Should you be fortunate enough to visit Argus, you will soon understand the value and respect their team has for the company’s humble beginnings. Kris Mauthe, President & CEO, may lead you around the office complex, past the state-of-the-art machining tools, and into a building where it takes your eyes a couple seconds to adjust to the light. When you realize where you are, however, it’s delightful. They call it The Vault, and it’s filled with memories from Argus’ 60-year history: the first hand-written payroll book, the rucksack one of the founders carried when he immigrated to Canada, machines and tools that were beyond innovative for their time, old company jackets and photos, two vintage lathes whose beds make innovative boardroom tables – it’s an absolute treasure trove and a worthy time capsule, the likes of which few companies can boast.
However, there’s a door to the left.
When opened, the door leads to The Lab, a brilliantly white room where natural light pours through the bay doors, giving an almost ethereal look to the birthplace of Argus’ most innovative new ideas and products, and the tools that take them from conception to reality, complete with temperature-controlled chambers for extreme weather testing, 3D printing, robotics and the latest in machining technology. “We aspire to be the best in the world for each product that we manufacture, and that takes constant investment in technology and education,” says Mauthe.
Connecting the two rooms is one of the many gifts Argus has received over the years. It’s part of a barrel from a Canadian Leopard C2 Tank that served in Afghanistan, and it’s set at an angle so that, if you look through it from The Lab, you see the portrait of the founders in The Vault. If you look through it from The Vault, you see Argus’ latest projects in The Lab. The old and the new. The past and the future. The foundation and the elevation. That’s what Argus is all about. You think you know who they are and what they do? Get ready to be surprised. Very surprised.
“Driving by, you might look at us as a dusty old machine shop that creates products for the oil and gas industry,” smiles Mauthe. “We are a precision manufacturing company that creates goods primarily for the energy sector, and those goods are utilized around the globe. Over 50 per cent of our products service markets outside Canada. Notable products include pigging valves utilized in the maintenance of pipelines where we have decreased emissions by over 80 per cent as compared to traditional methods, and our fleet of nearly 150,000 pressure switches provide a first line of defense for pumping wells.”
“Argus holds the most diverse threading capacity in Canada with each connection designed for a specific range of environments. As you can imagine, with well depths now exceeding 7,000 meters, integrity of well bore construction is as important as ever. In 2015, we were recognized as being the best licensee in the world by VAM.”
“The manufacturing sector,” Mauthe continues, “is a vital component to our economy. It provides nearly a two-to-one multiplier for every dollar of revenue generated and its high labour ratio ensures job creation in the city we love.”
Yet it’s an industry that has noticeably suffered over the past few years. The recent recession, followed by new taxes and topped off with a tariff war, have made it difficult for companies like Argus to operate and export at full capacity. While many companies have had to close their doors and fade into history, Argus is choosing a different path: adaptation.
“As the industry has taken a beating, our focus over the course of the last four years has been to think differently,” explains Mauthe. “We have an incredible wealth of capacity in our people and our equipment, so we expanded our focus to include timeless keepsakes. Argus is evolving, having fun, and we’re challenging ourselves.”
The company that for years focused exclusively on the manufacture of industrial equipment is not sitting on its laurels.
On February 11, 2018 the 1984/1985 Edmonton Oilers team was recognized as the best NHL team in the last 100 years. Inspired by the teams’ drive to be the best, Argus designed a Legacy Puck and gifted one to each team member at the celebration that supported the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation and the Dave Semenko Legacy Project. The pucks were made of aircraft grade aluminum, intricately machined to the point where only a magnifying glass could reveal a level of detail finer than the naked eye could see. In 359 days, Argus took the product from concept to presenting them to the team in the Oilers dressing room.
Argus has also successfully recreated the historical lances that were used by the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) at the turn of the 20th century. A cavalry regiment at the time, the Strathconas now operate armoured tank and reconnaissance squadrons out of Edmonton. The lances were donated to support a fundraising campaign that assisted 75 soldiers in attending centennial events held in France on March 30, 2018 to honour the last great cavalry charge made by the regiment known as the Battle of Moreuil Wood.
“It was an honour to assist in commemorating this historic event, and we followed up with the manufacture of a parade quality farrier’s axe for the outgoing commanding officer. For the first time in 118 years of its history the lead riders carried a farrier’s axe, similar to what is carried by the Household Cavalry in England.
