xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: August 2014

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Denis Belliveau Story.

Denis Belliveau is married to my daughter, Sarah. Excerpts from this story were published in the Moncton Times and Transcript newspaper on July 16, 2014.

 Denis Belliveau: A Remarkable Journey.
A love of rock climbing and knowing the ropes has placed Denis on top of a multimillion dollar energy conglomerate.
By Noel Bourke

Earlier this year, Denis Belliveau, formerly of Moncton, was appointed Executive General Manager of Global Energy Group’s Australia-Pacific operations. This placed Denis, who now resides in Perth, Western Australia, at the head of five GEG companies with a combined turnover of $70 000 000. It was quite a step up for Denis, who admits that he arrived in Perth nineteen years ago with a brand new wife, a guitar and just over a thousand dollars in his bank account.

Denis, the son of Rheal and Annette Belliveau (nee Richard), was born in Moncton in 1966. During 1983-85, while attending Matthew Martin High School, he also joined the Canadian Army Reserve, serving in the Service Battalion where he acquired skills in motor vehicle maintenance and mechanics. After leaving high school he attended College at CCNB- Dieppe where he met Mark Rock, a sales teacher who made a significant impression on him.

Denis also credits The Moncton Times and Transcript newspaper for his entrepreneurial development. He recalls, “In the days when the Times and Transcript were morning and evening papers respectively, I had a twice daily 45 minute paper route for six days a week. Between 1980 and 1986 I had a regular route of 85 clients in my area. This played a significant part in my learning to sell. I learned how to mould my personality to each different household. I needed to record and collect money from my customers and soon learned that shovelling snow off an elderly customer’s path would not only earn me some goodwill but also the occasional hot muffin. During the summer months when we stayed in Parlee Beach I had someone take over my home route and I delivered papers to all the cottages in the area.”

He then spent six months working in sales for Info Affaires, a French language business journal, followed by a further twelve months as a travelling salesman for Aluminart, selling doors and windows throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

He was not particularly happy in either of these jobs. A car accident in 1991 caused Denis to revaluate his life’s direction. He moved to Jasper, Alberta, on New Year’s Eve, 1991, where he soon found employment as a bar tender at Chateau Jasper.

Two important things happened for Denis while he was in Jasper. Apart from his bar tending job, he started working as a Ranger for Parks Canada. He developed a great love of mountaineering and rock climbing, which became a major focus in his life. An even greater focus in his life occurred later in 1992 when an attractive, young Australian girl, named Sarah, also started working at Chateau Jasper. Eventually, this proved to be life changing experience for both of them.

Although very happy in Sarah’s company, Denis knew that Sarah wanted to eventually return to live in Australia and he was not sure if that would suit him. There was really only one way to find out. On October 20, 1993, his 27 birthday, Denis and Sarah arrived in Australia. They both quickly found work in hospitality in the tourist Town of Margaret River, about 350 kilometres south of Perth. Denis discovered that the rugged cliffs along Australia’s south west coast were ideal for rock climbing. He also found that he was quite suited to the Australian climate and lifestyle.

Denis returned to Canada, without Sarah, in April, 1994, still unsure about his future. Before long, however, he realised that it is not where you live but with whom you live that is important. Sarah returned to Canada in August, 1994, and they both worked a Becker’s Restaurant in Jasper.
 In October, 1994, they drove across Canada to holiday with his parents in Moncton. As Denis explains, “We eloped. We married in Moncton without telling anybody.” At length, both sets of parents were informed of the marriage and gave it their blessing. In November, 1995, the couple returned to Australia, this time for good, albeit with only a guitar and a small bankroll to get them started.

Sarah once again quickly found a job in hospitality and Denis worked in a variety of jobs, including a stint at tree lopping. “Swinging on a rope with a chain saw is not an ideal work situation,” he says with a smile.

In 1996, Denis began working for Mountain Design, a national outdoor camping equipment and clothing supplier. The manager of the Mountain Design store where Denis worked was Andy Corbe. Before long Denis was his assistant manager and he and Andy became good friends, both with a great love of rock climbing. 

When he was living in Canada, Denis played in a band called The Rich Hippies, which enjoyed a degree of success. So it was natural that in Perth, he and some friends soon formed an original band, named Jaluka. They wrote their own songs and played, on average, two gigs a week around Perth’s hotel circuit. They also had successful tours of the Pilbara region and the South West of Western Australia. A CD which they released won several local music awards in 2001. Denis was nominated “Most Popular Guitarist” for the WAMI Awards (West Australian Music Industry). At this time, Denis was quite hopeful that he would become a successful, full time musician.

