Although Peter Marinigh’s father helped build Heath & Sherwood (1964) Ltd. in Kirkland Lake into the international company it is today, he still had to earn the keys.
“There was no entitlement whatsoever,” Marinigh said. “The fact that my father was part of it certainly gave me the opportunity, but I had to prove myself. He was a no-B.S. guy, and numbers don’t lie.”
Working at Heath & Sherwood wasn’t even in his plans initially. After graduating from Michigan Tech’s engineering program in 1980, Marinigh worked at Dorr Oliver for several years. He came back to fill in for “a week or two” and ended up never leaving. He and two partners bought the company in 1997, mirroring how his father acquired the company 33 years prior. His brother Michael also works at Heath & Sherwood as the director of sales.
Heath & Sherwood has been a part of Kirkland Lake since almost the beginning. Founded in 1927 just over 10 years after the first mine opened, Heath & Sherwood began as a machine shop and service centre for drillers. The company underwent changes over the years, adapting to the ever-changing mining industry by spinning off parts of the business.
When Heath & Sherwood became available for sale in 1964, Marinigh’s father Ed along with partners Frank Aimone and Ed Mangan saw an opportunity. Ed Marinigh brought operations and administration expertise to the table. Aimone was a metallurgist and a well-known sales person in mining, and Mangan had the engineering background. “Between the three of them, they had all the bases covered quite nicely,” Marinigh said.
Quite nicely, indeed. Manufacturing exploded under the new ownership group, especially in the smelting business. Amione had close ties with the Noranda Group, which at the time had a large R&D department. In 1968, Heath & Sherwood began manufacturing Noranda’s Gaspé Tuyère Puncher, a revolutionary piece of equipment. During the smelting process for copper and nickel, air is injected into the mix through an array of tubes called tuyères. These tubes get blocked when the cool air hardens the molten bath, restricting airflow. Before this invention, a team of two men would have to manually tap clear each tube using a spike and sledgehammer — hot and hard work by any standard.
The first punchers were mechanized but still operated manually. Today, Heath & Sherwood manufactures the fifth generation of fully automated Gaspé punchers that don’t require operators.
It’s not just innovative products that make Heath & Sherwood the renowned name it is around the world. Marinigh said that they are all about solutions, not simply products. Most of their manufactured equipment is customized to meet customer specs.
“For the degree we do it, we believe that we’re the only company that takes customization that far,” Marinigh said. “We partner with the customer to give them the best solution and the best payback. That, to me, has been the driving force behind our longevity and our success over the years.”
That shows in another Heath & Sherwood specialty line: mineral samplers. Mineral extraction involves several different steps and processes. Those processes are closely monitored to ensure they are maximizing mineral recovery. However, monitoring wasn’t always such a precise science.
“In the old days, they just dipped a hard hat in the stream and dumped it in a bucket and said, ‘Analyze this!’” Marinigh said.
Change started to come about 40 years ago when people realized how important monitoring was to maximizing profits.
“This is critical in the gold mining business because if you lose even one per cent of recovery, that’s huge (in terms of lost profit),” Marinigh said. “There’s more to it than just choosing a sampler from a catalogue. It’s a custom-designed piece of equipment every time.”
Heath & Sherwood has shipped equipment to over 30 countries around the world and was one of the pioneers in the export side of the business. Although Canada is still the single largest source of revenue for the company, about 65-70 per cent of sales are outside of the country, with the U.S. being the next-largest customer base. The company recently partnered with ConSep Pty Ltd. in Australia to manufacture products in the Pacific Rim.
That partnership is also part of a retirement plan for Marinigh and his partners. Unfortunately, none of the children of the current partnership group are in the business. But in a way, everyone working at Heath & Sherwood is family, especially considering some have worked there for over 40 years.
“It’s hard to say you’re not family,” Marinigh said. “We’re a small enough group that you know every individual. And now that we have an Australian partner, our family has gotten bigger.”
Marinigh said because of that and other reasons, it was important that any sale kept operations in Kirkland Lake, something he said ConSep wants to do. The Australian firm now owns 49 per cent of the company.
“We’ve had the opportunity to sell to major manufacturing companies. Their intention was to take our product line and shut it down. We want to see it stay here. We want Heath & Sherwood to see its 100th anniversary in Kirkland Lake.”
This article is one in a series focused on the rich histories, journeys and long-term successes of generational businesses in Northern Ontario.