For the win: Mark McNeill’s drive to succeed serves a greater good

Published on June 12, 2024

2024 Honorary Bachelor of Business Administration recipient

It may be surprising to learn that a company located in landlocked Edmonton is renowned for producing oil-and-gas tech that can operate at record subsea depths.

Choke valves control flow in underwater pipelines. Master Flo Valve, located on the city’s south side – not even in view of so much as the North Saskatchewan River – makes chokes that can withstand the crushing underwater pressure of 3,000 metres.

But with Mark McNeill (Marketing '82), president and CEO of the Stream-Flo Group of Companies that includes Master Flo, it all makes sense. Scoring records is a point of pride for him. As McNeill, aware of his own Type A personality, puts it, “winning is all that matters.” The valves simply have to be the world’s best, even if the nearest ocean is 1,200 kilometres away.

That drive doesn't stop with technology. It applies to everything McNeill touches. When he joined the company, founded in 1962 by his father Duncan, it employed 39 people. He’s led its growth to more than 1,200 today, with more than 9,000 years of dedicated sole Stream-Flo Group service spread amongst those employees. Export accounts for as much as 70% of sales, in which he’s played a major role as well.

For those efforts in building the company, which manufactures and services wellheads and valves of all kinds, McNeill was named the 2023 EY Entrepreneur of the Year for the Prairies.

But that eye on winning also applies to making a local impact, whether that’s to the benefit of charities, health-care providers, the company’s own employees and their families, or post-secondary institutions such as NAIT. In fact, making that impact is as much a part of McNeill’s vision for a successful company as is making world-class equipment.

“Our guiding principle says you have to give back to your community.”

“We are in a position to do that thanks to the guiding principle that has made us a successful business, which is providing a quality product backed by unmatched service. The two go hand in hand.”

Hands-on leadership

McNeill sees his NAIT education, which he earned through night courses after days spent on the shop floor, as a natural evolution in his career. He started with Stream-Flo in 1979 as a machinist. But he soon found himself seeking new outlets for his competitive nature. Trying to beat yesterday’s productivity, or that of the worker on the previous shift, wasn’t cutting it.

What’s more, he wanted a larger role in building the company.

“So it was a challenge for me to stay as a machinist,” says McNeill. “I wanted to give more to the killing of the beast.”

After graduating, the hunt, so to speak, took him on an extended trip overseas. McNeill was 26 years old when he was stationed in Indonesia. “We started with nothing [there],” he recalls. “In two years, it was 30% of the business here. It’s still a steady chunk of our business.”

Having contributed to the making of the company’s products, McNeill knew them intimately. That knowledge gave him an edge in sales that saw him carry on in his travels, opening new locations in South America, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere. When he returned to Edmonton, he took on the role of president of both Stream-Flo and Master Flo (Dycor, a control solutions provider, has also since come into the fold).

Now in his early 60s, McNeill is still actively engaged in building the company. The group runs lean, he points out: the executive includes just him and a handful of others; with him emphasizing every individual is part of the team and titles are merely protocol. “All my executives work,” he says. “We don’t go golfing in the afternoon.”

Instead, McNeill and the other executives work as much as everyone else in the organization to meet their promise of delivering value to energy producers.

During our interview he gestures around the room, a corner office at the company’s headquarters, decorated with wood trim and framed pictures, and with a view onto the surrounding patchwork of shops and yards.

“My real office is across the way,” he says, glancing back over his shoulder. “This is my dad’s old office. It’s got this big old desk.” He shrugs. “What am I supposed to do with it?”

Nothing for granted

McNeill may play to win but he doesn’t treat life like a game in which the other players don’t matter. There are rules; sportsmanship is important. That’s reflected in the value he places on strengthening communities.

Stream-Flo owns most of the buildings where it works overseas – a symbol of relationships that go beyond transactions. It has an in-house design and engineering department to continue innovating to meet the needs of its customers as quickly as possible. It supports food banks in the Canadian towns and cities where it operates. It runs fundraisers and contributes to the acquisition of life-saving pieces of equipment for facilities such as the Cross Cancer Institute. And it provides scholarships for the children of employees.

Stream-Flo also has a record of supporting education at NAIT, through gifts of scholarships and equipment now amounting to hundreds of thousands dollars.

“Mark recognizes that NAIT grads are highly trained and job ready,” says Matt Lindberg (Plumber ’01), dean of the School of Skilled Trades. “He routinely hires NAIT grads and believes his company benefits greatly from the skills our alumni bring to the workforce.

“The School of Skilled Trades is surely better for having Mark’s long-standing and dedicated support,” Lindberg adds.

Many other groups are better for the same reason. Ultimately, the win for McNeill is seeing the communities he values in turn see the value in Stream-Flo, whether through meeting needs in industry or society, through innovating or giving back. If there’s a way to keep score, that might be the one that matters most for him. And coming out ahead isn’t to be taken for granted.

“Whether it’s for luck or good fortune that we’re in the position we’re in,” he says, “we should use that for the greater good.”

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