Hall of Fame
Fuller Industrial – Abraflex
Born in a small northern Ontario town This is partial history of the local legend, Bill Fuller; the story of a classic entrepreneur and long-time supporter of the Sudbury Area and the Mining Supply and Services Industry. A testament to integrity, perseverance and success.
Bill, the oldest of three children was born in 1943, and raised in Sherbrooke Quebec. His father was in marketing and sales of pulp and paper and plastic injection machines for Ingersoll Rand, His Grandfather, who he was very close with, had a machine shop in Montreal called Fuller and Foss
The Cross Country Movements
Bill moved to Montreal to attend Loyola College and Sir George William University (which is now Concordia). From there he went to work for CP Hotels, in their data processing department. Soon after that he took a position in the fluid dynamics department at Allis Chalmers in Lachine, Quebec. Allis-Chalmers Canada, was a manufacturer of machinery for various industries including mineral processing and pulp and paper. Soon after, he was promoted to the mineral processing group as a production supervisor. This is where he met his wife, Donna. It’s also where they had their two boys, Jeff and Glenn.
A few years later, Bill was again promoted to a marketing position in Eastern Canada and in 1972 he transferred to Vancouver, BC. Always up for a challenge he packed up his young family and moved to Port Coquitlam. There he was an active member of the church, and the Kinsmen Club and an owner in a beautiful camp in Bellingham Washington.
Isn’t Sudbury where they practised for the moon landing?
In 1974 Bill was promoted to Manager of Allis Chalmers Northern District. There he was responsible for Sales and service for Northeastern Quebec, Northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The catch was the job was in Sudbury. His friends in Vancouver logically asked why he wanted to move to the moon. Bill was undeterred and found a place in the woods, way out on the shores of Ramsey Lake. Donna cried. Once again he packed up his young family and drove across the country. This time to Sudbury, Ontario a place that would be their home for the next 40 years.
While he was in Sudbury Allis Chalmers purchased Elliott Rubber and Plastic where Bill took the lead as General Manger of the new division. That was 1988.
The entrepreneurial flame ignites
Elliot Rubber and Plastic produced original equipment pump parts, rubber lining, hand built hose and urethane casting.
It wasn’t the big corporate machine of Allis Chalmers, but a small business with the opportunity for Bill to really sink his teeth into an entrepreneurial mode.
Bill flourished in this atmosphere. In the three years he was there he made huge productivity gains. He also tripled sales, profitability and employment levels.
As a bi-product of his success, he got on the head office radar, and after a short time, he could no longer work under the control of the “corporate bean counters” and decided, with encouragement and support from friends, peers and business associates to strike out on his own.
Is 1981 a good year to start a business?
That fateful year Bill came home and said, “Donna, I have a plan. I quit my job, we’re mortgaging the house and I’m going into business” That was the birth of Abraflex whose business was rubber lining, rubber press moulding, urethane moulding, and pipe spool fabrication.
Some history for those who weren’t around, or have tried to forget about the early 80’s:
- December1981 Unemployment in Sudbury hit 31 per cent
- September 1981 – interest rates spiked at 20.75%
- In 1982 Personal and business bankruptcies were up 27 per cent from the year before.
- During 1982 Falconbridge reduced its workforce by 25 per cent.
- Between 1981 and 1984 Inco and Falconbridge collectively reduced their workforce from 17,637 to 11,895.
- June 1982, Inco went on strike, then they suspended operations because of soft markets.
- Sudbury became known as the Unemployment Capital of Canada.
Dependence on Inco and Falconbridge at that time was not an option – Bill developed a diversified product mix and export market based on necessity.
Abraflex served Northern Ontario, Western Canada, USA, Russia, and South America (who famously and predictably copied the pump parts he sold them). They made parts for Weir, Dorr Oliver (now FLS), Krebbs, Drillex and locomotive suspension parts for various customers in North America.
There were some interesting times for Bill and his family during these first couple of years. At one point, apparently because of a mix up at the hydro office, there was an extension cord from the neighbors place while the power was temporarily shut off. Many days and nights were spent on the road in his trusty pickup truck, and so dedicated was Bill to bringing in those initial sales that one time he actually taped the ring from the lid of a mason jar to his buttock’s to keep the seat from rubbing on the burn he received in the sauna the night before he left. (You will have to ask him for a full explanation on that one).