In 1997, someone asked Denis if he would like to earn a living washing windows on skyscrapers. He says, “Being a passionate rock climber, I could not think of anything more appealing than being paid to hang off a rope thirty storeys high.”

He enrolled in a course conducted by the Industrial Rope Access Training Association (IRATA) and qualified as an Industrial Rope Access Technician. Rope access technicians were increasingly in demand in Western Australia’s burgeoning gas and oil industry, as they could carry out inspection and repair jobs without the need to construct expensive scaffolding.

Denis quickly graduated from high rise window cleaning to more industrial work on chemical plants and oil rigs. At the same time he was still heavily involved with Jaluka, which had developed a strong fan base in Western Australia.

In February, 2002, Sarah informed Denis that he was going to become a father. At that time Sarah was the main breadwinner as Event Co-ordinator at the Burswood Resort and Casino complex. Denis realised that Jaluka was not going to pay the bills that an expanding, one income family family would incur. He took on more lucrative rope access jobs in Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. Depending on the scope of the work, he could be away from home for anywhere from a week to a month.

Many of Denis’ off shore rope access jobs were with Andy Corbe, his friend from their Mountain Design days. Denis and Andy often discussed the nature of their work and how they could make it better. They were unhappy with many aspects of management that made their work less enjoyable.
Deciding to do something about it, on the eighth of August, 2008, Andy and his wife, Laura, registered their own rope access company, Vertech. When Denis returned from an offshore job in early September, Andy and Laura invited him to join their company with a one third share in Vertech. Now with a wife and two young children, Sophie and Luc, Denis thought long and hard about this offer. The company’s start-up date of 08/08/08 was considered to be quite a good omen in the Chinese culture, but it was not a factor in Denis agreeing to sign on as a partner. After due consideration, he did sign on in mid October, 2008. Three days later the Global Financial Crisis occurred and the price of oil plummeted.

Fortunately, the massive global economic downturn did not affect their new business. From the outset Andy, Laura and Denis decided that Vertech’s marketing strategy was to provide quality inspection services on existing oil and gas facilities. They set up Vertech as a specialist Industrial Rope Access Company, providing a large range of trade and inspection services to the energy sector. As Denis explains, “Any work that can do done on the ground, or using scaffolding, can generally be carried out on ropes”.

 Their vision was to create a small “boutique” company that would provide both of them with permanent employment. However, they soon attracted important, regular customers because of the quality and efficient delivery of their services, forcing them to employ additional workers to keep up with demand. At that point Denis and Andy still worked offshore as required and Laura looked after the office work from her kitchen. To get their business up and running, Denis and Andy worked without any salary for the first six months. In the first 3 years there were many sleepless nights. Initially, they did everything from emptying the rubbish to managing all the equipment logistics from Denis’ garage. 

As the company grew, Laura managed the financial side. Andy was responsible for technical and mechanical issues, while Denis was chiefly responsible for client liaison and personnel management. After a few months, the company was able to set up an office at Hillarys Marina. Early in 2012 Vertech moved into spacious offices in North Beach. Denis got his garage back when Vertech also acquired a large warehouse training and storage centre in the nearby Perth suburb of Malaga.
Vertech flourished and grew exponentially in its first four years of operation. As Denis notes, “We went from three employees and a home office in 2008, to 37 office staff, 100 plus technicians, a large beachside office complex and a separate logistical and training centre. By 2011, Vertech had an annual turnover of $9 000 0000.” A truly remarkable achievement.

Denis is a people person. As an employee, he had often felt that his hard work and efforts were not appreciated by his employers. He decided that the most important component of Vertech was the people; not only their employees, but their partners and their children, as well as the company’s clients. Denis, Laura and Andy worked hard to develop a people focussed culture within the Vertech organisation.

Denis says, “Everyone is treated with respect, dignity and honesty with a strong focus on health and safety. I believe this ‘people philosophy’ is a huge factor in Vertech’s success.” A visit to the Vertech office quickly reveals a very harmonious and energetic work environment. The staff are generally young, look very fit and work with enthusiasm and smiling good humour. In fact, they look enthusiastic and happy enough to be part in a Coca Cola television commercial.

