Jim Nowakowski is the President of JNE Welding – a Saskatoon-based fabricator that serves numerous industries, including mining, construction, oil and gas, and power. JNE Welding is also recent winner of Canada’s Best Managed Companies from Deloitte.
1. What was your first export sale?
It was an American company out of the U.S. They are called The Mosaic Company now, but they were called Kalium Chemicals then. It was back in the early to mid-’90s.
2. How did that first export opportunity arise?
The first job we did for them, we actually did for a machine shop here in town. Through that project, Kalium got to know who we were and then they started sending us opportunities to participate in tenders. Now, there isn’t a mining company in Saskatchewan that we haven’t or don’t work for, on the potash and uranium side.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Different countries and different companies all have their own cultures. Because of that, they have their own way of doing things. Although there are similarities, in some cases, businesses operate in different ways. One of the most striking differences for me was when we first started working for (Germany’s) K+S Potash, it struck me that we needed to get to know their expectations. It wasn’t just a standard tendering process. You needed to get to know the guy you were dealing with, to develop a rapport with him. The tendering processes are different in Canada than in Germany — in Canada, typically you hear nothing about where you stand, but with the folks at K+S, once they knew we were competent, opened up a bit about where we should be bidding price-wise. In my early years of business, I was once told “Jim, you have to understand the golden rule of business: He who has the gold makes the rules.” If you’re dealing with a customer from a different culture or philosophy, and you can’t adapt, you won’t be in the game.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
In Saskatchewan, it’s changed immensely. Up until the global recession in 2008 and 2009, most of the world didn’t know the province existed and that was not all bad. Because once the economic downturn happened, all of these companies were hearing there was so much potential in Saskatchewan and there would be so much industrial development, we couldn’t hope to do all that work because there was the belief Saskatchewan didn’t have the businesses to support the growth. Well that wasn’t exactly the case. As a result, we were absolutely inundated with competition because everyone wanted a piece of that. Now we’re dealing on a global front.
5. What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
First, you need to know your costs, your risks, and your capacity to deliver — not just shop capacity, but also your managerial and financial capacities. Also, you need to understand the culture of the people you’re dealing with. We’ve been doing some projects where part of the project is done in China and shipped to us in components, and we finish it off. It’s really important for us to understand what quality standards are used in China, and the methodologies in which they will be executing the work to. It’s different than ours so you have to figure out how to work with them. It’s a global world and it’s important to understand those differences.