For some people, the future appears set – a pre-planned path laid out to a particular destination. Following said path will, for the most part, lead to an expected and desired outcome. For others, the future’s not so clear cut. With no set direction to follow, these individuals must forge their own way, taking unexpected detours and side roads along the way.
Success or failure can be achieved in either scenario of course. In the latter, however, the soon-to-be-discovered path is often just as interesting as the destination.
This is the case with Jonathan Billings and his company, Kinetic Energies Inc. Born in Trenton, Ontario, the son of a Newfoundlander military father and Mi’kmaq mother, Billings’ journey to today – owner of a successful Certified Aboriginal pipeline and facilities construction and maintenance business based in Grande Prairie and servicing Alberta’s energy industry – is as unique as his background. And both his past and his present bode well for his future.
“We grew Kinetic by building an exceptional team of people,” Billings says proudly. “Our business is highly focused on skilled people. And it’s only because of the team that Kinetic has been successful. I can’t stress that enough, we have an incredible team.”
That team comprises 100 people during non-peak times and upwards of 300 during busy seasons. Approximately 50 per cent of Kinetic’s employees are on the facility fabrication and construction side, while the other half are on the pipeline side of the business. Revenue is also equally split between the two divisions.
“They’re kind of separate trades or groups,” Billings says. “On the facility side, our tradesmen build gas plants, oil batteries, facilities and stations. Right from the ground up. They are their own separate trade and niche. They are really good at their trade. On the pipeline side, our tradesmen are really good at building and maintaining pipeline projects in the field, which is a significantly different skillset.”
The team’s skills and expertise, built off of Billings’ own dedication to excellence, have been foundational to the company’s success. This is evidenced by its notable client list, which includes some of the largest names in the industry such as Archer Exploration, Kelt Exploration, Hammerhead Resources, Kiwetinohk Energy, Strathcona Resources and Tamarack Valley Energy.
Originally from Ontario, Billings grew up on Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, where his father was posted with the military. His mother was from the Eel Ground First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community located along the Miramichi River in northern New Brunswick. “We spent every weekend driving to visit my grandmother in Miramichi,” he says. “I sort of grew up on the reserve.”
A love of sports – basketball, in particular – kept him on a positive path (many of his friends from the reservation didn’t fare so well, he notes). “I played high school basketball and then at the collegiate level for the University of New Brunswick for two years,” he says. Summer jobs were spent in the province’s oil and gas industry, surveying right-of-ways for wildlife and at a water treatment plant dealing with piping and pumps. “Those jobs were actually predecessors – I didn’t know it at the time – to the rest of my career which was in Alberta and pipelines.”
After two years of university, things weren’t going quite how Billings – who was on an Aboriginal grant – had planned. “My marks suffered from too much sports, too much friends. I was 17 when I started, just not mature enough for it. I lost my grant because of my grades.”
His father, meanwhile, had been posted to CFB Wainwright, Alberta, and suggested he head west for a summer job. “I was 19 when I arrived in Wainwright in 2001,” he reflects. “I started looking for oil field jobs and I never went back to New Brunswick.”
While his first job was mowing lawns, Billings had quickly zeroed in on a well-respected local company called Dave Co. Welding, hoping to obtain employment pipe fitting and welding. “They were a very good, reputable company in town,” he explains, “so I hounded them until they finally hired me as a labourer. They were very forward thinking, focused on training and building people. The staff were second to none, all amazing tradespeople. I spent seven years with them and got very good training from the start. I got my business model from them.”
Having learned everything Dave Co. could teach him, Billings eventually moved on. He worked the turnaround season out of Lloydminster, then joined UA Local 488 (Alberta piping union) where he worked various jobs in the pipeline and construction sectors. By 2010 Billings was working as a sole contractor on various projects: “And I realized, I could do it myself.”
Friends Minter Greenwood and Keith Alguire, also in the industry, felt the same way, so the trio decided to strike out on their own. Each put in roughly $10,000 and Kinetic was born in 2013. To qualify as an Aboriginal business, Billings owned 51 per cent.
Their first job came thanks to Billings father-in-law who told them about a structural project Suncor had out for bidding. “And just for a joke I said, ‘I guarantee I can do it better and for cheaper’,” he laughs, “and so he went to his boss and asked if he’d give us a shot. And his boss said yes!”
Their work was very well received and Kinetic quickly gained traction in the industry. “We were known for our skill sets,” Billings explains. “All three of us were good at our jobs. We did one million dollars in revenue in our first year.” And it took off from there: in its second year, Kinetic made $9 million in revenue.
The 2015 downturn caused challenges to all in the industry – Kinetic included – and Alguire and Greenwood eventually wanted out. They sold their shares to Billings who remained on to steer the business through a volatile energy price environment.
The company emerged intact and, in 2020, purchased its shop in Grande Prairie. “It was a steel manufacturing facility,” Billings explains. “So it was a perfect shop for fabrication. It’s where we fabricate and test all our above ground piping.”
Safety is a major priority at Kinetic. The company holds a Certificate of Recognition for safety from Energy Safety Canada and every employee participates in the health, safety and environment program: “Our prime focus is that everyone goes home at night. We built the business on the family premise – we are a family, and we don’t want anybody ever getting hurt. These are people we care about.”
The team’s culture is also focused on giving back, in time and dollars, to many local charities. Three years ago, they decided to paint one of the company’s booms purple, and donate all the profit generated by it to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. “We nicknamed it the Baby Boomer,” Billings laughs. “We’ve donated about $30,000 from it so far.”
While his original dream for Kinetic was to be an Indigenous entrepreneur and help inspire other Indigenous people, he notes it’s been other factors – being a good community leader and providing good quality work – that have led to the company’s success.
Nonetheless, he highlights the benefits of energy development for First Nations communities: “There are a ton of benefits. With more training and education and the more knowledge everyone gains, there are a lot of positive things happening for Indigenous communities in the energy sector.”
“Canadian energy is amazing,” he continues. “It’s clean, it’s safe, it’s the best energy you can get. We are so environmentally focused, everything from wildlife surveys to how many trees are cut down. The rules are very stringent here, especially compared to other parts of the world.”
Despite all his achievements, Billings, a husband and dad of four, remains grounded. On whether as a kid he ever expected to end up owning his own energy services business in Alberta, his answer is straightforward: “Nope.”
Leading a highly skilled and professional team, and with a passion for the work and the local community, Billings and Kinetic will no doubt continue along their successful journey – however it looks.