The Fuller’s had some great times too. Bill and Donna were always great hosts and entertainers. There was always a party going on at their place on Greenwood Drive. A great example is their famous annual staff and customer appreciation party known as “the Lamb Roast”. There was always saunas, swimming, water skiing, and boating and dinner parties at their place. There are probably people in this room who have been to Bill and Donna’s who can remember (or cant☺) some great time they had there. Some may have also been out sailing with Bill and Donna on the sailboat they kept at Tony’s Marina in Skead – the aptly named “Sir Owezalot”. Once Bill starting making money he switched his boat up to an offshore racer with twin magnum 454 engines, which again aptly named “Passin’ Gas”
Diversification across industries
The tough economics of the early eighties combined with Bill’s boundless spirit inspired him to buy a 150 acre a potato farm. To make it work and to bring his family closer together, he enlisted his younger brother Jeff to move to Sudbury from his job at Wabush Mines in Newfoundland. Jeff Fuller (Senior) stayed in Sudbury and went on to become the chief electrical engineer for Inco, and more famously, the lead singer for the Shaft Bottom Boys.
“Green Gables”, the most famous potato farm in Chelmsford, sold spuds to local grocery stores and restaurants all over the region. Bill used his built in workforce (family) to help make the farm work and his kids, Jeff, Glenn, and a lot of their friends spent endless nights and weekends bagging and delivering 750,000 pounds of potatoes per year.
From there, Bill went right into “vertical integration”, buying a chip stand to use potatoes, then the parking lot on Elm St. that the chip stand was on.
Always on the lookout for an interesting opportunity, Bill even bought a bee farm. It was a fun and novel business. It went very well until he was stung and learned he was allergic. The final harvest was two hours later. He was out the apiary business.
Bill couldn’t resist the opportunity in real estate when he and Donna bought a multi-unit apartment unit on Kelly Lake Road. They liked the rental income, but were not very big on the new 20% interest rates. When they combined this with a couple of calls from the tenants in the middle of the night, Bill began a brief, and concurrent career as a real estate agent, that chapter ended too.
In the 90’s Bill purchased Basco Steel Products to expand his steel fabrication and machine shop capacity. This allowed him to expand into manufacturing hydrocyclones, flotation machines, complete pumps, valves and process tanks.
Bill, started Elastovalve at Abraflex and turned it over to George Melnychuk and Ian Watson. They became successful in their own right and another Sudbury exporting success story.
When the accounting requirements at Abraflex needed some extra horsepower Bill moved his sister Ginny to Sudbury to be the CFO. Ginny stayed in the North and now lives in Elliott Lake.
One time – true story – Bill got a call out the blue asking him if he was interested in doing some lining at a big project in Toronto. He laughed it off at first, but soon realized they were serious and Abraflex received probably their most talked about job – rubber lining the beer coolers at the Skydome.
Both of Bill’s kids Jeff and Glenn Fuller stayed in the North and are business owners. Jeff owns Fuller Industrial and Glenn owns Northern Logistics – collectively they employ over 200 people.
Bill and Donna are now snowbirds and are self-proclaimed “active old age security collectors”
He still consults both Jeff and Glenn in their businesses.
Bill continues to be an Ambassador for Sudbury, Northern Ontario and our Mining supply Heritage.
A perfect example of Northern Ontario success.
Andra: When my father first asked me if I wanted to do a speech about him I jumped at the chance. Yet, another chance to talk about one of my favourite people… my dad. When my oldest daughter, and I started looking over dad’s resume, impressed is not a word even close to resembling how we felt. Proud, overwhelmed, and very shocked were words much closer to our feelings. I have always known what a hard worker my father is, but this put into perspective just how much of a hard worker he really is. As a young child I loved watching my dad teach, even had the privilege of going to a Bio-chem class when I was 13, just to be with my dad. Grading tests was another one of my favourite things to do with dad. Pretending I knew all that he was teaching on the chemistry tests, even agreeing with the marks in red. I cannot begin to understand what my father has in his great mind, but seeing him at work gives me a much greater understanding of someone who truly loves what he does, what he did, and what he continues to do.
