Forty-nine years ago, an 18-year-old Leslieville man sold his car and used the proceeds — along with some money his parents had set aside for his education — to buy a single-axle gravel truck.
It was the first of many chances Merv Pidherney would take while building M. Pidherney’s Trucking Ltd. into a company with some 550 employees.
He received some measure of recognition on Thursday evening, when he was presented with the Ernst & Young 2013 Prairies Entrepreneur Of The Year award for energy services. One of three finalists in that category, Pidherney acknowledged that he was surprised to hear his name called.
“I had to beat Studon Electric (& Controls Inc.) out of Red Deer, and he’s pretty strong competition.”
In addition to Studon president and CEO Don Sutherland, Pidherney was up against Russ Hebblethwaite of Calgary’s Enviro Vault Canada Ltd. But he had plenty of moral support at the Calgary awards banquet, with a 22-person delegation accompanying him.
“We were the noisiest group,” laughed Pidherney.
M. Pidherney’s Trucking, which is known to most people simply as Pidherney’s, has its shop and headquarters just outside of Rocky Mountain House. The company also maintains a shop west of Blackfalds and has a portable camp near Hinton.
It operates a construction fleet with more than 450 pieces of equipment, from gravel and lowbed trucks to excavators, scrapers, dozers, loaders and packers.
“People don’t realize that we are really a heavy construction company,” said Pidherney. “We run 114 Cats.”
He’s also a partner in Midwest Pipelines Inc. which does work for the likes of Enbridge Inc. and TransCanada Corp.
Now 68, Pidherney reflected on the early days of his entrepreneurial journey.
“It was just totally long hours and hard work, and very little return. My first truck only got me $5.40 an hour.”
He also took some chances along the way, but was careful not to over-extend his young company.
“I just had to keep working hard and slow, so that I didn’t get into debt trouble.”
That risk was particularly high in the oilpatch, where Pidherney’s company was most active. Businesses that grew too fast could quickly fail when the economy took a nasty turn, he said.
“I’ve seen that happen many times.”
Another reason for M. Pidherney’s Trucking’s ongoing success has been the quality of its employees, said its founder.
“I’ve got some very, very good people.”
Pidherney’s three sons are involved in the business. But despite that, he continues to work seven days a week and remains president and CEO.
“I don’t want to die, so I’m going to keep working,” he joked.
That said, Pidherney does now allow himself a few indulgences — such as winter trips south.
In addition to Pidherney and Sutherland, other Central Alberta finalists for 2013 Prairies Entrepreneur Of The Year awards were Dallas Lenius and Dean Hall of Red Deer’s Force Pile Driving. They were competing in the emerging entrepreneur category.
Prairies winners were chosen in 10 categories, with Dale Wishewan of Booster Juice declared the overall Entrepreneur Of The Year for the Prairies. He will now compete against other regional champions from the Pacific, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic areas for national Entrepreneur Of The Year honours.