Sean Rayner

Top 40 Under 40 2011

Photography 3Ten/Aaron Pedersen

Age: 30

Job Title: President Vet’s Sheet Metal Ltd.

Why He’s Top 40: He injected new ideas into a four-generations-old family business, expanding the company into new areas.

Key To Success: “Knowing where you are going, and appreciating where you have been.”

In November 2003, Sean Rayner was working in the sales department of a Toronto telecommunications firm, when  a phone call from home changed his life.

He got news that his dad was suffering from cancer, and needed life-saving surgery. Both he and his sister, 2010 Top 40 Under 40 alumna Erin Rayner, also living in Toronto at the time, flew to Edmonton to deal with the family crisis.

Neither returned to Ontario. In fact, he took over the family business and followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, a First World War fighter who had named the company Vet’s Sheet Metal because it employed so many veterans of that war.

As Vet’s has its 90th anniversary this year, it celebrates knowing that Rayner’s aggressive business plans increased the company revenues, now at more than $9 million a year.

“Erin and I did our ‘externship’ – we worked in someone else’s businesses,” says Rayner. “When the cancer was diagnosed, I was told, ‘If you want to give it a shot, now is the time.'”

But, Rayner, then in his early 20s, had to deal with the prejudices that come with being a young president. “We had staff who had been in the business for longer than I had been alive,” he says. “I had experience in a different business, in a different province. I had to learn a new business from scratch, but I didn’t have time to start from the bottom.”

It wasn’t easy being green, but Rayner took the business in new directions, convincing the staff to give up the notion that a small, local sheet-metal firm couldn’t take on big jobs. He moved Vet’s into ductwork and refrigeration, which now makes up 95 per cent of the business. The company made a successful bid to do the ductwork at the new Remand Centre in the north end of the city – a deal that helped see it through the downturn. Now, Vet’s has added a service arm.

Rayner shares his encouraging story with other family-business owners in the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise, or CAFE. Some members, including him, meet monthly to discuss their issues, and get more personal. “The challenges aren’t dissimilar. It doesn’t matter if it’s sheet metal, telecommunications or the fabric business.”

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