Wednesday November 26, 2014

WIT's new owners get down to business

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Review photo 4331 — Greg Nikkel

New owner and manager visit Weyburn Inland Termina
John Heimbecker, vice president of Parrish and Heimbecker, Limited, and Roy Hoffart, the new general manager for P&H’s Weyburn terminal take a moment during a busy day Thursday, when both were visiting the Weyburn Inland Terminal after the sale of the facility was approved by the Court of Queen’s Bench. P&H, a Canadian grain company founded in 1909, acquired WIT for $17.25 a share, or $94.6 million, and will assume full ownership this week.

The new owner and management from Parrish and Heimbecker were in Weyburn on Thursday and Friday to tour the Weyburn Inland Terminal and meet the staff, after the sale of the Terminal received approval in Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday.

Following the vote by WIT shareholders on Feb. 28, which approved the sale of the facility by just under 80 per cent, the results were brought before the court for formal approval to complete the deal.

The Weyburn Inland Terminal sold for $94.6 million, or $17.25 a share; the funds to buy out all 5.4 million shares will be placed in a fund and paid out to the shareholders of record, said out-going president Claude Carles on Friday.

"I think P&H will offer some interesting proposals for customers and the community," said Carles, who added it's "bittersweet" for him to be leaving the company he's served as a director since 1986, and as president since 1999.

"The shareholders were the ones who made the decision; my job was to get the proposal before the shareholders, and they were the ones who made the decision," said Carles, adding, "We also expected there would be controversy."

The dissident group of shareholders had legal counsel at the court hearing Wednesday, but the group decided not to pursue any legal challenges, said Dale Mainil of the Weyburn Shareholders Group.

"The deck was definitely stacked in their favour; we knew it wouldn't be an easy thing to stop in a proxy fight, going up against a corporation," said Mainil. "We still have no regrets; it was the right fight. We'll see what happens in the next few months. This story isn't over."

Mainil said the group are weighing different options right now, but no concrete decision has been made about what further action they might pursue.

"WIT was a great community supporter; it's going to be missed. Hopefully P&H will continue with support of the community the way WIT always did," added Mainil.

Carles indicated company officials were in Weyburn to sign off all the documents to complete the sale, and by this week he and the board will be out and the new owners will be in place to run the facility.

John Heimbecker, vice president of Parrish and Heimbecker, spent Thursday and Friday touring the facilities and meeting the staff, along with their new manager Roy Hoffart.

"We've been pretty open-minded through the whole process; obviously it was a difficult process," said Heimbecker on Friday. "Now it's time to get down to business and service our customers."

He added he met with the employees on Thursday to outline his view of what will happen now as P&H is brought up to speed on company operations.

"We didn't get a lot of time to look at things during the process," he said.
Asked if any changes might be in the works for the Terminal, Heimbecker said he doesn't foresee any big changes anytime soon, but noted the main difference will be that P&H has "a different way of doing things".

"Certainly there won't be any reduction of service," said Heimbecker. "We work the same type of hours at our high-throughput facilities; if anything I'm hoping we can improve on the service."

He added that in addition to continuing with WIT's level of service, he wants P&H to bring new services and opportunities to the facility that weren't previously available here.

Asked if the ethanol plant will continue to be a part of their operations, Heimbecker said, "Yes, in the short term. We didn't get a lot of time to understand that business; we've got some people here going through everything, so we'll keep going."

As far as a name change, Heimbecker said that will come eventually, but it's not all that high on his list of priorities.

"The priority is getting to know Weyburn and the business," said Heimbecker.

The new manager, Roy Hoffart, brings 25 years of experience with P&H to the job, along with familiarity with the region, having grown up in Bengough.

Immediately prior to coming to Weyburn, Hoffart managed a high-throughput elevator for P&H at Watrous, and before that he was in North Battleford and Moose Jaw, having started out in 1988 in Bengough.

He notes he has family in the Weyburn and Minton areas, and three of his four children were born in Weyburn; even though they lived in Bengough at the time, they did a lot of their shopping and so on in Weyburn.

Of the WIT facility, Hoffart said, "It's very well-built and very well maintained. It's a good plant; they've done very well for themselves. They should be very proud of what they've built."

His immediate goal as the new manager is to maintain the customer base that WIT has, and to grow it.

"You want to see the producers prosper; it's a give-and-take relationship.

You can't always be taking," he said, adding that the Weyburn facility will certainly be one of the biggest P&H has. Noting he met around 50 staff, he said in Watrous they had about 15 staff for their facility.

"I'm just happy to be here; I'm happy dealing with the grain industry," said Hoffart, adding his style is to be accessible, both for staff and for customers.

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