Vertech’s outstanding growth and business success did not go unnoticed. “Six other companies expressed an interest in purchasing our company,” says Denis. “In March, 2012, we were first approached by Global Energy Group (GEG), a major Scottish based player in the global oil and gas industry who were keen to move into Western Australia’s booming oil and gas markets.” At first there was a reluctance by the three partners to give away, “their baby.” 

“It was,” recalls Denis, “quite a tough decision. I felt as if I had helped to build a Rolls Royce motor car and was now being told I could only sit in the back seat.” However, Andy, Laura and Denis realised that they had taken Vertech as far as they could without additional capital and corporate support. In October, 2012, they agreed to sell 80% of Vertech to Global Energy Group for a substantial, but confidential, undisclosed amount. Their fears about a loss of control of the company that they had built from scratch proved to be unfounded. GEG allowed the partners to continue to manage the company as they saw fit.

“GEG’s wasn’t the best offer,” says Denis, “but we all felt that it was a fair offer and that GEG were the best placed company to take Vertech forward. We didn’t want to have the biggest house for our baby, we wanted it to have the best home and GEG filled the bill.” 

After the sale, Vertech continued to experience exponential growth and some structural changes. The annual turnover in 2013 was in excess of $20 000 000. After a while Andy and Laura chose to follow their dreams and pursue other interests. Denis was appointed Managing Director of the company and the strong growth continued. In June this year, the company expanded its office facilities in North Beach to accommodate this growth.

Early in 2014, Ian McGregor, the CEO of Global Energy Group, visited Perth.  He expressed pleasure at Vertech’s outstanding performance and told Denis that he wanted him to become Vice President of GEG Asia Pacific. Denis pointed out that, as there was no President of this group, he would prefer to be known as the Executive General Manager of GEG Asia Pacific. This placed Denis in charge of a portfolio of five GEG companies with a combined annual turnover of $70 000 000.

Although Denis has lived in Australia for nearly twenty years and his expanded managerial role keeps him busy, he still maintains strong links with Moncton. He says “Social media and Skype have enabled me to maintain my relationships and keep me up to date with what is happening in and around Moncton. I still miss the seafood, especially the lobsters, Vito’s Pizza and Moosehead beer and, of course, I miss my family and friends and the friendly nature of the Maritime people.”

Denis, Sarah, Sophie and Luc have travelled to Moncton for extended summer visits. Last Christmas was a very special family occasion when Denis’ parents, Rheal and Annette, his sister, Ginette, her husband, John Pineau and their son, Justin, all travelled to Australia and stayed in the family’s spacious beachside home in Ocean Reef. For the Canadian visitors it was a very bright Christmas instead of their usual Moncton White Christmas. It was Denis’ first Christmas with his family since 1991.

Recently Denis was invited to address a group of Year 11 high school students regarding career and life choices. He opened his remarks to these students by saying, “I am 47 years old and I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up.” Whatever he does eventually decide to do, it is clear that by pursuing his passions and interests, Denis has achieved great business and personal success. 

“When I was young, people told me that if you are successful you will be happy. I have found the reverse to be true. By doing what makes you happy, success will follow. And success is not necessarily measured in monetary terms. It comes from satisfaction in what you are doing and the people you surround yourself with.”

Clearly, Denis has been doing quite a lot of very satisfying things and in the company of some high quality people.

Today, August 25, 2014, Denis flew back to Moncton to spend two weeks with his family, especially his grandparent, Leonard and Emma Richard, who are both well into their nineties. He will also catch up with his former sales teacher, Mark Rock, who has invited Denis to address some of his classes. He has a remarkable story to tell them. Maybe he can even let them know what he plans to do when he grows up.
Denis climbing cliffs near Margaret River. 1993.

Denis pulls the rabbit out of the hat whenever tells Vertech staff about clinching or completing another profitable contract.

Keeping  track of what jobs are on.

The office aquarium has a calming effect.

 A bright Christmas.  Denis with parents, Rheal and Annette and sister, Ginette, at Mullaloo Beach on Christmas morning, 2013. Their first Christmas together since 1991.

Denis with one of the teachers At Vertech's Logistics and Training Centre in Malaga.
A gas rig in the North-West  shelf of the coast of Western Australia.

Vertech's rope access technicians in action.
Working on a rig somewhere in the Indian Ocean, north-west of Western Australia.
Luc, Sarah, Sophie and Denis on holiday in Canada, August, 2012.