Road to Success – Hub Equipment: For the Love of the Business
In today’s fast-paced, cutthroat, technology-driven world, a homegrown success story built on traditional values is a refreshing change of pace.
Meet Hub Equipment, a third-generation Canadian business offering construction equipment rental and sales. Founded by Tom H. Stevenson II, the company opened its doors in 1946 in Moncton, New Brunswick, known then as “the hub of the Maritimes.”
Tom, affectionately referred to as “THS,” was a civil contractor who worked for the Canadian and United States governments during the Second World War. Between projects, he rented surplus equipment to third parties and discovered a demand in the market that needed to be filled. And so, Hub was born.
THS was a self-made man and a serial entrepreneur who dabbled in a number of businesses during his career. He focused on hiring capable people to run the business, and then he let them do their job. A micro-manager, he was not. Initially, Hub served as a dealer for Ford, but over time, the company began to pursue the rental industry option with much greater focus.
In the early 1950’s, Hub Equipment experienced two important milestones. First, the company moved with the St. Lawrence Seaway, relocating from Moncton to Brockville for a short period of time, and eventually settling in Toronto in 1957, where it has operated for the past 60 years.
The second, and equally significant milestone, was becoming a second-generation business when Verne Stevenson joined the ranks in his mid-20’s, eventually taking over the business from his father. Throughout his lengthy career at Hub, Verne made it known that he “never went to work” – it wasn’t a job for him; it was his passion.
But it wasn’t always easy going for Hub. The company over-expanded in the mid-50’s and had to downsize in order to survive. While Verne and his father could have taken the easy route by closing up shop altogether, they shared a deep-rooted motivation and sense of responsibility to keep the business afloat. In the years that followed, they stayed loyal to the suppliers and staff who helped them survive the tough times and their reputation for integrity grew from there.
In 1977, Hub was the successful bidder on a long-term rental project to supply more than 200 machines in Indonesia. It was a transformational project for the business and the years that followed were a time of high growth for Hub.
In the late 1980’s, Hub beat the odds for a family business, when Verne’s son Tom joined the company full-time, at the age of 29. Hub officially became a rare, but successful, third-generation business.
Tom had worked in the business during summer holidays for a number of years, doing what he affectionately refers to as “grunt work” – sweeping floors and cleaning machines. But Verne did not want to pressure his son into joining the business, nor did he assume that his son would be willing and able to lead the company one day. And so, Tom pursued an economics degree from Harvard, followed by law school. He articled for a short time at a downtown Toronto law firm and then worked for a year in investment banking before returning to Hub.
“Getting involved in the family business seemed like an interesting and challenging opportunity,” says Tom. “I always knew that I wanted to go back into the business, but it was important for me to get some outside experience first.” He focused on pipeline marketing and advertising in his early days at Hub and learned the business from the ground up. He worked side by side with his father, until Verne’s death in 2001.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Tom, now the President of Hub, realized the importance of hiring knowledgeable and capable people – and equipping them with the resources and autonomy to do their job. Today, the company has 14 employees, including a General Manager, Sales Manager, Rental Manager, Technicians, and a Service Apprentice. Hub packs a lot of punch for its relatively small size.
“We run a lean and entrepreneurial company,” explains Tom. The Hub team works together like a well-oiled machine – multi-tasking, sharing responsibilities, and doing what it takes to get the job done right. “We’re not interested in growth for growth’s sake. That’s how you lose control. The business starts to run you, rather than vice versa.” According to Tom, the need to grow the topline is purely out of vanity. “If I wanted to make more money, I wouldn’t have left Bay Street. I do this for the love of the business.”
Sure, Tom could travel more frequently and sign more deals, but he prefers to be home at night with his family. “Money isn’t the driving force, here,” says Tom. “I’m motivated by adding to the Hub family of satisfied customers from around the world. And I feel a sense of responsibility for providing employment and a great quality of life for my team.”
Longevity and loyalty are definitely not in short supply at Hub. In fact, two of the company’s employees have been with the business for 38 years and 47 years, respectively. “They’ve given me their careers, and I’m grateful,” says Tom. “I know that a business is only as successful as the quality and commitment of the staff. You will never be successful in the long run if you can’t attract, motivate, and retain good people. We’ve been very lucky.”
The staff at Hub Equipment remains loyal because of the team-based culture, profit-sharing plan, and generous benefits, to name a few. But what keeps the clients coming back, year after year? “We live up to our reputation for integrity each and every day,” explains Tom. “We take great pride in earning the trust of our clients – whether it’s for a one week rental C.O.D., or for a large purchase of a fleet of machines over the course of several years.”
While Tom has noticed a trend toward consolidation in the Real Estate and Construction industries, he feels strongly that “bigger doesn’t mean better,” particularly when it comes to the size of a business. “The bigger you grow, the harder it gets to provide real value,” says Tom. “That’s how we beat the giants. We develop personal relationships with our clients based on trust and respect. That’s what builds continuity and loyalty.”
But Tom is the first to acknowledge that prior success is no guarantee for ongoing, sustained success in the future. “It’s important to constantly reinvest in the business, remain connected with clients, and surround yourself with a skilled team of outside advisors who challenge your assumptions and provide skills that you don’t have internally.”
Hub recently hit the 4th generation milestone, with his eldest son joining the business on a full-time basis. His daughter also got her feet wet in the business with a summer job at Hub, last year. But like his father before him, Tom encourages his kids, ages 22, 20, and 17 to pursue their own dreams and interests, whatever they may be. “Hub isn’t going anywhere,” assures Tom. “As long as we stay relevant and profitable, we’ll be here. We’ve got over 70 years under our belt, and we’re looking forward to many more to come.”
Interested in learning more about Hub? Check them out online at www.hubequipment.com.