Darryl was born and raised in Sault Sainte Marie. He attended St. Mary’s College and worked as a student at Algoma Steel in the chemistry lab. While attending St. Patrick’s College, not only did he graduate in 1965, but married my wonderful mother, Gail Jelley. The two then moved back to the Sault and back to Algoma Steel. He was a Research Metallurgist. It was there that he realized he wanted to teach. Being with people is who my dad is. So back they went to Ottawa and also back to school, where my dad received his Master’s in Science. It was there that I was born.
We all moved to Sudbury in 1968 so dad could teach at Cambrian College. At Cambrian dad become coordinator of the Chemistry, Metallurgy and Physics department and even had a greenhouse outside of his office and then became chair of that department for a number of years. Next came being Dean of Health Science, Trades and Technology. This is when I was also going to school there and we would have
soup together, most days.
Also at Cambrian, dad started the first Bilingual Chemistry program in Ontario, as well as the Nort-eastern Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Resource Centre. Then dad started the Ontario Centre for Ground Control Training. As well as serving on the executive committee of the Canada Wide Science Fair and was in charge of Operation at the first fair in Sudbury. While at Cambrian he also was
a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Ontario Centre for Resource Machinery, as well as part of the Regreening of Sudbury project when it began. We even went out for a ride to see what was being done. And was also a member of the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Industry.
Hailey: Over the years, my Papa has been defined by many different characteristics, in my opinion, being a visionary has been the most accurate. My Papa had a vision, and with this vision he created an innovative solution to what many people in Northern Ontario were struggling with. March 31st1995 marked a great moment in Northern Ontario history. My Papa founded the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology, NORCAT. Many people within the Sudbury area saw a problem; the youth population was migrating elsewhere to find employment. My Papa was among the individuals who recognized this problem, but instead he came up with a solution. NORCAT was created with every
intention of creating jobs through innovation, bringing the youth back to Northern Ontario, and giving them meaningful jobs. Having attended and graduated from the same university as my papa, which seemingly was located outside of Northern Ontario, NORCAT was the exact reason that brought me back to Sudbury.
My Papa recognized that Sudbury had the potential to become a leader in Health and Safety, not just regionally, but globally. This leadership would work towards implementation of new health and safety training programs across industries. He helped spearhead new delivery methods of training that would become extremely influential throughout the Northern Ontario region. Within the first few years of operation, NORCAT was able to deliver the first eLearning programs in the mining industry and in the following years, they had also created an extremely successful and recognized brand across industries.
From the basement of Cambrian College, to not just one building but two, and almost 20 years later, NORCAT has grown its facilities to over 70,000 square feet. The centre has been utilized by clients, long-term residents, training and development services, incubator and event space. NORCAT also has one of the first operating mines dedicated to training. This unique facility has helped over 1000s of workers prepare to enter the workforce, create their own path through business, or gain the experience they need to become successful.
Throughout his career, not only did my Papa put his heart and soul into his work, he also actively participated in committees. A few of them being, the Premiers Council Jobs and Prosperity (alongside Mr. McGinty), the Conference Board of Canada, Innovation Committee, Mining Services and Supply committee, the Ontario Science and Innovation Council (alongside Mr. Harris), and currently sits on the Board of Regents for the University of Sudbury. He has also received the Community Builders Award for Economic Development, and in 2012 the prestigious Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Spring of 2012, my Papa retired. Not only had NORCAT been his career for over the past fifteen years, it had also been his passion, his baby, and his life. But luckily enough, that vision he first shared about the direction he wanted to take his organization, has successfully been carried on. Not only, did my papa showcase his vision to Northern Ontario, he shared it with his employees.
When I was asked by my Papa to deliver a speech, I was truly honoured. I have always looked up to my Papa. When I was four years old, I dreamed of having my Papas job, after spending March Break with him at work, I came home to tell my family that I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, “I want Papa’s job! I want Papas job, because all he does all day is sit at his computer and play games, and swipe his card!” – little did I know my Papa did so much more than that. Only now do I realize that, I truly aspire to be exactly like my Papa, and not just because he plays on the computer all day, but also because he is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. He took the right opportunity to create a solution for Northern Ontario, while creating jobs for youth, bringing them back, and making sure workers get home safe at the end of the day – and for all of these reasons I am truly honoured to call myself Darryl’s granddaughter.