Made-in-Alberta success story: Stream-Flo celebrates 60 years

Sept. 1, 2022

It all started with the swing check valve, the first of its kind in the Canadian oil industry. From there, through genuine Alberta ingenuity and entrepreneurship, Stream-Flo expanded to become one of the world's leading oil and gas equipment providers.

The privately held company has weathered the infamous busts and capitalized on the roaring booms — reinvesting heavily into its manufacturing capabilities and completing numerous acquisitions over the years, such as Master Flo Valve in 1984, the R&R machine shop in Longview, Texas in 2009, Canadian Wellhead Isolation in 2011, and Dycor in 2017, to name just a few.

Through it all, the man responsible for starting everything, Founder and Chairman Emeritus Duncan McNeill — with his wife of over 60 years Verda standing squarely by his side — has been steadfast in attributing Stream-Flo's success to one thing: its people.

"It's unbelievable that we could gather up people that fit the company, and they did the job they did," said McNeill recently from his home in Calgary.

Duncan McNeill Swing Check Valve 1963

Stream-Flo Founder & Chairman Emeritus Duncan McNeill poses in 1963 with the 42" swing check valve manufactured for the Alberta Gas Trunk Line

Now 91, McNeill looks back fondly on those early days as a salesman with National Supply when he headed out on his own in 1962, and together with a small group who shared his vision, launched what would one day become Stream-Flo Industries Ltd.

When asked what first springs to mind when he thinks about those days, McNeill is candid: "Fear," he says, before going on to once again praise those who helped shape his early vision into a reality. A reality far beyond what he ever even dreamed of.

"In all honesty, when you start out with no money, I don't think anyone imagines something this size," said McNeill. "I never thought that Stream-Flo would be an international company."

Since the mid-70s, though, that is exactly what has been achieved — and sustained.

McNeill, who only stepped back from the day-to-day running of the company in 2013, won the Prairie Regional Manufacturing - High Tech Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1996. He's a founding member of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC), was bestowed the Alberta Society of Engineering Technologists Employer of the Year Award in 2002 and was enshrined in the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame in 1998. When it comes to Alberta oilpatch legends, he's right up there with some of the biggest names. But would be the last one to say such a thing or bring notice to it.

"Everything we have accomplished is a result of the people here. I'm a firm believer if you take care of the people, the people will take care of the company — and our success shows that works," states McNeill.

Duncan McNeill Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame Induction 1998

Duncan McNeill at his Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1998

The founder credits three specific leaders throughout the course of the company's history for helping make it a truly global operation.

Retired VP & General Manager Bob Evans (1973-2013), Director of Engineering Tony Lam (1975-2020), and President Al Schreiner (1995-2009).

All three are celebrated within the Stream-Flo family for having contributed greatly to the growth of the company, especially as it relates to the global presence it has achieved.

In 2009, Duncan's son Mark took over from Schreiner as president. But the younger McNeill certainly didn't parachute in. He celebrated his 40th anniversary with the company in 2019.

In those 40-plus years, Mark has seen nearly every angle of the business, starting as a machinist at the Edmonton manufacturing facility in his teenage years. He would then help establish Stream-Flo's first service centres in Brooks and Estevan, simultaneously running field sales for both locations, before moving to the international market in the mid-80s, opening up South East Asia for the companies while based in Jakarta, Indonesia. After that, he returned to North America as the vice president of marketing and then the president of wholly owned subsidiary Master Flo in 2004, adding the dual role of president of Stream-Flo in 2009 as mentioned above, then assuming the title of CEO for both shortly thereafter.

Mark McNeill NAIT Alumni Award Photo

In 2016 Stream-Flo President and CEO Mark McNeill received the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology's Distinguished Alumni Award

"Duncan was adamant that I and any other member of the family who joined the Group of Companies progress in their career on merit alone. Having such insight into how the company works and an intimate understanding of its global operations has helped me immensely as I've led the companies over the past 13 years. We are focused on growing the business further. The last thing you will see as we celebrate this 60th anniversary is us resting on our laurels," said Mark from his office in Edmonton, where the main Stream-Flo manufacturing plant has been situated for more than 42 years.  

"It's important that I also acknowledge my older brother Doug McNeill for his significant contributions to the engineering and international sides of the business," says Mark. "For over 30 years, and now as part of our board of directors, Doug has helped guide the business."

Mark and Doug McNeill Commemorative 60th Anniversary Plates

President and CEO Mark McNeill and Stream-Flo Resources President Doug McNeill with their commemorative 60th anniversary plates that were made by Stream-Flo employees using Stream-Flo machines

The success Stream-Flo has experienced due to the solid guidance of Doug and others has also allowed it and the McNeill family to generously give back to the various communities in which they operate.

