Northern Cables – Working And Implementing the Plan for Success

Northern Cable

John Kerr

Northern Cables Inc. is a Canadian company. It manufactures armoured cables and employs 145 people at its three plants in Brockville and Prescott, ON. Each month, the company manufactures several millions of metres of low-voltage, armoured electrical cables for commercial and industrial applications, where tight specifications require a high quality electrical cable.

PHOTO: Northern Cables CEO Shelley Bacon

Northern Cables products have been engineered and specified in key projects, including:
•    Confederation Bridge linking PEI with New Brunswick
•    City Field (home of the New York Mets),
•    Las Vegas City Centre
•    Calgary Ring Road
•    Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics facilities

Its expertise in TECK and armoured cable in both steel and aluminum, and its engineering expertise, allow Northern to design and make many standard and custom cable configurations.

Business school always taught us that he who writes the plan must implement it, and our time recently spent at Northern Cables reinforced how true this is. CEW spent some time with Shelley Bacon, CEO of Northern Cables, who is understated, driven and passionate about wire and cable. Not many people are as passionate about wire and cable as Shelley Bacon, and not as many people have had the experiences and hands-on wire lessons that Bacon and his team in Brockville have.

The company was founded by an enthusiastic group of five former members — Bacon, Kevin Charlebois, David Chartrand, Richard Trapp, Joe Brunner, and Todd Stafford — of the Phillips Cables Brockville plant that closed in 1996. Bacon and his team have worked for 19 years building a truly unique wire and cable plant. This facility is like no other in North America. The history of wire and cable manufacturing goes deep and wide in Brockville, back as far as the early 1920s. It’s still alive and well at the two facilities Northern has on California Avenue in Brockville’s north end.

One of my first impressions was this company has a true respect for the position it holds in the market, a strong desire to honour its roots, and a quiet confidence to drive this business forward.

Having had the opportunity of touring many wire and cable plants in North America, I have never witnessed the flexibility and breadth of manufacturing capability evident in Northern Cables’ Brockville and Prescott plants. Here Northern has constructed, designed and integrated one of the most diverse wire manufacturing facility anywhere.

The key to the Northern’s success is that Bacon and his team listen to their customers’ needs, always being driven by that first. Fully committed to selling through electrical distribution, they work to provide customers with custom solutions and in all types of wire fabrication. Adding value, the plants are able to coat, amour and compound under one roof.

Northern Cable Logo

The teamwork is evident, and all staff take pride in their work. Throughout my tour I could sense a “whatever it takes approach.” While Bacon’s enthusiasm is always present, so too is that of the people who make this place tick.
Bacon lives and breathes this business 24 hours a day, 7 days a week just like the plants’ operating schedule.

During our tour we spoke at length with two of the early members of the Northern team. Both started within weeks of each other 13 years ago. They both spoke openly about the challenges and wins, and how four years ago the spot where we were standing was on the edge of the facility, now expanded, and now once again bulging at the seams. They spoke about future growth, how the south wall will be blown out to accommodate further expansion.

They have been fortunate too that passion for the wire business seems to permeate the plants. This company’s growth, ability to continually invest in the future, and resilience to prosper though the recent slow demise of manufacturing in Canada is testament to their focus and stick-to-itiveness and almost defiant approach to buck all the trends around them.
Bacon has not done this alone, and is the first to admit it. The teamwork is impressive. He talks about how his team has planned, achieved, excelled, and learned from their mistakes. Bacon too doesn’t shy from talking about what went before, who contributed, and where good ideas, methods and best practices came from. This is someone who truly loves all aspects of the business, and is respectful of his competitors and wire colleagues and dedicated to his channel partners. The ability to respond and build to deadlines has stood them apart for many years. Bacon has had a sense of reality checks throughout the history of Northern Cables — tight cashflow, products being launched and customers not buying — but his reflections are always tempered with respect and a true understanding that these lessons and experiences are not be forgotten.

But Bacon also knows what he does well and it is hard to get him off course. A few trick questions from me on extending product lines or market focus would never deter him from this focus.

If you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life. Bacon and his team clearly are living this first hand.
Northern Cables has a bright future. They plan ahead and take a long-term approach, not reacting to market conditions but instead to customer needs. They focus on the manufacturing process next in all they do and drive the engineering and use a disciplined approach. Together they build the plan and implement it, which gives Northern the flexibility and responsiveness few others have.

John Kerr is Publisher of Canadian Electrical Wholesaler.

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