By Tom Peters
The sea is in your blood, some say. And the business of the sea maybe too! It has been the business of the sea that has kept three generations of the Kinley family locked onto the waterfront of Nova Scotia’s famous town of Lunenburg, owning and operating Lunenburg Industrial Foundry & Engineering Ltd. Curiously, the acronym and company trademark is LIFE, and President and CEO Peter Kinley has been a lifer. He has been kicking around the boatyard “my whole life. We played in the yard while dad was in meetings,” he said with fond memory.
The company was established in 1891. In 1905, after a major fire, Peter’s grandfather, J.J. Kinley, who had been appointed to the Canadian Senate, bought into the business. “He entered just as a shareholder and progressively bought out other investors,” Peter said.
The Senator’s son and Peter’s father, James Kinley, who became Nova Scotia’s 29th Lieutenant Governor, (1994-2000) also held a term at the company’s helm.
Growing up in Lunenburg, home of the world famous schooner Bluenose on the province’s South Shore, it is almost a right of passage to work in the marine industry in one form or another.
LIFE, ISO9001:2008 registered and certified to CSA standard W47.1, has become so well established and respected in the industry that many customers from Cape Cod to Labrador just call it ‘the foundry.’ The company offers many products and services in its two waterfront locations. In its foundry, it produces castings for machinery, shipbuilding and marine, mill and heating equipment. In the custom division, LIFE manufactures products to meet special customer requirements and produces boat pumps, propulsion systems, shafting and ventilators. LIFE has been recognized for its high quality propellers, and the company produces a wide variety of hardware and components for various other marine and industrial applications. There is also an online store that offers collectables, clothing, souvenirs and photos of Bluenose II.
Although able to provide many products and services, ship repair in the company-run Lunenburg Shipyard, “is our main business,” says Peter. LIFE also has some background in shipbuilding and would like to do more in that area. “So, obviously we would like to build the skills based on sustained ship repair activity, and apply them to new build projects,” he said.
In ship repair, there is a lot of competition. So, staying connected with customers, keeping them satisfied and getting the word out about the business, is important, Peter added. The shipyard, which can handle up to a 1,600-tonne vessel on its large cradle (about a 200-foot long vessel), plies its trade in both local and international markets.
“We have a French Navy vessel in the yard right now,” he said, obviously pleased that LIFE’s qualifications and background attracted the work.
“They (French Navy) have done a tour around Atlantic Canada, and we got the nod,” he said. Among the reasons for winning the bid? “We have a well-educated workforce, we are able to provide services in Canada’s both official languages, and the ISO designation,” he said.
In addition to its enviable reputation in ship repair, LIFE is also known for its innovation and constant drive to improve its products. One such area is in propulsion. “We have been focusing on propulsion systems and we do underwater gear packages for a number of boatbuilders in western Nova Scotia and throughout Atlantic Canada,” Kinley said. “We do a good job, and that has been driving the business and this year has been the busiest we have ever seen.” The increased business could be attributed to the company’s quest to always improve.
“A couple of years ago we realized our propeller patterns were sort of helter skelter. We brought some technology to bear on that and we standardized them into families of patterns. The one that was really the most popular we called the Bluenose. For a number of years that has been the core of the propeller line. But recently we did an R&D project and we changed the shape of the blade, and we get a little more sweep or skew, so to speak. We call it the Bluenose 2 and it is becoming more popular actually,” he said.
“So we are always experimenting and looking for something better, more efficient, in propulsion systems or whatever products we may be designing or building,” he said.
LIFE employs between 60-65 people and Kinley is proud of the quality of the company’s workforce and Atlantic Canada’s marine workforce in general.
“It is very gratifying that the Canadian government has seen fit to source its vessels here in Nova Scotia,” he said, in reference to the government’s awarding the $25-billion contract to Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, to build the country’s next generation of combat vessels, a project in which LIFE hopes to be involved. “We are delighted the country has recognized the high level of quality that can come out of our region,” Kinley added.
LIFE has been in business for over a century and Kinley doesn’t see that ending anytime soon. He is a bit philosophical on its survival. “As the business evolves, you find your business or it finds you. It’s not like McDonald’s and finding a hamburger. It is more of an organic connection between older, established companies and a market and ours, having been around over a century. And as we make changes, I guess you consider them evolution.” Kinley does see LIFE doing more international business, “like with this French boat” and will market LIFE’s leading reputation to get the business.
It’s all about quality and standards and making sure “our customers come back,” Kinley said.