Throughout its existence, the company's charitable efforts and commitment to making the communities within which it works benefit from its presence have remained steadfast, with some notable contributions including:

  • A private donation in 2001 of $1 million to NAIT from Duncan and Verda McNeill for the development of the Duncan McNeill Centre of Innovation and the creation of an endowment fund for scholarships
  • In 2005 Stream-Flo reinvested in the community of Kilgore, Texas with the creation of the Stream-Flo Softball Field
  • 5 per cent of all scrap metal proceeds donated to the Kids with Cancer Society in 2008
  • A substantial donation to the University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering for the Duncan McNeill Project Lab in 2013
  • In 2014 Stream-Flo Group of Companies employees raised $64,682 for the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation to purchase new equipment and help renovate the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. With 3 to 1 matching from the McNeill family, a total of $258,730 was donated
  • Three-year commitment to the funding of the North Peace Arena in Fort St. John from 2015-2017
  • Over $100,000 to the UMC Timothy J. Harnar Burn Center in Lubbock, Texas since 2013
  • A sizeable donation to the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in 2015
  • Matched employee contributions of $18,302 in 2017 for Fort McMurray wildfire relief
  • Donations to food banks or other community-centric charities in all locations Stream-Flo operates in from 2015-2021
  • $185,000 to the Alberta Cancer Foundation in 2017 for a laser microscope that aims to greatly improve non-invasive prostate and breast cancer detection

2014 Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation Donation

Surrounded by Stream-Flo staff, Mark McNeill presents the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation with a cheque for $258,730 with $64,682 of that having been raised by employees and the rest with 3-1 matching by the McNeill family

In terms of gauging the success achieved over the past six decades, Stream-Flo's expansion and growth provides good insight. Starting with just one manufacturing plant, the company now has 34 locations in eight countries, with strategically located satellite offices in both major and developing energy markets to better capitalize on current and future opportunities.

Behind it all have been three key tenets that have driven the company and its products forward: quality, a near obsession with providing customer satisfaction, and deep recognition of the people it has taken to achieve the first two.

"I've got so much respect for our people and suppliers," says Duncan. "They are just unbelievable, they really are."

With the overarching mission of delivering value to energy producers by tailoring its expertise for today and investing in tomorrow — through things such as new product lines, strategic acquisitions, building inventory, and expanding during the lean times counter to the strategies of its competitors, along with the development and implementation of new technologies — Stream-Flo has more than held its own against some of the biggest names in the oil and gas equipment and service markets.

A remarkable achievement for a private company that started with just Duncan and a few other employees, as Stream-Flo now boasts more than a thousand across the globe. But Mark says the true number is even higher.

"I like to tell people we have over 4,000 dependents," said Mark. "The families of our employees have been critical to our success over the past 60 years, with them allowing our staff to commit the extra hours needed during busy stretches, sometimes having to make sacrifices for the betterment of the company."

Comprising a large chunk of that staff is a renowned engineering department that has obtained 40 patents since first being established in 1975. Notable achievements for the group include the novel idea of a composite pumping tree, as well as the herculean task of designing, developing, and manufacturing a 48" subsea swing check valve — the world's largest at the time.

Edmonton Centre of Excellence Patent Wall

The famed patent wall located within the Edmonton manufacturing facility

Their customer-driven approach has helped solidify Stream-Flo's vaunted reputation for being the ones to call when an application-specific solution is needed, such as when the Alberta invention of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) was in its infancy.

Consulted extensively throughout the development of the SAGD application, Stream-Flo would end up providing the very first high-temperature wellheads on the two inaugural SAGD wells.

To this day, SAGD remains an integral part of its business, as Stream-Flo grows its presence in geothermal, hydrogen, CO2 storage, and many other applications that have an eye toward the future.

That hyper-focus on providing exactly what their customers need is also what led to the company becoming the first to offer 24-hour well servicing, along with becoming the first wellhead manufacturer to offer wellhead installation. Service offerings that drastically altered the oil and gas landscape in Canada, by saving customers significant amounts of time and money.

Brooks Service Trucks 1988

Some of the first Stream-Flo service trucks at the Brooks branch in 1988

Meanwhile, the company's commitment to being where their customers need them, when they need them, is a main driver behind their expansion over the last six decades, especially its branches that have been strategically positioned in developed and emerging markets.

"Whenever a customer needs an answer, or quickly needs equipment — especially when they're in the field — they can contact us no matter the time or day and we can rapidly respond with a solution," said Mark. "The same can't be said for some of our competitors."

As Stream-Flo reflects on six decades of success and the global presence it has spawned, the made-in Alberta success story's latest expansion is one closer to home — a new branch in Lloydminster.

Bringing things back — for all intents and purposes, given Lloydminster's unique geographic location — to the province where it all started in those heady and fear-inducing days of 1962.

Duncan McNeill Black and White Airplane Photo

Duncan McNeill looks out the window of an airplane circa 2009

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