Starting Up In A Downturn: How MANTL’s Timing Couldn’t Have Been Better, Or Worse

Matthew Kenna, president & CEO, MANTL Canada Ltd.

After 15 years of service, an unexpected exit from a multi-national, multibillion-dollar oilfield services company had Matthew Kenna asking the question, “Do I find a new job or start my own company?”

After talking to some of his like-minded co-workers, they too exited their former employer and together — Kenna, Adam Bast, Andy Clark, Dennis Lefsrud, Jordy Gerling, Scott Doetzel, Sheldon Jahn, Ted Tryhuba, Troy Smith, Grant Bulduc and Ryan Oosterbroek — decided to start a new company. At the time, the group had no idea that the endeavour they were about to embark on what would earn them the award of WORST TIMING EVER.

It was the summer of 2014 when Kenna and the 10 founding members started a new company, MANTL Canada Ltd., at the exact same time that the price of oil plunged close to 60 per cent in just over seven months — from a high of $107.95/bbl on June 20, 2014, to a low of $44.08/bbl on Jan. 28, 2015.

While this shocking downturn in the oil and gas industry would have stopped most people from starting a new business, it was the motivation that Kenna and his partners needed to start a new type of oilfield services company — an independent, locally-owned and operated company based on a wellhead-back approach and a customer-focused business model.

One of MANTL’s Core Purposes was to build a community that they’re proud of and to share in the winning together. Most of MANTL’s founders have a grassroots entrepreneurship mindset which played perfectly into Kenna and his partners’ vision for their new start-up because they wanted their successes to be the communities’ successes where they operate.

“When my partners and I started MANTL almost 10 years ago, industry was consolidating and we decided that our company would serve our customers the way they need to be served in their area, which multi-national companies struggle to do,” says Kenna, president and CEO of MANTL.

MANTL is an independent Canadian oilfield services company that builds complete progressing cavity pump (PCP) systems for oil and gas wells. When the company was formed, its management team had over 300 years of combined PCP experience in the industry. They use their expertise to explore new ways to expand the PCP market and get products to their customers faster.

Using its wellhead-back approach, MANTL works with its customers to build the right tools for the job, whether it’s above or below ground, and because the company uses standardized assembly on its customers’ sites, they can provide the quality products and site service their customers require.

The origins of MANTL’s founding were based on four groups of people — employees, suppliers, customers and investors.

Companies are about people and people build successful companies. Kenna says he and his partners wanted to make sure that the members on MANTL’s team were the type of people who would do whatever it took to get the work done and who were willing to do tasks they weren’t familiar with.

“MANTL puts great emphasis on hiring people who understand that it’s ‘out-working’ the multi-national companies that ensures our survival and success. Always being there for our customers is the mindset of our team.”

After MANTL had its team put together, they looked for suppliers that would support their start-up business during a massive downturn in the industry.

Kenna says, “I have always believed that suppliers are a key asset to a company. Most suppliers prefer to work with independent companies, especially locally-owned and managed companies, so we had that working in our favour.”

Next, the MANTL team had to seek out customers for their new company. They had to find customers that would support a new, small, independent company that didn’t have huge sales but had huge experience, again, during a very dark period in the industry.

“One of MANTL’s Core Values is ‘Give A S#!t!’ and we adopted this value as our company slogan. We owe our survival and success to this slogan. It’s not just MANTL’s products that ensure our survival and success but it’s our company’s team members and their ‘Give a S#!t!’ attitude that always wins our customers’ gratitude.

“We also make ourselves available to our customers 24/7 and no team member will ever say that a task is not their job. Customers can call anyone in our company anytime, day or night, and their concern will be taken care of.”

Another unique aspect to MANTL’s customer-focused business is that most of their team members live in the communities in which the company provides its PCP systems services.

“In Canada, our service areas are located in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where we have key people who have roots in their communities and whole-heartedly believe in our ‘Give a S#!t!’ attitude. Our team members live and play with the same people they provide service to, so our team members’ reputation is our company’s currency.”

Finding investors for a new, independent, locally-owned and managed oilfield services company during a downturn is no easy feat. But Kenna and his partners had decades of experience and new ideas on how to service customers and new product ideas to bring to market that piqued investors’ interest.

“At the beginning, we didn’t have any cash or customers, but we managed to convince some investors that we were the right people to start MANTL at the right time, even though we were in one of the worst downturns the industry had ever seen. We received financial backing from some great people who saw our long-term vision.”

Between downturns in the industry, never-ending regulatory changes, the COVID-19 pandemic and always changing governments, MANTL credits its “Give A S#!t!” attitude for the company’s ever-growing survival and success. Most companies would have and did fail since the price of oil plunged almost a decade ago.

Kenna says, “When I was getting my accounting designation, I was taught the two Cs — Cash & Customers. But since I’ve been working in the oil and gas industry in Alberta for the past 30 years, I’ve added a third “C” — Communications. If it wasn’t for communications, MANTL wouldn’t be the company it is today. And in 18 months, we’ll be celebrating our 10-year anniversary!”

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