Finning boss Mike Waites mixes business and baseball at CEO Series

Apr 03, 2013
Mike Waites, CEO of Finning being interviewed at the Beedie School of Business by CKNW host Bill Good.

Mike Waites, CEO of Finning being interviewed at the Beedie School of Business by CKNW host Bill Good.

The head of the world’s largest Caterpillar dealer and a global provider of industrial equipment took centre-stage at the CKNW CEO Series held on March 27 at Simon Fraser University’s Segal Graduate School in downtown Vancouver.

Mike Waites, who was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of Finning International in May of 2008, engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about international business and Canada’s economic prospects with CKNW host Bill Good in front a large audience of Beedie students, alumni and faculty as well as business leaders.

For over 80 years, Finning has provided parts and service for equipment and engines to customers in mining, construction, power systems, forestry and other industrial markets. 

The Vancouver-based company employs over 15,000 people world-wide with operations in Europe, South America and North America.

Waites, who was born in the UK, notes that his company continues to look to leverage the skills, talents and technologies across its international markets.

“One of the opportunities we have is can we take one-plus-one-plus-one and make it more than three,” he said. Ultimately, he notes, “it’s a benefit – we have diversity.”

Asked how he oversees such a widespread operation, Waites pointed to his Finning colleagues. “We have a strong management team, and a decentralized structure.”

Waites, who helped see his company through the global financial crisis during 2008, pointed to some lessons from a business book by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, entitled “Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder.”

“(Taleb) does a good job of putting things in perspective,” said Waites, who went on to refer to one of the ways that Finning was anti-fragile itself – by focusing on servicing existing parts and engines instead of selling new product to its industrial customers.

“When we had that meltdown, people stopped purchasing,” he said.  “But the mines kept running, and we were rebuilding the machines. We were confident in the business model – we knew we could survive on that.”

The central premise of Anti-fragile, Waites explained, is innoculation – in this case through the challenges of the recession and how companies respond. “It makes you stronger,” he maintains.

The CEO of the heavy duty equipment dealer also aspires to bridge the gap between environmental and economic progress for Canada.

“Why can’t we have environmental responsibility  and responsible energy development? I think we shift the game when we ask either/or. We should ask for both.”

Waites, who is approaching retirement and expects to step down later this year, enjoys down time at a property on Vancouver Island and admits to being a fan of film – recently viewing (and recommending) Silver Linings Playbook.

He is also an admitted fan of baseball, in particular the Vancouver Canadians. His mentor, Jeff Mooney, Executive Chairman of A&W Canada, is a co-owner of the successful franchise.

“When I joined the Finning Board in 2003, he was on the board and a mentor to me,” Waites said. “He was always the passion around the customer, around the franchisee. Tremendous insight – strategic, passionate, a tremendous guy.”

“And if you haven’t been to see a game (at Nat Bailey Stadium where the Canadians play), you really should.”

To see all the CEO interviews from the 2013 CKNW Chief Executives Series, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/2013-cknw-ceo-series/

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