"Alberta Company Wins at Worlds with Race-Age Technology"
Engineer Built Firm's Future One Block at a Time
His company's race-age technology has helped top international athletes get a grip on the competition, and now David Grant feels like he's on the right track at the Worlds in Edmonton.
The president and CEO of Omni-Lite Industries (OML - CDNX), Grant is confident that the ultra-lightweight ceramic spikes sported by dozens of elite athletes at the 8th International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) World Championships are having an impact at both the finish line and his company's bottom line.
The special spikes, installed on shoes created for the competitors by companies including Nike, Adidas and Reebok, have helped thrust Omni-Lite and its precision metal forging technique on to an international stage.
While the big-name athletic shoe sponsors bask in televised glory as their brands climb the medal podium, Grant knows his products have provided a solid footing for their success.
"It's been very satisfying to see an Alberta-based company having an influence in the sporting world like we've had," says Grant, a home-grown entrepreneur who launched his business out of the starting blocks in his Calgary living room.
"The market is just huge for these super lightweight metals."
Omni-Lite's computer-controlled cold forging techniques have led to several manufacturing contracts for its five divisions.
These include deals with the U.S. army and NATO to provide mortar couplings, civilian jet engine components for Boeing, Airbus and Bombardier, and airbag and transmission system technologies for Ford and General Motors. The company's research and production arm is located in Cerritos, Calif., in the heart of the U.S. aerospace district, while its corporate offices are headquartered in Calgary.
Grant's own interest in engineering challenges was first forged through his father, who was involved in offshore exploration with Amoco Canada.
After graduating from the University of Calgary with his civil engineering degree, Grant studied oceanography at University of British Columbia and worked briefly for Amoco before joining Petro -Canada's arctic exploration program and then moving into the aerospace industry to work in marketing and business development.
"I think that's how I developed my business skills at an early age, because I was thrust into a series of different geographic and technical environments very early on which allowed me to develop an interest in a number of things, one of which was advanced materials," he says.
After forming Omni-Lite with the help of his wife Catherine in 1992, Grant managed to round up 50 investors and over the next 18 months raised $700,000 to help jump-start the technology.
"In the early days, it was family, friends, credit cards and other means of personal finance," he recalls. "Finally, the banks will support you, but only with a letter guarantee, which basically means your house, everything you own, is on the line. It's a very trying time, to say the least."
His family and friends kicked in some startup money while wife Catherine handled the bookkeeping.
For the first five years, they worked seven days a week, and for the next three years, only took Sundays off.
But the hard work appears to have paid off. Since going public in 1997, Grant is proud to say his company has a book value of about $7 million without having to raise a penny from the stock market.
Grant credits the entrepreneurial environment in this province for encouraging him to reach higher and to take the composite metal technology to an international market.
Omni-Lite first burst onto the sports and recreation scene at the Worlds in Goteberg, Sweden, in 1995 after developing a test series of compression-style components - both the ceramic spike and the lightweight metal receptacle into which the spikes are screwed - for Nike and Adidas.
Summer Olympic appearances followed in Atlanta and Sydney with a total of 40 gold medals being awarded to runners wearing shoes with Omni-Lite spikes, including sprinter Michael Johnson, who won the 200- and 400-metre races in Atlanta.
World-class athletes including Cathy Freeman, Ato Boldon, Gail Devers, Marion Jones and Maurice Greene have sported Omni-Lite spikes, which now dominate the track shoe market.
"You can imagine my first day engineering in Calgary, and not having any feel the we'd be a part of the Olympic Games, the World Championships, and personally know Maurice Greene and those kind of people," Grant says.
"These are things you can't put in your business plan."
He's not at all disappointed that spectators at the Worlds may only see the running shoe brands and the star athletes, while overlooking the engineering expertise that an Alberta-born businessman poured most of his adult life into creating.
"Even though the world may not know it, our employees, our shareholders and our staff understand that we were a small part of that Olympic record or World Championships," he says.
"You can never overstate how important that is for a company and its future."