Look up inside the brand new $2-billion (U.S.) second terminal at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, which opened last year, and you will see a stunning column-supported dimpled ceiling that looks inspired by both the Taj Mahal and the Starship Enterprise.
The massive structure, made of thousands of modular components of glass-fibre-reinforced gypsum, was constructed halfway around the world by Toronto-based Formglas Products Ltd., which specializes in 3D-modelling, designing and building this kind of structure, which is often used in casinos, cruise ships and other large buildings.
The company dates back more than 40 years, has $20-million-a-year in revenues and 70 employees in Toronto, where it does design and builds prototypes, and another 200 in Mexico, where it moved most of its actual manufacturing in 2007. It has been looking overseas for new customers for decades, even though most of its work is still done in the United States and Canada. Dick Samson, the company's senior vice-president, says landing the massive $10-million Mumbai airport contract buoyed the firm during the financial crisis, when U.S. customers weren't calling.
"It helped see us through the recession. Because here in North America, it's been an absolute nightmare since 2009," Mr. Samson said, adding that the company is now looking to projects in Dubai and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Samson says the fact he was born in India – he came to Canada in 1968 – obviously helps him do business there, because he knows the culture and language. But he said businesses looking to hire Toronto-area immigrants, thinking it will make entering a market such as India or China easy, may be mistaken. Many who have left their countries of origin for Canada have family, but not business networks back home, he said. "It's not always a recipe for success."
And expansion overseas can be a risky proposition for a small business, he warns, since travelling overseas just to explore opportunities can cost thousands of dollars: "It's expensive. In the middle of a recession your gut tells you there is a market out there that is booming. … But for a small company, it's daunting."