Kelvin Williamson is a man who loves a particularly nasty winter. No, he’s not an extreme snowboarder, but he does profit from freezing rain and snowstorms.
Williamson, a former pilot, is president of LNT Solutions Inc., a Canadian-based subsidiary of Britain’s LNT Group that sells de-icing products to airports.
So how did a guy who’s usually flying the plane end up selling products to keep ice from causing mishaps? He was basically head-hunted into the job. After working as a pilot for 23 years, he went to work as a regulator for Transport Canada and in 2002, from that position, he was offered a chance to run the central de-icing facility at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, an operation he was once in charge of regulating.
“They asked if I’d like to be the general manager,” he says, as he explains his path to entrepreneurship. “I did that for five years until an English company called me and said they did railway de-icing in the U.K. and wanted to get into airports in Canada. They asked ‘How would you like to set up a company for us in Canada?’”
LNT Solutions Inc. was born with Williamson as president, and with his excellent connections, he started selling immediately.
“Business has expanded every year since 2008,” he says. “We’ve been reinvesting as we’ve gone along, but last year we were nicely profitable. Having nasty winters is good for business.”
In the first year, they posted sales of $500,000 and this year, that number was nearly hit $13 million after years of steady growth. The company added two sales people in the U.S. where it services dozens of airports, including Washington’s Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport, and airports in Cleveland and Salt Lake City.
The company carries two kinds of de-icers; one for the wings of airplanes and one for the runways. Its runway products include a solid form, which is used to melt snow and freezing rain is it’s falling, and a liquid form that is more preventative and is used in advance of a storm to prevent precipitation from freezing on the runways.
“When you’re de-icing a runway, you can’t use salt because it’s corrosive and therefore not good for the airplanes,” Williamson says. “You need to use a special chemical, sodium formate, which is safe for aircraft.”
Strangely, it’s not a raw material that’s readily available in North America, so Williamson sources the solid form de-icer from a Turkish supplier. He has an exclusive licensing agreement with the company to sell in North America.
In a factory in Tillsonburg, Ont., he manufactures and sells a liquid wing de-icer for Canada and the U.S. as well as the liquid runway de-icer.
He credits his company’s rapid growth with the help he’s received from Export Development Canada (EDC). He needed a $500,000 supplier letter of credit from his bank to finance the purchase of his de-icer product from a Turkish buyer. EDC was able to provide help through its account performance security guarantee programme by offering a guarantee to LNT’s bank. In addition, EDC provided the company a guarantee on surety bonds for some of its U.S. business so that they are able to take additional contracts.
“The credit for our supplier and having surety bonds with airports for our tendering; these things that have allowed us to continue to grow our business,” Williamson says. “With MKS, we have a standing order of credit in place, which allows us to have a stockpile of product here that we don’t have to pay for until we sell it.”
EDC’s account manager, Anna Piekarska, says LNT has been a real Canadian success story.
“LNT has been growing steadily since its inception in Canada,” Pierkarska says. “It’s exciting to be able to help this company that offers an environmentally friendly solution to flying in harsh winters.”
As for Williamson, he’s happy to be out of the cockpit and into an office, landing deal after deal in airports across the continent. “My last flying job was with a cargo company, flying Boeing 727s as a captain,” he says. “Flying is fun, but it’s like anything else — after 23 years, it gets pretty routine. To go from there to managing a facility with 150 employees, that was pretty cool, and now being an entrepreneur has been a wonderful learning curve, and pretty rewarding.”