The current downturn in oil and gas activity won’t last forever, but there are practices industry can adopt to survive now and thrive once it’s over, an industry meeting heard.

Regan Davis, president and CEO of STEP Energy Services, told a KPMG-hosted energy services roundtable that his company’s strategy for thriving in the current environment is to focus on its people, which is critical in the services business.

STEP has built some unique equipment but what really differentiates it for the long-term is the engagement of its workforce, said Davis, who co-founded STEP in 2011.

“We set out from the very first day to potentially create a culture that people want to be a part of,” he said. “I characterize it like this: if you can get your co-workers to care personally about the success of the company you’ll have a competitive advantage and that is something we’ve invested a great deal of time into creating.”

He said STEP has world-class safety systems and processes but its safety record is probably more a reflection of the engagement of its people and their respect for its safety culture.

“You can’t berate people into greatness. These are all the foundations of our culture that the leadership team buys into. We strive for continually; we own it,” said Davis, adding his company’s hiring practices deliberately screen for people that will fit into that culture and support it.

Davis said many companies had not counted on commodity prices being low for this long and are now in distress either because of their financial situations or because there is so little work available, leaving them in a position of weakness.

Seasoned business people didn’t act fast enough on the realities they saw unfolding before them, often not reducing their cost structure early enough, not managing risk and being too greedy, he told the gathering.

“Many parties, I think, today wish they would have done something they had an opportunity to do this time last year or even back in 2014,” said Davis.

Calgary-based STEP acquired Sanjel Corporation’s Canadian pressure pumping, coiled tubing and cementing assets last month, (DOB, April 4, 2016), and GASFRAC Energy Services Inc. a year earlier (DOB, March 30, 2015).

The company started with coiled tubing in Canada but with those acquisitions expanded into pumping and hydraulic fracturing in Canada and the United States. The company was one of the winners of Deloitte’s 2015 Canada’s Best-Managed Companies awards program (DOB, March 9, 2016) and was ranked as second fastest growing company by Alberta Venture Magazine (DOB, Jan. 11, 2016).

Morty White, managing director of Wynnchurch Capital Canada, a Rosemont, Illinois-based private investment firm, said Wynnchurch is normally agnostic as to whether it invests in Canada or the U.S. but it is very attractive for a U.S.-dollar denominated fund to invest in Canada right now.

“We like good manufacturing and services businesses and this should be our environment. We are always bullish on Canada and having the dollar where it is right now makes it even more attractive,” said White.

Wynnchurch has more than $2.3 billion in private equity capital under management and has invested in more than 40 companies with combined sales in excess of US$5 billion.

Last year Wynnchurch bought Gypsum Technologies Inc., a Burlington, Ontario-based provider of machinery and systems for the wallboard industry and in 2012 joined forces with mining-services provider Groupe Moreau of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, and is looking for more activity in Canada, said White.

“We actually look at this downturn as an opportunity to consolidate the market and to buy market share,” he said. “For our platform companies we look for opportunities to obtain minority interest or take majority interest and help buy other companies, help make strategic acquisitions, help grow services, help grow geographies and go into the [United States].”

Horizon North Logistics looks for acquisitions that have an equilateral triangle: people, assets and cash in equal measure, said Rod Graham, president and CEO.

Inexpensive assets are not necessarily a wise purchase, said Graham. “Just because it’s cheap doesn’t make it right.” Potential acquirers have to ask themselves, ‘I can do a lot of things, but should I?’ he said.

Horizon North is the owner of the 665-room Blacksand Executive Lodge, an oilsands camp that was destroyed by wildfires in the Fort McMurray area (DOB, May 17, 2016). Graham said it was covered by insurance.