You’ve heard stories of startups that made millions overnight. Businesses that can’t fail. Companies so perfectly timed, their luck seems like fate.
That isn’t the story of VMAC.
In the fall of 1986, Jim Hogan had the opportunity to build jet engines for the Canadian Department of National Defense, but he didn’t have the project off the ground. He needed help. Jim thought of his university friend, Tony Menard, who had the natural enthusiasm and instincts of an entrepreneur.
“If I did something smart that day, it was to think of Tony,” said Jim. “I called him up and asked him how he was. Tony said he wasn’t great. He had been laid off the day before and the company he was working for closed its doors. I said, ‘That’s great news,’ and Tony didn’t hang up on me…”
Soon after, Tony and his family packed their bags and moved across the country to Kitchener, Ontario, ready to pursue Jim’s exciting new opportunity. Just as the men began to make significant progress, the same recession that claimed Tony’s former employer cost the men their military contract.
But all wasn’t lost. The pair had a tenacious work ethic and a complete machine shop, conveniently located in the heartland of Canadian manufacturing. Jim and Tony began to machine tooling and other small parts for local businesses, quickly earning a reputation for their high-quality craftsmanship.
In 1988, Parker Sturdy Manufacturing—a service truck builder who had become a loyal customer—needed new air compressor mounting brackets. The brackets PSM was using kept breaking and air compressors were falling off their trucks on the highway.
Tony was instantly excited by the opportunity, but Jim wasn’t convinced.
“I told him not to worry about it,” said Jim. “We were already busy and had never made brackets like that. Tony said, ‘well, I’ll go and meet with them. What harm can it do?’ …He came back, and we were designing brackets.”
Tony and Jim renamed their company VMAC, an acronym for Vehicle Mounted Air Compressors, and business was good to them for a while. In 1990, Tony bought Jim out and moved the company to his hometown, Nanaimo, BC.
But Nanaimo didn’t have the same manufacturing spirit as Kitchener and VMAC inevitably hit hard times. The business was failing, Tony was struggling, and he had two sons and a daughter to provide for. Tony decided to shut VMAC down.
Mike Gauthier, a friend of Tony’s, caught wind of the plans to shutter the business. He wouldn’t have it. Mike phoned Tony, brow-beat him into not giving up, and was nicknamed the “VMAC Angel” because of what happened next.
A few days later, IMT called and asked Tony to design and manufacture engine mounted air compressors for their company. This single deal gave VMAC the consistent revenue needed to pay the bills and ignite the company’s growth.
Tony made it his mission to find hard-working people with good character for the new VMAC. Jim also returned, helping VMAC with engineering research and development—his true passion.
VMAC invented the first vehicle-mounted rotary screw air compressor, then developed several new product lines, endured the global recession, and gained a reputation for world-class mobile air compressors. Things were going well.
Then, on July 4, 2010, the company endured a tragedy no one was prepared for: Tony died in an accident.
The loss of a founder is difficult for any company and VMAC was no exception. But Tony built a strong company with employees who shared his family values, innovative spirit, and unrelenting perseverance. Standing together, VMAC’s employees found the way forward.
Today, VMAC’s people continue to live the same values the company was founded on. We work hard. We support one another. We stand up after failure. At VMAC, we overcome every challenge that comes our way, and we persevere.