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Cornerstone Founder 2020 - Peter Sorensen & Brian Stafford
156th President Greg Sudds presenting Sharon Stafford (Brian) & Peter Sorensen with Cornerstone Founder award.

When we choose a “founder” for this award, we look for someone who has made a global impact and put Belleville on the map.  It’s hard to know how many of their customers conceive of where Belleville is but their reputation is world-wide and they’ve been first to the gate with many solutions, hold multiple patents and bid on contracts worth millions of dollars.  They now have 85 employees locally and 100 globally – including presence in China & Europe.

Back in late 80s, Peter Sorensen & Brian Stafford were working at Stephens-Adamson – one had graduated from Loyalist College as a civil engineering technologist and the other had come in from Toronto after graduating from engineering and his Masters at Western.

The team at Stephens-Adamson was a skilled one but as the parent company transitioned through some global mergers, it appeared the primary work was going to be moved to Pittsburgh. 

This was the tipping point in deciding to strike out on their own, and while they’d been involved with a specialty development project that started the mobile equipment engineering group – co-chaired with SA in the US…  little did they know this would be the spark that would inspire the creation of EMS (Engineering Management Services)-Tech.

As manufacturers of conveyer equipment, Stephens Adamson’s product was all over the world – and they felt there was a significant market for the servicing and maintenance of the equipment that had been out in the field for as long as 75 years in some cases.  They also knew if they decided to take on the opportunity, they would have to be willing to go where the work was – because it wouldn’t be in Belleville but they were committed to keeping this place home – one partner was still living on a generational farm in Lonsdale and both had begun raising families here.  No one was interested in moving away but if there was work they could do, they would go – understanding it was always a global market.  Given our current technology, the idea of operating a business “remotely” from your customer base is a concept people are warming up to – imagine this in the 80’s when the fastest way to transmit information was by fax and you needed to have film printed as opposed to the immediacy of having someone on site send a photo.

Brian & Peter started EMS-Tech with Ted Christie – and even though he returned to Stephen Adamson within a couple of years (through their own growing pains), they maintained on ongoing working relationship.

In 1988, they moved from the Stephens-Adamson facility to a small office in the Maze Mall downtown.  At the time, they hoped if they could get up to 15 employees, they’d have achieved success.  But as Stephens-Adamson started shutting down locally, more came over and the new group was well positioned to handle the work they were securing.

Their expertise with conveyor systems and engineering background was the perfect blend to start designing new solutions for loading needs.  This also motivated them to move away from the manufacture of equipment to the repair and design business. 

Jack Evans discovered their story 16 years ago – when they were celebrating their 15th anniversary…  and from his article, the following remains true… “How big is this "big business?" Let's talk about a 560-metre long curved conveyor system for a paper mill at Rumford, Maine; an 80-metre self- unloading discharge boom now on location on all five of the Great Lakes; self-unloading equipment for an ocean-going bulk carrier for Asia Cement of Taiwan, not to mention dozens of similar installations for the Great Lakes carriers; a first- of-its-kind double-bucket wheel ship unloader boom for the Hyundai Mipo dock yards in South Korea, and special equipment to move vast quantities of burnable pellets made from oil sludge in Venezuela. Some of EMS-Tech's installations can move bulk materials at rates of 10,000 metric tonnes per hour, or even faster.”  In my conversation with Peter, he describes that speed by how long it might take to fill this room – and it amounts to about 30 seconds.  If you’ve seen a video of a silo filling up, you have some context of how quickly their equipment can move things. 

Brian lost his battle with cancer last March, and I knew theirs was a story that should be shared again – they celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2018. 

In a conversation with Brian’s family, Sharon reflected on how his passport was full of stamps – when they’d agreed to go where the work was, they committed to investigating opportunities in Columbia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Africa, India, even Isreal – (that was a middle of the night call to confirm he was who he said he was) – but they hadn’t been to Australia or New Zealand.  As she stayed here, with the kids and the job that helped keep them afloat in the early years, they didn’t always recognize their dad when he’d come home…  and they still live in the house they built on the family farm in the late 70s. His daughter remarked how he was born with the capacity to adding one more thing and never saying “no” – and he never let them know the gamble he’d taken by leaving a good company to start out on his own, with who Sharon describes as his best friend.

Peter acknowledged that times were lean in the beginning – and that TD was the only bank willing to support their vision (and they thought they were a bit nuts).  I didn’t have the chance to talk to Peter’s family but they are involved with the business, so I can only presume they are as supportive of this choice at the end of it all.  His wife, Erna, continued her career in education through the years and as Sharon noted, if it weren’t for the “wives” jobs in the beginning, making ends meet might have been impossible. 

Back in 2003, Peter told Jack that "Transforming engineering into productivity" is the mission of EMS-Tech Inc., with a creative staff capable of all engineering disciplines - structural, mechanical and electrical. In an age when almost all industrial production is run by automated control panels, the electrical engineering staff are particularly busy and vital.

There’s so much more to the story – the employees, their ongoing involvement with Loyalist College that was recognized with a Premier Award in 2007 – the firsts they’ve designed in the industry and their behind-the-scenes involvement in the community. 

We are proud to recognize EMS-Tech as a member, and Peter Sorensen and Brian Stafford as Founders.  Sharon Stafford, Brian's wife, accepted on his behalf.