A few months after he started the company in 1980 with his wife, Sheila, an anonymous friend left the sign for him on his doorstep.
“If you start with nothing and become a millionaire, you’ve done well,” Houle said. “If you start with a lot of money, it’s a lot easier. I started with $350 in my pocket and I kept going. Today, I still believe in that philosophy.
It’s been an inspiration for me ever since.”
Houle, now retired, was one of two industry leaders presented with the first annual Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) Hall of Fame awards Dec. 14 at the organization’s annual general meeting.
Fred Castron, owner of Cast Resource Equipment Ltd., was also inducted into the SAMSSA Hall of Fame.
“I’m humbled by it, and I’m happy to be on the same program as Fred Castron,” said Houle, who could not be at the awards presentation because of a previous commitment.
“Fred and I have known each other for years and years. It’s a good honour for the guys who have put a lot of effort into the mining community.”
From humble beginnings, Houle’s business now employs 100 people, with locations in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Timmins and Thompson, Manitoba.
Tracks & Wheels specializes in the sale, service and rental of heavy equipment for the mining, forestry and construction sectors.
It carries 12 major brand names, including Kubota, CASE, and the company’s own MineMaster underground utility vehicles.
His son, Kevin, has taken on the role of president, although Houle Sr. remains chairman of the company’s board of directors. He said he goes into work most days “to raise hell.”
Although his business has been successful, Houle said if he had to do it again, he would have hired somebody else to run the company so he could spend more time in the thick of things.
“If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t be sitting in this office, I’d be out kicking tires,” he said.
“I’m a victim of my own success. In other words, I got so busy that instead of doing what I did well, which was to go out and get customers, I had to run a business. I should have hired somebody to do that.”
Kevin Houle said his father has always believed in providing excellent service to customers, and he’s attempting to carry on the tradition.
“My father says that getting bigger is not the most important thing in life. Getting better and serving clients’ needs is the most important thing,” he said.
“The main ingredient to all his success is service. That’s one thing he’s drilled into his people, when we were three people working out of a trailer or the 100 people we have today.”
Castron, who retired from Blackwood Hodge Equipment Ltd. in 1994 after 40 years of service, started Cast Resource Equipment Ltd. the same year.
The company, which now employs almost 75 people and has locations in Sudbury and Winnemucca, Nevada, remanufactures underground mobile equipment such as load-haul-dump machines and drills.
It is also the Canadian distributor for Normet Mining Equipment, which builds products such as scalers, emulsion loaders, scissor lifts and boom trucks, and a distributor for Cattron Theimeg, an underground radio receiver-transmitter company.
Castron praised SAMSSA executive director Dick DeStefano for his work in promoting Sudbury’s mining supply and service industry. “It’s been tremendous for the community,” he said.
His son, Mike Castron, said his father has managed to sell $1 billion of products over the years. He has made business deals in Mexico, Chile, Peru, Russia, Ireland, the United States and England.
“As impressive as his business accomplishments have been, his volunteer work in the community is even more impressive,” said Mike Castron.
“He fundraises for good causes in the community. This year, one of his favourite causes was the Children for Cancer black tie event, which is to house families of children who have been stricken with the disease.
“He was also responsible for one of the largest small business donations to the United Way ever in 2005.”