It’s a compelling Canadian story.
An immigrant leaves his home in India and travels to Canada to follow the “Canadian entrepreneurial dream” for himself and his future family. He has no money but he does possess a sharp mind, relentless determination and a mechanical engineering degree.
It is with these tools that Seraj Huda built BUNA Engineers Ltd., a company dedicated to developing chemical and mechanical engineering solutions for its customers.
And he found hard-fought success.
But in 1978-1979, he embarked on a project that would change the trajectory of his business life.
BUNA Engineers had investors and a client for the Kuwait Silicone Project (KSP), but getting technological cooperation from the leading silicone manufacturers of the time never materialized. If it were not for a stroke of good fortune, the project was going to be scrapped.
Huda came across silicone technology from Czechoslovakia that had yet to be commercialized. It included the process to transform silicone metal into finished products like rubbers, emulsions and surfactants. BUNA engineers Ltd. acquired the technology and moved ahead with the KSP project.
That’s when the first Persian Gulf War broke out. Then, an Iraqi scud missile landed one kilometer from the project site and the investors backed out, scuttling the venture.
Fortunately, BUNA Engineers Ltd. were able to leave Kuwait with their new silicone technology in hand and, because of a wisely negotiated contract, full payment as well.
Armed with capital and extensive silicone technology, BUNA Engineers acquired an equity stake in CSL Silicones in 1983 and a year later, purchased the remaining interest.
Under Seraj Huda’s inspiration and leadership, CSL Silicones transformed itself from a simple RTV (room temperature vulcanization) silicone re-packager into an innovative leader in scientific & applied research and development and manufacturing of silicone products.
“The limits of silicone chemistry are only human imagination”
That quote by Eugene Rochow, a pioneer of inorganic chemistry, inspired Seraj Huda to employ his entrepreneurial creativity and look at using silicone in innovative ways. This lead to the development of a new High Voltage Insulator Coating (HVIC). This new HVIC could be spread smoothly across broad surfaces like paint. Taking a chance, the development of the coating began only after Huda promised prospective client Ontario Hydro (now Hydro One) that it could be done.
As CSL’s reputation as a leader in the HVIC industry grew, national and international business growth followed.
Seraj Huda passed away in 2008 while doing what he loved to do: growing his business and helping the people with whom he surrounded himself. While he may be gone, his legacy lives on in CSL’s core values, corporate culture and through his son, Faisal Huda, who took the company over after his father’s death.
A new laser focus
Under the leadership of Faisal Huda, the company enjoyed a renewed sense of purposefulness coupled with technological and commercial confidence. Despite the global economic downturn, they have been able to enjoy some of their most successful years to date.
Taking cues from their customers, who found creative uses for the insulator coating, CSL Silicones continued to innovate by introducing anti-corrosion and anti-graffiti coating lines to complement their brand strength.
“We’ve got new technology we’re releasing in 2016” says Faisal Huda, “we’ve been working with the National Research Council (NRC) and the Canadian Construction Materials Centre (CCMC) and they are all very excited about what we’ve developed.”
CSL Silicones is now a recognized global leader in the development of innovative silicone materials capable of serving diverse markets such as; electric power, electronics, building & construction, chemical processing, transportation, and public infrastructure.
How EDC helped CSL Silicones
Often, success in the global marketplace requires more than a solo effort.
“When I took over the company, we were in one of the worst economic downturns in decades. And I decided we needed to hit a broader spectrum and partner up with local companies in our markets who utilize our coating or who manufacture pieces that get coated in our product.” says Faisal Huda, President and CEO of CSL Silicones.
“Our partners are not government entities, so payment, creditworthiness and things of that nature can tend to be opaque. And that’s where EDC helped us realize our strategic growth ambitions. We were able to hit a wider spectrum of international commercial opportunity while working through smaller entities without having to worry about collecting payment. We took advantage of EDC’s insurance programs. It allowed us to focus on what we’re best at: providing innovative RTV silicone applications solutions while focusing our efforts on growing the business.”
“We’ve utilized EDC’s assistance on a few occasions, be it investigating the creditworthiness of potential clients or using the insurance program.” added Huda “It’s the kind of support we’d be totally incapable of doing ourselves.”
5 Questions with Faisal Huda, President and CEO of CSL Silicones, Inc.:
1) What product did you first export?
We used to ship container loads of sealants to China. It was just a basic silicone sealant. We’re not really sure what they did with it!
2) When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
The world is not as prohibitive environment as we tend to imagine. We are all after the same thing; shelter over our heads, economic advancement and a better life for our children. It’s not that daunting a task to get out and find customers in different markets if you just realize you are speaking to another human being. Just get out there.
3) How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
It’s unpredictable. There is no certainty in forecasting anymore. Foreign exchange rates are extremely volatile and commodity prices are mobile. When I first started out, you could make a three year business plan. Now, it’s difficult to tell you what will happen next December.
4) What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
Finding partners or people who share your personal core values is a fundamental and important factor for success in business, especially when it comes to foreign markets. Whoever stewards those businesses should look at challenges through the same lenses that you do. If you can’t see eye-to eye it will be very difficult to come to an amicable solution when shared challenges inevitably present themselves.
5) What do you like to do when you are not working on your business?
Cars! When I was a little kid I had this yellow toy car that I loved but lost at an airport. Being only four or so, I forgot about cars until I got to know my in-laws, who were huge British car enthusiasts, and a spark went just off and my latent passion was allowed to grow. Especially when I saw my first project: a little yellow Alfa Romeo. I’ve had a few other delightful automobile projects since then.