Bennet Fleet Group Incorporated — Success Since 1912
October 1, 2005 By Pulp & Paper Canada
Nature, environment and high technology manufacturing go hand-in-hand in describing Bennett Fleet Group Incorporated. Established in 1912 in Chambly, QC, the firm manufactures a variety of products de…
Nature, environment and high technology manufacturing go hand-in-hand in describing Bennett Fleet Group Incorporated. Established in 1912 in Chambly, QC, the firm manufactures a variety of products destined for use in the automotive, packaging, bookbinding, textile and footwear industries. While the product line is vast and diverse, the firm’s success is based on a visionary consciousness created by its founders and still supported today, on every level of operation. In 1912, several decades before regard for the environment was considered, the founders of the company recognized the possibilities that were available with recycled materials. “The future has proven them to be right,” said present-day CEO, Gilles Lussier. Approaching its 94th year of continuous operation, Bennett Fleet Group Inc. (BFG) boasts exports to five continents, with a line of over 1,000 products that have been conceived and manufactured by the various divisions within the group. What has remained consistent throughout the company’s history is its eye to the future for developing new niche markets, while maintaining its historic link to recycling.
BFG has production centre locations across the province of Quebec, notably in Quebec City, Montreal, Granby, Louiseville, and Chambly. The latter is the centre of operation for the manufacturing of fibreboard and cardboard conversion. It seems almost fitting that this historic city be the home of BFG. Chambly, with a population base of just over 20,000, is located in the Richelieu Valley of southern Quebec, 20 miles south of Montreal. “Looking out of my office window, I can see the (Richelieu) River, and you know this is one of my favourite fishing places,” said Lussier. The river has been a means of communication and commercial trade from the early days of settlement. Navigable along most of its length, the river had long been a main route for Native peoples living along its shores. The strategic importance of this waterway for possible invasions and as a route into the interior was apparent from the earliest beginnings of French settlement. To ensure control of this territory and the river, the French built a series of fortifications along the Richelieu. Fort Chambly and Fort Saint-Jean are important relics from this era. Located at the foot of the rapids of the Richelieu River, Fort Chambly, named after Captain Jacques de Chambly, to whom the seigniory of Chambly was granted in 1672, stands today as a reminder of the golden age of New France. First built in 1665, its imposing stone sentry draws inspiration from the similar French fortifications built around the world. Its location as a strategic point in the defence of New France, it was attacked by both the English and the Iroquois. It was captured by the Americans in 1775, and burnt to the ground the following year. In 1880 the Canadian government undertook its reconstruction, and to this day the Fort stands as a national historic site.
Strong historical links
Equally significant to the history of the region is the Chambly Canal. From the early settlers onwards, overcoming the rapids at Chambly could only be done through laborious portaging. A maritime link to bypass these obstacles became a reality in the early 19th century, when a navigable waterway was authorized to link nearby Lake Champlain and the Chambly basin. Completed in 1843, the canal played an important commercial role until the early 20th century. During this period, Canadian-American trade on the Richelieu River was at its peak. The economic crisis of 1929 marked the decline of commercial navigation on the canal.
The art of motivating a large team is what BFG refers to as its management philosophy. At the helm is Montreal-born Gilles Lussier. An accountant by trade, Lussier joined the firm in 1987. “After graduating from the University of Quebec, I never thought at the time that I would be involved in the paper industry,” he said, although he admitted that as a teenager he worked in the forestry industry with his cousin, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Now as the CEO, he is, “not only good with the numbers,” as Philippe Mayrand, V.P.-Board Division said, “but he creates a great team spirit.” This is particularly significant at the Chambly operation since so many of the workers are long time employees. There is a sense of continuity and confidence that is strongly apparent at the plant. With over 30 years of experience at BFG, James Cowen, V.P. – Board Sales, said, “His leadership unites people and as a result we all believe in the company….in good times and in challenging times.” For Lussier, it is important to walk out on the floor every day and connect with the employees. He also takes pride in the high environmental standards that were the foundations of the company when it was established, and remain a strong priority today. “We maintain a strong relation with the city of Chambly in terms of our water treatment,” he said, “and I can tell you that you can see clear water for 10 feet down in the Richelieu River.” One senses that Lussier is genuinely proud.
The fibreboard division
Cowen and Mayrand are directly involved in the division that manufactures fibreboard, an operation fuelled by recycling. At BFG it is referred to as “the art of metamorphosis.” Their fibreboard products are used in the automobile industry as carburettor gaskets or as support shims. Other major industries using their fibreboard include luggage and handbag, electrical appliances, footwear and pencil manufacturers. “We are continually researching new applications for our products, and our future products,” added Cowen.
Equally innovative is the cardboard conversion division, which at BFG is seen as having an unlimited range of products, some common and others curiously different. The book and bookbinding industry uses EUROBOARD, which is noted for its rigidity and thickness without having been laminated. The furniture industry uses laminated cardboard for backings of furniture pieces, and for white, grey and wood grain imitations for drawers. Other applications include air filters for air conditioning units, hard covers for books and ring binders, and targets for military training exercises.
Whether they are in Vietnam, China or Mexico, Lussier and his team have spent many hours exploring the destinations of their products. Serving their existing clients has always been a priority at BFG, but more importantly, getting to know their future needs has become a necessity in today’s global marketplace. “We face challenging times, but our company has faced this before and survived. The global competitiveness and the American exchange rate both represent issues now, but we are ready,” Lussier said. The spirit of survival is alive and strong in Chambly, and there is no better indication of this than the regular visits from president Ralph G. Fleet, who has also been a driving force in the company for over 60 years.
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COUNTRIES that Bennett Fleet exports to: U.S., China, India, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Great Britain, South Africa, Argentina, Peru, Chile
THE DIVISIONS of Bennett Fleet: Textiles, Plastics, Fibreboard, Cardboard, Conversion, Moulds & Dies
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