Our founders, Stephen Nutt and Richard Rush talk about the formation of XCG and its history.
S: Do you remember where we had our first conversation about starting XCG, Richard?
R: I think it was in San Francisco.
S: Just before the earthquake in 1989, so maybe we got rattled around a little bit and our brains got shaken up.
R: You’re right, it shook up our lives.
S: We picked a great time to start up a new enterprise because 1990 was when the recession was starting. Everyone was cutting back on expenditures and there was no money for any kind of water or wastewater infrastructure expansions or upgrades. It was a challenging time. It was around that time, Richard that you were involved in the Elmira cleanup. You were up to your eyeballs working 60-70 hours a week looking after that. Meanwhile, I ran around and found office space. It was a little office in downtown Kitchener; no more than 500 square feet. We hired our first employee who we got to look after getting the furniture, computers, getting the office set up. We actually had our first employee working for us before we opened the business. Now she is our director of human resources.
R: I remember saying, “Let’s do this for five years, Stephen, and see where we go from there.” We didn’t want to get big again. We wanted to stay small. We liked that little office in downtown Kitchener where we started up.
S: We took over more and more space on that floor until we outgrew it and moved to our new facilities on the west side of Kitchener.
R: We opened four or five other offices in the meantime.
S: We started out by acquiring a business in Guelph, and then we moved to Oakville, then Kingston.
R: By the mid-90s things were picking up and we gained some momentum. We got to the point where half—or more than half—of the business was site assessment and remediation. It was growing.
S: You were doing a lot of acquisition and pre-acquisition due diligence work.
R: A lot was changing in both the water and site assessment fields at that time. In the early 90s, we were directly involved in helping to write the new standards, helping to develop and work with soil and groundwater sampling procedures. It wasn’t until 1994 that Canada brought out the first Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). Over the past few years it’s become a more mainstream part of business. No industrial or commercial properties change hands without considering and updating Phase 1 ESA’s, and possibly doing soil testing and so forth.
S: The water business was difficult because there was no funding available to build new works, so there was a new emphasis on optimization. So we got involved in a lot of new approaches to get more out of existing water and wastewater treatment plants, developing new test methods and techniques to optimize performance.
R: I remember saying many times when we were asked to do some piece of work and started to write a proposal, “How come everything we do is unique and different?” We never did any cookie cutter work. It was always innovative, something new, something that not many—if anyone—had ever done before. We had to put a lot of creativity into developing our work plans. We developed mobile equipment and miniature or pilot scale treatment equipment to go out on site or bring samples in and test things that nobody knew how to deal with.
S: We did some pretty interesting stuff. On the water side, there’s been a lot of new technologies that we’ve been involved in implementing for the first time, particularly in Ontario. Things like Biological Aerated Filters, Sequencing Batch Reactors, and Autothermal Thermophilic Digesters were technologies that weren’t widely used.
R: Well, you and our Water Team have written, or helped to write, a lot of the new Ministry of Environment (MOE) guidelines and guidance documents.
S: We just finished helping the MOE prepare a new set of design guidelines for drinking water systems and for sewage works. Some of these guidelines hadn’t been updated since the 1980s. We’re also developing guidance manuals on how to optimize water and wastewater plants—taking advantage of the experience we’ve gained over the last 20 years.
R: Are you saying we’re the old guys now?
S: I think we must be.
R: I feel like one when clients keep asking me for expert opinions. I guess that’s what old guys do.