Brian Davis, newly retired, looks back
Canadian PlasticsCanadian Plastics Human Resources Plastics Processes
The outgoing head of Maguire Products Canada talks about his 43-year career and the industry in general.
Canadian plastics industry sales veteran Brian Davis, most recently the general manager of Vaughan, Ont.-based conveying equipment supplier Maguire Products Canada, retired at the end of 2023.
Davis, 62, enjoyed a 43-year career that coincided with some of the sector’s biggest boom and bust decades, but he came to the industry by chance. “I was working at a gas station in Toronto after high school with no idea what I wanted to do, when my soon-to-be father-in-law Don Sproule – who owned plastics machinery sales firm TempForm – asked me to work for him,” Davis said. “TempForm sold some well-known injection molding, extrusion, and process cooling brands, and Don gave me a job selling and servicing Sterlco mold temperature control units beginning in 1980, when I was 19.”
But just two short years later, TempForm closed due to the early 1980s recession, and – after a six-month detour working at a precision-machined metal parts firm – Davis joined Mould-tek Industries, which was owned and operated by Lorne Berggren, selling its blending and materials handling equipment in southwestern Ontario. “It was at Mould-tek that I met Len Miller, and we formed a very strong friendship,” Davis said. “Len had very specific ideas about how to design and build conveying systems, and he left Mould-tek to found his own auxiliary equipment supply company, Nucon Systems, in 1985, and I joined him at Nucon four years later.”
In 1991, Davis left Nucon to form his own sales firm, NewTech Industries, which handled the Novatec auxiliary equipment line and Rapid Granulator size reduction brands in Ontario. “We grew the Rapid Granulator business from $67,000 to $670,000 in our first year of representing them, and eventually reached $1 million per year,” Davis said. “It was a lot of fun, the money was great, and the plastics industry was booming, but it was also very stressful, and by 1999 I was tired of being my own boss – I wanted more structure, and went back to Nucon, which had just been purchased by Wittmann Robot Systems.” Hired as the U.S. sales manager, Davis transitioned to being Wittmann’s Canadian sales manager in 2003. “I got to travel Canada and the U.S. extensively during these years, and continued to learn a lot about resin storage, resin conveying, and resin conditioning,” he said.
FINDING A HOME
Davis’ next stop was key to the rest of his career. “In the mid-2000s, I went to work for Novatec as their Canadian sales rep,” Davis said. “Novatec was owned by Maguire Products, and one of its executives, Pat Smith, asked me to help set up a Maguire Canada division. Maguire Products had previously been represented in Canada by an Ontario sales agency, but Pat and others saw an opportunity to better support the Canadian plastics auxiliary market by establishing a subsidiary; Steve Maguire, who founded Maguire Products, always appreciated the importance of the Canadian market.”
Maguire Products Canada officially began operating in August 2007, with a staff of five people – including key members Robert Hodge as senior technical sales manager, and Wayne Travell as service manager, both of whom were already well-known in Canada’s plastics auxiliary equipment sector. “I insisted on getting Robert and Wayne because I knew they would give us instant credibility, which they did,” Davis said.
Davis has obviously seen a lot – good and bad – during his four decades in plastics. “I especially enjoyed seeing, and sometimes being part of, some fascinating product launches,” he said. “I was involved in the original Snippit milk bag opener going from concept right through to market launch in the early 1980s; and beginning in the mid-1980s, getting to see the absolute explosion of plastics in the automotive field was very exciting – the part designs made possible by plastics were totally revolutionary at the time, and continue to be.”
Other changes haven’t necessarily been for the better, Davis said. “In-person relationship-building with the customers – lunches, golfing, dinners at trade shows, et cetera – was crucial in building my career, just like it was for every other salesperson coming up in my time, but that dynamic is pretty much gone now, replaced by Zoom meetings,” he said. “Customers also tend to call up after visiting your website and tell you exactly what they think they need, based on what they’ve seen, as opposed to us visiting them and making recommendations based on what we see first-hand on the shop floor. It’s just a lot harder nowadays for a salesperson to maintain a real relationship with the customer.”
And in the bigger picture, Davis continued, the entire plastics sector itself is perceived differently in 2023 than ever before. “There are very strong headwinds against us, especially in Canada – single-use plastic bans and ‘toxic’ designations – that are based on either incomplete facts or outright ignorance of plastics,” he said. “Whenever I talk to someone about plastics, I can usually get them to change their minds, because they’ve never heard the pro-plastics arguments about sustainability – how plastics, for example, has a smaller impact on the environment, cradle-to-grave, than paper. But it can be a challenge to get these facts out, and parts of our industry are suffering because of it.”
But as he steps down, Davis feels confident about Maguire Canada’s future. “The company is in good hands,” he said. “Wayne will be the new chief operating officer, and Raj Shekar is the new chief financial officer. As far as supplying sales and service to our customers, it’s business as usual.”
Davis also wants to offer a few thanks. “There are so many people who inspired me and helped me along the way, but six really stand out: Don Sproule, Lorne Berggren, Ken Hoffmann at Mould-tek, Len Miller, career machinery salesman Peter Stephen, and Steve Maguire,” Davis said. “Each of them taught me different aspects of how to be a better salesman, service supplier, or business operator – and sometimes life lessons on how to be a better, happier person,” he said. “And of course, I’d also like to thank all the customers that have supported me over the decades. I love the industry and I was very lucky to have made it my career.”