Designing a bear-proof garbage receptacle was Dennis Neufeldt’s first major project when he joined the family business in 1976.
A recent graduate of the industrial engineering program at the University of Toronto, he was looking for his first career position.
“None of the options out east excited me too much. I figured there were good opportunities here, and with my connection to the community, returning to Lethbridge felt right,” says Neufeldt.
He, with his cousins Kevin and Dave, became the third generation to work at what was then Neufeldt Industries, a company started by Neufeldt’s grandfather John in 1931 in an old cowshed in Coaldale. The business has thrived and grown into two divisions, Haul-All Equipment Systems servicing the waste management industry, and Sure Flame Products offering gas and diesel-fired heaters for the construction industry. Products are now shipped across Canada, into the United States, the Caribbean and beyond.
From its humble beginnings as John J. Neufeldt and Sons Blacksmithing, the family-owned company has always supported the community, including the University of Lethbridge. Due to his success in business and for his long-standing commitment to the U of L and the community, the Faculty of Management has chosen Neufeldt as the honouree of this year’s Management Scholarship Dinner. Proceeds from the dinner will go toward a scholarship in the honouree’s name and will be given annually to a deserving Faculty of Management student.
“We are proud to honour Dennis at our annual scholarship dinner,” says Faculty of Management Dean, Dr. Robert Ellis. “The Neufeldt family has built a successful business that is committed to innovation, ethics and professionalism and provides an excellent role model for our students.”
Neufeldt, who has attended many of the annual scholarship dinners, never expected to be the centre of attention himself.
“I must say I was very surprised when I was told. Being at those dinners for many years, I never thought that I would be in a position to be the honouree,” he says.
The bear-proof container that Neufeldt designed back in the 1970s is still being built today, although the famous receptacle is now one of many innovative products that make up the company’s integrated approach to waste management, including collection vehicles and transfer stations. The road to becoming a provider of integrated waste management products was full of twists and turns but innovation was always the driving force.
Throughout its history, the company has been adept at developing specialized products. Neufeldt’s grandfather repaired farm implements like ditchers used in irrigation. The company flattened steel wheels from unused equipment and made them into plowshares.
“One of their big products was a land leveler to taper the land so that the water wouldn’t pool when you were irrigating. It was all flood irrigating at that time so they built these big levelers, some of them were 65 feet long,” says Neufeldt.
They also built truck boxes and eventually garbage trucks. In the early 1980s, waste management products, including collection vehicles, waste and recycling containers, and regional transfer stations, replaced the farm equipment side of the business. The iconic Hid-A-Bag waste receptacle is a familiar sight in parks across North America. A special container was developed for the 2010 Winter Olympics. A penchant for niche applications is not limited to the Haul-All division. Sure Flame Products recently designed a heater that is being used in California at a pistachio nut business that supplies about 80 per cent of the North American market.
“If you ate a pistachio this year, chances are it was dried by one of our 1.5 million BTU heaters,” says Neufeldt.
Loyal employees have been key to the success of Haul-All. The company has provided Faculty of Management students with co-op work placements, with three former co-op students taking permanent positions. Haul-All plans to continue providing opportunities for co-op students in the future. The company is very proud of the fact that many of its employees have been with them for a long time and five were recently recognized for 25 years of service. Treating employees well has been one of the foundational values for Haul-All.
Along with absorbing lessons about business from his father and uncle, Neufeldt made sure he stayed on top of trends in the industry by reading journals, attending trade shows and keeping tabs on the competition. Now semi-retired, Neufeldt enjoys ping-pong, hockey, hiking, cycling and riding his motorcycle.
Neufeldt’s advice to young entrepreneurs is to get a broad base of knowledge and experience, focus their talents where they can be most effective, and surround themselves with others whose skills are complementary to their own.
This year’s scholarship dinner is being held on April 16. The event typically sells out quickly so tickets should be reserved as soon as possible. Tickets, at $125 each or $1,000 for a table of eight, can be purchased online at uleth.ca/management/scholarship-dinner-2015.