A job with staying power
A summer job spun into a 30-plus year career and a new opportunity to support the winds of change for Allan Duncan.
The Royal Roads University Bachelor of Commerce graduate started working for Canadian Space Service Ltd. (CSS) on his summer breaks from Algonquin College Applied Arts and Technology where he was studying business. It was the best job, he says, as he was paid to travel across Canada painting radomes – or radar domes – at military bases along the way. The fibreglass, weatherproof enclosures protect or conceal a radar system or antenna. Radomes are used for weather radars, air traffic control, satellite communications and telemetry.
“We would start in Ontario and one crew would go east and one crew would go west,” Duncan says. “Each military base would have two to three of these radomes. You would climb up them with a five-gallon bucket of paint on your hip.”
After graduating from college, Duncan was keen to have his own business and approached CSS founder Joe Coghlan to see if he was interested in taking on a partner. Ultimately he ended up purchasing the company in 1989, and with his business partner Robert Valiquette, they expanded the company to include contracts with air traffic control and weather radar services.
“It had been a summer job but we thought, ‘we can’t survive on just one contract,’” Duncan says. The pair started looking at other radomes in the country and landed contracts with NAV Canada, securing work at major airports across the country.
The company continued to grow, but with the work being highly seasonal, Duncan and Valiquette approached a radome manufacturing company to offer their services in installing the structures during the winter months.
“They sent us everywhere in the world – it was unbelievable,” Duncan says. “We worked on all seven continents. We got up to about $3 million a year which is huge for a little service company with 10 to 15 employees at our peak.”
Ultimately the company decided to focus on Canada, ensuring they became a leader in the industry. With approximately 300 radomes throughout Canada, there is a solid demand for installation and maintenance, Duncan says.
Duncan is a partner in an American-based radome service business, but he was looking at different ways to expand his services within Canada too. While completing his degree at Royal Roads, he worked on the business plan for CSS Wind as a class assignment. His crew’s skills were easily translatable as the materials on radomes and turbines are similar and both involve working at heights. CSS Wind incorporated last summer and the company landed its first major contract this year. It will conduct blade inspections and repairs at the Georgian Bay wind farm in Ontario, which operates 152 turbines with three blades each.
Duncan credits Royal Roads with giving him what he needed to launch a new venture.
“I had been doing business for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t until I got to Royal Roads that I got the confidence to take on bigger projects,” Duncan says.
It was at Royal Roads too where he gained an appreciation for sustainable business and learned the value of lessening the dependency on fossil fuels.
“We really have to do something to leave this world in a better place. This is deeper than money and a job; this is really going to improve the world. It’s pretty significant motivation in the whole thing … being able to run a business that is helping the world get off fossil fuels.”
Duncan’s drive, both in the classroom and in his career, is a solid reflection on his skills, says Prof. Alex Glassey.
“He's clearly an intelligent, driven entrepreneur with very solid business skills. He is a good reflection on RRU and typical of the type of Canadian entrepreneur I'd like to see more of.”