In the glittering spectacle that is Corporate Canada, the past few years have been especially spectacular for the big guys-spectacular buyouts, spectacular windfalls in resources and real estate, and, for some, spectacular reversals of fortune. Look at the behemoths at the top and bottom of our annual Top 1000 ranking, and many of these triumphs and disasters come to mind immediately.
But what of the smaller and less glamorous lights that don't (yet) post billions in annual profits or losses? They, too, have had to slug it out amid the often-brutal realities of the new global marketplace-intense low-wage competition from overseas, the soaring Canadian dollar, the crumbling U.S. economy and more. Unlike the behemoths, however, they don't have vast amounts of capital and manpower to fall back on. They have to be clever and nimble to prosper.
Many of these smaller outfits produce steady profits and share price appreciation, year after year. Despite soaring stock markets in recent years, most of these companies are still modestly priced, on the right side of the value investor's traditional price/earnings ratio threshold of 20. But if you comb through news archives, pretty much all you will find are brief summaries of their quarterly or yearly earnings. Their CEOs aren't household names either, even in the non-Bay Street locales in which they're headquartered. Quick! You folks in Guelph, Ontario! Who's Bill Hammond?
Well, he runs Hammond Power Solutions, the manufacturer his grandfather, Oliver Hammond, established in 1917. An early specialty was radios, but since 1927, Hammond has concentrated on making transformers. The company's profits have risen more than 700% over the past three years alone-much better, in percentage terms, than the Royal Bank, No. 1 in our Top 1000 ranking, or any of the other giants in the top 10 (see page 78). Yet even Bill Hammond's two teenaged kids aren't all that excited by the family business. "There's a, um, mild interest there," he says.
Apart from a handful of analysts who track their shares and a few savvy institutional money managers who've profited from them, many investors don't know these companies. Is that fair? No, but that's life. Sometimes, real performance gets no respect. Bill Hammond wouldn't mind a little more publicity, but he can also wait for investors to discover the value in his company. "We're throwing off enough cash that we don't need to go to market," he says.
A low profile may simply be the price that wallflower companies pay for working in humdrum businesses like transformers, excavation or fertilizer. But it's easy to find out about their stories-all you have to do is call and ask. Here is what we found out.
Hammond Power Solutions Top 1000 rank 353 2007 revenue $162 million Profit $12.4 million Three-year share price gain 844.4% Like many Canadian manufacturing dynasties, the Hammond family of Guelph, Ontario, saw big trouble ahead in the early 1980s, as free trade with the United States loomed. "We had one choice: Either get bigger or sell," says chairman and CEO Bill Hammond, who joined the transformer manufacturer in 1978 after graduating from the University of Western Ontario. Unlike other dynasties, however, the Hammonds didn't panic. They hired a consulting firm to help plot the future. "I think it saved our ass, so to speak," says Hammond, 56, in a low, deliberate voice.
The Hammonds learned that too many Canadian manufacturers were concentrated on the protected domestic market, which meant their production runs were too short and their costs too high. In Hammond's case, 75% of its sales were still in Canada.
Looking south, there were also opportunities. Many of Hammond's U.S. competitors were, and still are, small, with just $10 million to $15 million in sales. So Hammond could grow by buying a few competitors, which it has done. The company now operates three plants in Canada, two in Mexico and one in the U.S.
Another key decision: Specialize in so-called dry transformers, which use air cooling, and eschew wet ones, which use oil and other liquids as coolant. The company also spun off Hammond Manufacturing, which makes enclosures for large electrical devices. Even the dry transformer business is hugely varied, however. Hammond's product line ranges from 50-volt-amp models that can fit in your hand to room-sized 34,000-kilovolt-amp versions used in power substations.
Of course, to get bigger, you also need more money. So, in 1987, Hammond went public. But the family has maintained just over 60% control of the company with 4-for-1 multiple voting shares.