Harold Roozen is the founder of CCI Thermal Technologies. File photoLarry Wong / EDMONTON JOURNAL

By Graham Hicks

Historically, business in Edmonton is conducted with discretion, privacy and civility.

Those qualities are in marked contrast to Calgary’s boisterous, extroverted big-money business sector – at least until the Great Humbling of 2015 and 2016.

Edmontonians, no matter their wealth, don’t drive flashy cars. The most ostentatious vehicles on our roads are Range Rovers, Mercedes roadsters or Beemers. Other than Daryl Katz’s mega-mansion overlooking Hawrelak Park, fine homes in this town are inconspicuous – hidden on acreages or in cul-de-sacs, surrounded by trees. Showing off is just not part of the culture.

It makes sense, therefore, that the sale of privately-owned, Edmonton-based CCI Thermal to American industrial-heating giant Thermon Heating Systems, for an eyebrow-lifting, all-cash $258 million Cdn, was barely publicized.

But it is a BIG DEAL, considering the sale is one of Edmonton’s biggest business transactions in recent years.

Inspirationally, the CCI/Thermon sale is motivation for hundreds of local entrepreneurs struggling to get high-technology companies off the ground.

Back in the early ’90s, Harold Roozen was the right-hand man, and then son-in-law, of the late, great Edmonton entrepreneur Dr. Charles Allard.

Dr. Allard, medical chief of staff at the Edmonton General Hospital, built up a mighty real estate portfolio sold months before the real estate crash of 1981. The proceeds went into the start-up of the new Allarcom-owned Edmonton TV station ITV, now Global Edmonton.

By the time Dr. Allard passed away in 1991, Roozen was running Allarcom and was a key player within the fast-changing Canadian radio/TV  ownership landscape.

Roozen puzzled everybody when he walked away from the TV industry, making an unexpected business turn. For a paltry million dollars, Harold and his wife Cathy Roozen bought a tiny Edmonton-based industrial-heating company, Ciscan Industries. As Ciscan’s president and CEO, Roozen turned his accumulated business acumen into running and growing Ciscan.

Roozen obviously saw opportunity where others did not. Ciscan may have been a floundering start-up company, but it had patented and proprietary solutions to a long-standing problem plaguing the oil and gas industry.

Through chemical catalysts, Ciscan heaters could convert natural gas into radiant heat without creating a flame. In warehouses full of flammables, industrial heating without a dangerous open flame was God-sent. Ciscan’s Cata-Dyne explosion-proof gas catalytic heaters became an industrial heating standard.

The Cata-Dyne product line was just the beginning.  Changing the name from Ciscan to CCI Thermal and using retained earnings, Roozen and his team started buying companies with complimentary products – all to do with industrial heat and filtration systems.

CCI has steadily grown through the past 20 years. Ruffneck, Norseman, Caloritech, Fastrax – each was acquired, then converted into a CCI product line. Cost-cutting through consolidation was not the name of the game: Expanding solutions for industrial heating – through innovative self-manufactured products – was.

Each acquisition had its own path. Some continued in their original headquarters and manufacturing – CCI’s main plant and headquarters were in Edmonton, but it had factories in Oakville, Orillia, plus Denver and Houston in the USA.

Annual gross revenue in the last few years has topped $100 million. Even with automation, employment had grown to 400 skilled individuals, 100 here at the Edmonton plant.   

There comes a time … Roozen and his team (all of whom had minority ownership positions in the private company) were beginning to think of succession and the future.

Grow or die: To replicate past success would mean accelerating acquisition and sales at a global level.

CCI was never officially up for sale but was open to offers. Deloitte business consultants introduced CCI to Texas-based Thermon Heating Systems. Thermon is a public company with clearly articulated global aspirations, for which CCI products represent a healthy “adjacent space”.

I’m told, repeatedly, that this is not a buy-the-company, scoop-up-its-assets and move-everything-elsewhere transaction.

Thermon is about expansion and growth. Keeping the knowledge base and advanced manufacturing that’s the backbone of the Edmonton facility is key to Thermon’s future.

Struggling entrepreneurs, take heart. Roozen combined good business with new technology to take a company from a $1 million valuation to a sale of $258 million in 26 years.

Money doesn’t stand still. The owners of BioWare sold the Edmonton video-game company for a rumoured $800 million. Much of that money has been reinvested in new ventures, here in their home town.

Nothing suggests Harold and Cathy Roozen, already patrons of many worthy charity, educational and non-profit causes, would do anything but the same.

But, being low-key,  very guarded members of the discreet Edmonton business community, they likely wouldn’t tell anybody.