At family-run concrete solutions provider Kryton International, there can be no accusations of nepotism. Despite having succeeded her father as CEO, Kari Yuers was once fired from the company by the same man – and indeed, would years later make her own mother one of the first people she herself would fire as CEO.
According to Yuers, these decisions are about separating your family life from the business and doing what is best for the company. Having built on her father’s entrepreneurial spirit to turn Kryton International into a global organization, with fifty distributors in forty countries, Yuers can speak on the subject from a position of confidence.
Yuers offered this intriguing insight in the latest interview in the Fall 2014 Chief Executives series at the Segal Graduate School. The series is part of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business and Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to showcase leadership and business advice from some of Canada’s top business leaders.
In 1973, Yuers’ father founded the company after inventing a revolutionary crystalline waterproofing admixture for concrete. The product made concrete waterproof as soon as it was poured, eliminating the need for further treatments. Yet despite the obvious advantages the product offered, resistance to change within the construction industry stopped it selling well initially.
After vowing never to enter the family business when she was growing up, Yuers eventually came on board, and immediately set her sights on increasing sales. She renamed the product and sought out individuals to back her product within the construction industry who were more open to change.
“There are always people willing to embrace change, so I would find the engineers who knew that membranes weren’t the long term solution and use them as a reference,” she explained. “I had my father’s stubborn streak. Every time someone told me you will never change the industry it made me more determined to make it a success.”
In 2003, Kryton International won an award for the most innovative product, the latest step in the company’s success story. Although Yuers sees the irony in winning an innovative product award some 23 years after their crystalline waterproofing admixture was first invented, she regards it with a sense of satisfaction on the progress made in marketing it as a viable product.
One of the challenges in obtaining backing on a new product in the construction industry is often making it comply with building codes, and for Kryton International this was no exception. In the mid 90s Yuers was encouraged to become involved with the American Concrete Institute and to start working on new documentation that would allow the use of their crystalline waterproofing admixture. After nearly two decades of work, Yuers was able to publish the finished document in 2010, justifying the strategy she had taken.
“Our strategy of creating a new category rather than fighting out a niche area has now really been realized,” she said. “It hasn’t been quick or easy, but it’s worthwhile. These things don’t happen overnight – you have to have that sustainable passion.”
With the construction industry heavily affected by the financial crisis, host Simi Sara questioned Yuers on the strategy of further investment Kryton International took during the recession.
“Our strategy was to invest in research and development, so that when things turned around we could be ahead of companies that had cut their R&D staff,” she said. “During this period we developed several products that we will be launching next year. It is very exciting to develop technology that continues to make construction faster, more sustainable and more durable.”
Yuers closed with a positive message for Canadian business, claiming that it is full of bright people with good ideas, ready to exploit the next big market.
“Any time you can find something that is old you can find a market,” she said. “We are doing a lot of work in the Middle East just now, but when you are building mega tall buildings you can’t help but change how things are done. You can’t pump concrete one kilometer into the air without doing something different. This sort of thing gives Canadians all sorts of opportunity.”