Success, rebuilding and transformation. That’s the story of Montreal-based Nova Steel, a diversified steel manufacturing company with 20 locations in Canada, Mexico, and the United States and $1 billion in annual sales, founded by entrepreneur Bryan Jones in 1979.
This dynamic and resilient family-owned business is led by his son Scott Jones, MBA’91, President and CEO of Nova Steel, who is very proud of being part of the manufacturing industry, which he feels is the backbone of any strong economy. Jones wants to see Canada’s manufacturing sector rebuild and transform to become a more vital and dynamic contributor to future economic growth, as his own company has done through strategic investments in R&D and technology to develop and manufacture high value-added, profitable steel products for diverse industries across North America.
“I’m passionate about manufacturing and making things, as part of a well-diversified economy. That’s the road to a very prosperous society. The best way to create sustainable wealth in society is by investing in R&D, technology and making things,” says Jones.
That’s what makes for sustainable businesses – a priority at Desautels.
Driving growth through cross-border expansion
After attending Middlebury College, a small liberal arts school in Vermont, Jones did an MBA at Desautels in preparation for joining his father to help grow the company. “I was always going to go into the business and McGill had a great name. I got a broad exposure to the nuts and bolts of business, organizational behaviour, statistics, and accounting,” he recalls.
Soon after joining Nova, Jones took the lead on North American expansion. “I was intrigued by the growth opportunities in the U.S. I loved sales, travelling and meeting people. My dad said, ‘if you can grow sales from $8 million to $20 million in the U.S., we’ll build a tube mill in the northeast.’ I was very motivated to reach that goal, which we did. I made 2,000 cold calls, got 200 people to listen and opened 20 big accounts, and some of those are still with us today,” he says.
In his first 15 years at Nova, Jones focused on expanding the non-automotive side of business and opening new greenfield plants (built to Nova specifications) in Canada and the U.S. “We often leapfrogged our competitors by bringing in the latest, greatest technology and adding value to diverse steel products for many different industries,” he says. The company had gone public in 1997 at US$14 a share and annual sales rose to US$840 million by 2007, when it was sold to Symmetry Holdings for US$585.2 million at US$56 a share.
Rebooting and transforming the business
But the new owners adopted a different business strategy, annual sales plunged to US$100 million, and the company went bankrupt. Scott and Bryan Jones repurchased Nova for US$75 million in 2009. “They didn’t want to hold inventory or manage inventory, which is fundamental to our business,” explains Jones, who got involved in all sectors of the business and focused on restoring confidence and morale among employees, customers, and suppliers.
After Nova painstakingly won back customers and rebuilt sales over the next five years, Jones led the company in a new direction to achieve faster, more profitable growth. “I become fascinated by the productivity of new state-of-the-art equipment and started to transform the business. We focused on adding more value by shipping manufactured products and components, such as tubular auto parts, rather than just basic steel products.”
This forward-looking strategy paid off and during the challenging pandemic Nova continued a strategic expansion with new facilities in Delta, Ohio, and Bowling Green, Kentucky, and a substantial new investment in Montreal. “We keep reinvesting our earnings and transforming our business into areas where we have a competitive edge so we can be more profitable. We buy laser cutting and welding equipment, for example, to make high strength, lightweight automotive parts from our steel tubing -- parts which used to be made by our customers. The value-added opportunities Nova Steel has pursued have been tremendously successful,” he says.
Giving back by supporting MBA talent in manufacturing
His success in rebuilding and transforming the company into a next-generation steel manufacturer inspired Jones to establish the Nova Steel Award, which supports outstanding graduate students entering or enrolled in the Desautels MBA program. It’s awarded based on leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and academic merit, as well as demonstrated creative and innovative thinking.
Ahmad Ataya, MBA’23 candidate, and inaugural recipient of the Nova Steel Award, is an industrial engineer who has a decade of experience working for international firms in Montreal as a risk engineering and loss prevention consultant, and earlier for Pratt & Whitney Canada in quality improvement and supply chain management.
“ I was able to leave the workplace and do an MBA full-time because of the financial support from the Nova Steel Award. It’s also a great moral support and validation for my years of hard work, coming from Scott Jones, who has shown an entrepreneurial spirit by leading an innovative company in an established industry and encourages students to have that entrepreneurial spirit and experience,” says Ataya, who was born in Montreal, but grew up in Lebanon, where his family owns a condiments manufacturing and distribution business.
Ataya is doing an MBA to help pursue his own entrepreneurial dreams. “One of my goals is to start an industrial company from scratch. First, I want to gain experience with start-ups, learn about fundraising and build a network. I’m excited about my future career and growing outside of my comfort zone,” he says.
Through his philanthropic support of MBA students and the example set by Nova, Jones aims to raise the profile of manufacturing in business education and attract fresh management talent into a traditional sector that’s rapidly changing. “I want the relationship between Nova Steel and McGill to flourish in the future. By interacting more with the professors and the students, I hope we can attract more people into our industry and our own company perhaps. Although it’s sometimes overlooked, the manufacturing base in Quebec is huge and growing, and I believe there will be more and more opportunities here in the future,” he says.