Creating keepsakes like these have made history come alive for a new generation, and they have preserved some of Canada’s most important moments for future generations to enjoy.
“We employ some of the best in the world,” Mauthe praises the Argus team. “Over the last four years, we have combined manufacturing and engineering expertise with art. We certainly have the capacity, but we would not have thought of challenging ourselves in a way like this before [the recession].”
The new direction Argus is undergoing does not mean a departure from the past. When you supply some of the best energy sector tools in the world, no recession, tax, or tariff can change that. Argus is focused on building and expanding on its legacy – a legacy born and preserved by the company’s visionary founders.
“Argus is here because of Tommy Hallett and Albert Kranenburg,” Mauthe points to the glossy black and white photos in The Vault that depict the founders as young men, through the progression of the company, and into their retirement. “They wanted to create a company that continued long after they were gone. They could have sold it off, but they chose to create a legacy and keep the company in the community that embraced them and that they called home.”
Hallett and Kranenburg created Argus Machine in 1958. Their employer was closing down, so they struck out on their own with just seven employees. By 1963, the company had outgrown its original space, so it took up residence in its current, sprawling, 97 street complex. Expansion has always been measured and strategic but hasn’t always worked out. After a short-lived expansion to Dartmouth, NS, Argus expanded into Nisku in 2002.
Mauthe, an accountant by trade, knew of Argus as a client of KPMG where he was an articling student. When the opportunity arose for him to join the company 20 years ago, he didn’t hesitate. In a sense, it was a bit of a homecoming since he had started his working life in the energy industry. Now, as Mauthe looks around The Vault and checks on the progress in The Lab, he considers how the company – and the industry – have changed so much over the years.
“Don’t focus on the negatives of fossil fuels” he muses. “There are a lot of great success stories and positives that continue to come from their use. Although Argus is expanding to new markets, oil and gas is still our area of expertise, and the world continues to require innovative solutions to increase efficiencies.”
The company grew from humble beginnings to a staff of 193, and Mauthe prides himself in learning each employee’s name. Such is the nature of the strong company culture.
“Knowing the names of each team member is important to me,” he confides, “in the same way that our customers matter. We care. We want them to know that we care.”
Argus continued to innovate and invest, even when the economic conditions were not favourable. There is a constant need for adaptation to an ever-changing environment.
Mauthe sighs with frustration, “Before the tariffs, we were hit by the carbon tax. These measures make Canadian production more challenging and decrease our global competitiveness. It is important to recognize that these measures are counterintuitive to maintaining economic growth and supporting a large contributing sector to our economy. Our nation is full of entrepreneurs and we lead the world in environmental practices, and yet we put them at a disadvantage before they even start while allowing imports from areas that continue to limit environmental advancements. Some may say [the taxes and tariffs] are just a per cent here and there, but those per cents add up, have long-reaching implications, and chase investment from our region.”
No matter what comes Argus’ way, Mauthe and the team soldier on.
“I don’t feel like I’m going to work; I don’t see it as work,” he laughs. “Honestly, it’s a very rewarding career. Our team operates much like that in sport, where I’m fortunate enough to lead by providing the resources and support necessary. They are specialized in each of their areas, and respecting their capabilities allows them to excel. They know from a technical aspect what is required in order to achieve the goal. Leading here is more about providing them with the support to meet those goals.”
Providing the support to meet goals extends into the community, too. Argus is more than happy to give back and continue the legacy started by the company’s founders.
“Our endowment fund with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) has provided over $400,000 in bursaries to 320 students so far. A number of those students are employees today. When they receive the award, we invite them to our facility and tour them through Argus. The Edmonton business community is small and there is a high likelihood we will cross paths again. Its rewarding to hear their stories about how we were able to assist them in achieving their goals.”
Argus continues to be agile as the years roll by, bringing with each one an equal measure of challenges and rewards. Mauthe is determined to continue the legacy started by Hallett and Kranenburg, and an additional brand, Argus Legacy, is intended to add inspiration to the team. The Legacy logo pays homage to the Greek heritage of the company’s name, featuring imagery that shows the company’s competitive spirit and its eye on the future. It is, as Mauthe proudly explains, “a representation of how Argus always has, and always will, stand the test of time.”