COMPANY Oil Country Engineering
OWNER Dennis Cuku
A colourless door at the end of the long, narrow hallway and a nondescript commercial building greet its visitors, but the offices of Oil Country Engineering are anything but nondescript. The walls are brightly coloured, covered with elegant two-toned photographs of drilling rigs. The staff is young and enthusiastic. And the CEO, 36-year-old Dennis Cuku (known as the Cukster and, yes, his last name is pronounced just like the clock) is an effervescent, fast-talking leader. He says his company is onto something great. “We’ve been blessed with this amazing group of people and a unique product and we know there are a lot of people out there looking for what we have,” Cuku says. “But we’ve always just gotten work and grown by the phone ringing. This last ‘Alberta hiccup’ downturn hurt us because the phone wasn’t ringing anymore.” As a result, Cuku expects revenues to dip by about 20 per cent this year over last.
Cuku is a mechanical engineer. He graduated from the University of Alberta in 1999. His wife, Christy (yes, she took his last name), was a pharmacist with Shoppers Drug Mart until the two of them started Oil Country, in their garage, in 2007.
The company specializes in the design and engineering of dynamic structures – “things that move,” Cuku says. “A drilling rig has to get lifted and laid down, and there are the machines inside it that move.”
The company’s head office is in Edmonton. Its annual revenue is $6.1 million and it currently employs 28 people. All those employees are also company owners. Some more numbers from Oil Country: chances of getting a corner office during the quarterly desk lottery: 13.6%. Pounds of garbage eaten by company earthworms: 74. Drawings issued last year: 57,369.
Morning quiet time
For two hours every morning, quiet time is imposed at Oil Country: no cellphones, no meetings, no dropping in on colleagues. It allows everyone a chance to focus on the project at hand.
Cuku is not forthcoming about his competition. He prefers to take a “the-competitors-have-their-customers-and-we-have-ours” approach. “We sort of have a gentlemen’s agreement,” he says. But when prodded, he mentions R.A. Hodgson Industrial Design and Allan R. Nelson Consulting Engineers as being in the same space. Oil Country gets about 40 per cent of its revenue from Alberta but has followed clients abroad to work in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico and the U.S.
“We’ve never actually marketed before,” Cuku says. “Zero. We have a web page that we invested a lot of time into so people could learn about us, but we don’t have a sales or marketing team.” Cuku doesn’t want trinkets to hand out or flyers or a T-shirt. He wants to figure out how to get his company’s story in front of the decision-makers. “You can’t control the market, but you can control how the market perceives you,” he says. “That’s the next step for us: getting more sophisticated about how we play the game.”
To develop and implement a marketing-communications-PR plan that will ensure that Oil Country’s story is reaching the people – its potential clients. “We’re really good at what we do,” Cuku says, “but we’re riding the same wave as everyone else. I don’t want to ride the wave. I want to drive.”
Dennis and Christy have three children, ages 10, 8 and 6. They live in a 6,000-square-foot, net-zero home on an acreage near Spruce Grove. It was designed and built to LEED platinum standards and includes two enormous solar arrays. Dennis says he has developed plans for a new home for his business that would be similarly eco-friendly.