Kari Yuers’ concrete waterproofing company has survived, and even thrived, through four recessions.
Yuers’ tale is one of bold entrepreneurship and global expansion framed not in grandiose dreams and schemes, but in dogged persistence and with an intensely pragmatic eye.
This is a woman who was fired by her father when he owned the company – times were tough and he was realistic – who then turned around and fired her own mother when she owned the company.
“My mom did five people’s jobs, but she was not a delegator,” Yuers said with characteristic rapid-fire delivery and the hint of a smile. Incipient ill feeling among parties was clearly erased long ago. “I was trying to build a company with systems and to plug people into the system, but my mom just wanted to look after everything. . . . I bought her a set of golf clubs and taught her to golf so she forgave me a bit.”
Kryton International sells its concrete waterproofing products in 48 countries. Ninety per cent of sales are outside Canada.
Kryton’s key product is a waterproofing additive (Krystol Internal Membrane or KIM) that is added to concrete as it is mixed. KIM saves time and labour over traditional membrane waterproofing which must be laid over concrete slab. Concrete is like a giant sponge and KIM fills in the pores of that sponge with its crystalline structure, Yuers said.
One of Kryton’s most recent contracts is the year-old, architecturally eccentric Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the largest casino resort in Asia.
“That’s 60,000 cubic metres of waterproof concrete, all in the foundation, built on reclaimed land so it’s right into the water,” said Yuers, 43. “Based on that success, we’re doing a 10-lane tunnel that connects the land masses in Singapore.”
Yuers’ dad, Ron, was a contractor fixing residential basements when he got frustrated with leaky waterproofing products. “Being from the Prairies, if you tell someone you’re going to do a thing, you do it,” said Kari who grew up in Rosetown, Sask. and later studied psychology in university. “So he hired a chemist.”
Ron Yuers started Kryton in Burnaby with his new paint-on product in 1973. Two years later, he’d signed a distributor in Australia and soon picked up deals in Singapore and Hong Kong.
“Literally, he’d get a oneway ticket to a location and he wouldn’t get his return ticket until he sold something,” Yuers said.
By 1979, Ron had created the “crystalline admixture for integral waterproofing” category. Its first major use was for thousands of cubic metres of below-grade concrete under the Boeing Company hangars in Tacoma in 1983.
“My father had the foresight,” Yuers said. “He wanted a global business that really balanced out the highs and lows.” The deep recession of 1981-82 were some of the best years Kryton ever had, she said.
As a student, Yuers lived at home until she quit school and her mom tossed her out. “I was a little bitter at being tossed to the curb, but I grew up,” she said. After her dad fired her, Yuers got summer and part-time work as a roofer, as a video store clerk and pulling wood on the green chain.
At age 23, Yuers swallowed her pride and asked to rejoin the company in 1991. Her father gave her the Canadian operation to run.
At the time, Kryton had six employees and was exporting to a dozen countries. Yuers set out to expand the KIM market. “The more blunt people were saying it would never work. Give up. But I had something to prove. I wanted to prove to my father I could do it,” she said.
Today, Kryton has fewer than a half dozen direct competitors worldwide, but Yuers considers the traditional waterproofing membrane, which has 99 per cent of the waterproofing market, to be her true competition. The recent recession has hit the concrete ready-mix business worldwide, but Yuers is using the time to demonstrate that KIM can increase value to customers.
Construction industry multinationals are now renewing their focus on India after pulling out in the early 2000s following taxation and political issues. Kryton built a factory there in 1994.
“We’ve been there slugging away,” Yuers said. “We had to rebuild a couple of times and find the right people and get the right team assembled. We never pulled out because we’re stubborn.”
Yuers took over as Kryton’s CEO in 2001.
Ron is still chairman of the board. Kryton has grown 30 per cent a year for the last 10 years, Revenue is about 20 times greater than when Yuers joined in 1991. She has 50 employees in Vancouver, 20 in New Delhi, and 10 in Asia and the Middle East. Kryton was named BC Business magazine’s second best company to work for in B.C. in 2010.