got the contract for the next 10 years. I found myself in Betsiamites, Outardes, Gouin, Carillon and Beauharnois.
FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, IN 1987, AQUA MARINE BECAME OCEAN CONSTRUCTION. WHY THE NAME CHANGE, AND WHY THE NAME “OCEAN”?
In the 1980s Aqua Marine acquired towing companies, which marked a strong transition in our business model. Our services became more diversified and global. We searched for a name that would represent this transition. With the help of an external consultant, the name “OCEAN” emerged as a must to represent our business vision.
THE DIVERSIFICATION CONTINUED WITH THE ACQUISITION OF MCALLISTER TOWING & SALVAGE OF MONTREAL AND THE CANADIAN TOWING FIRM LES REMORQUAGES. WHAT WAS THE STRATEGY HERE?
Since 1972 I had purchased barges for bigger contracts and to better meet the needs of my customers. At a certain point I needed tugs to move these barges and pursue my vision of an integrated company with diversified services. We also wanted to specialize in docking and undocking services for ships coming into ports. We then acquired other companies in several regions on the St. Lawrence River in order to expand our expertise.
IN 1994 YOU TOOK ON A PARTNER, JACQUES TANGUAY, AND CONTINUED TO GROW THE COMPANY THROUGH A SERIES OF ACQUISITIONS. WHAT NEW BUSINESSES WERE ADDED, AND WHY?
We indeed grew through the acquisition of different companies in different sectors. In 1997 we bought a shipyard in Isle-aux-Coudres (Quebec). With the acquisition of various towing and equipment companies, we then needed a “garage” where our equipment could be maintained and repaired. Eventually we would build our own equipment at this shipyard.
In 2004 we bought the dredging company Dragage St-Maurice, which was renamed OCEAN Dragage St-Maurice. Once again, we were adding a new service to our portfolio. Today, we have six mechanical dredges and one trailing suction hopper dredge that spends part of the year in the Caribbean and South America.
The goal throughout has been the same: Offer a large variety of integrated services to our customers and, at the same time, answer our own needs.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE COMPANY TODAY?
We have three main sectors: Harbor towing, Naval construction and repair, Marine works and dredging (including the rental of barges, wharves and specialized marine equipment).
In 2017, OCEAN celebrates its 45th anniversary. Thanks to its acquisitions, strategic development and diversification of activities, the company is one of the major suppliers of integrated marine services in Canada and a leader in the Canadian maritime industry. The company owns one of the most important fleets in Canada and employs more than 850 people in 16 locations along the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes, in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in New Brunswick.
ARE YOU AND JACQUES TANGUAY THE SOLE OWNERS?
Yes, it is a private company with only two shareholders.
IS MOST OF YOUR BUSINESS IN CANADA?
Yes, except for dredging services that are developing in a growing market in Central America and the Caribbean (Mexico, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica) since 2013.
HOW BIG IS THE OCEAN FLEET?
The company owns more than 570 pieces of equipment: 500 barges, 30 workboats, 34 tug boats, 7 pilot boats, 7 dredges “GO FULL FORCE” IS THE COMPANY’S MOTTO.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
First of all, the word “GO” is an acronym for Groupe Océan. It calls for movement, gathering and collaboration. On top of it, I was already using that expression when someone was proposing a project or action. I would exclaim: “GO!!!”
The term “FULL FORCE” refers to the power of the ocean and also of the individuals who compose the OCEAN team. It also reflects our natural propensity to move forward and seize opportunities: Straight ahead!
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE COMPANY CULTURE?
We are a company whose mission is to supply marine services, and everything that defines us is oriented toward serving our customers. Our values, of which excellence is the first, are directly attuned to our vision. Everything is aligned toward the needs of our customers.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE RIGHT NOW?
Manpower is currently our main challenge. The scarcity of labor, especially in sites outside the larger cities, is a daily problem. We put a lot of effort into the recruitment and retention of our workforce.
WHAT NEW VENTURES ARE ON THE HORIZON?
After 45 years, we have expanded more than ever and are continuing to grow. We now have services that can be deployed on an international level, such as dredging. We intend to pursue the development of our markets on the international level.
WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE COMPANY IN FIVE YEARS?
OCEAN has become a leader in the Canadian maritime industry. We have developed a unique expertise that has allowed us to begin a major turning point in our development strategy. Our vision of the future can be summed up as follows: Become a world-class company and a trusted business partner for our clientele.
OKAY. LET’S TALK ABOUT YOU NOW. WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN NOT WORKING? DO YOU STILL DIVE?
I do not dive on a professional level and haven’t for several years now. Today, I spend my time outside the office with my family. I have two young children with whom I spend the most time possible. I have also recently developed a passion for horses.
WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY LIKE FOR YOU?
I am at the office every day and keep a close relationship with my collaborators. I take the time to sit with them and look at the challenges, discuss strategies and accompany them in the achievement of our projects.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF? WHAT DRIVES YOU?
I am a born entrepreneur. I have always loved competition and developing projects close to my heart.
WHAT KIND OF MANAGER ARE YOU?
I love to be surrounded by good people. OCEAN is a story of teamwork, and it is because of the people around us that we have succeeded in making the company what it is today. I trust the people I hire. Jacques Tanguay, my associate and friend, also knows how to surround himself with efficient and competent people. They are the heart of the company and represent its future.
YOU HAVE BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF NUMEROUS AWARDS AND HONORS. TELL OUR READERS ABOUT SOME OF YOUR PRO BONO AND EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES.
To be honest, I do not like to speak of my accomplishments. Having said that, I believe the major one – of which I am most proud – is the distinction of receiving the Governor General’s Medal of Bravery for having saved a woman who was attempting suicide by jumping in the Saint-Maurice River. I did not really think about what I was doing, but I knew I had to do something to save this woman.
Otherwise, we are very much involved in causes close to my heart, such as sick children. We organized an event in 2012 during which we raised $200,000 for the purchase of specialized respiratory equipment for children at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Québec (CHUQ).
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS TO RETIRE?
I believe that I will never really retire. I am passionate about what I do in my company, and I love the people I work with. I will gradually step back during the coming years as I have already started to do. I trust the people around me, including my associate and friend, Jacques Tanguay.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD OUR READERS KNOW ABOUT GORDON BAIN?
I believe deeply in our people and the new generation. I have a lot of confidence in their ingenuity and devotion to the future of our company. MarEx
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.