Karen Noftall’s firm keeps companies onside with ever changing standards in quality, health, safety and environmental management
After 20 years of doing business in the resource extraction sector, Quality Matters Inc. president and owner Karen Noftall has learned to not take the boom times for granted.
“I could smell the downturn coming and like all other businesses in the province we took a hit and had to restructure our company and reposition ourselves for growth,” she says. “It’s been a tough three years trying to survive and reconfigure the business.”
But survive is exactly what the St. John’s-based company has done during industry-wide funks in the oil and gas and mining sectors. And as it celebrates its 20th year in business, Noftall is working to ensure Quality Matters is not only surviving but thriving in the years to come.
The company is a small one—it’s got five full-time employees—but it’s been able to punch above its weight by operating in a niche business. The company provides consulting, auditing and training services for quality, health and safety and environmental management systems to meet and exceed ISO standards. ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization, a body that sets standards promoting worldwide proprietary, industrial and commercial standards. Meeting ISO standards is important for any company operating in the oil and gas, mining or renewable energy industries. If you can’t meet those standards, you can’t get work.
Noftall got her start in the QHSE business working in quality control and health and safety systems for Canadian brewing giant Labatt’s in its St. John’s production plant for 12 years. “The industry is very well organized and it was a good place to work,” she says. “I was exposed to a lot of training and systems in the brewing industry and I noticed a lot of companies needed assistance with this.”
Those companies included ones working in the oil and gas and mining sectors. In 1985 the Atlantic Accord was signed between Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa. It set out the management of Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil and gas reserves for the province and had language in it requiring employment and other benefits from offshore oil projects go to the province. In 1997 fortune smiled on Newfoundland and Labrador with the Hibernia offshore oilfield making the province an oil producer. That project, thanks to the Accord, provided new opportunities for companies in Atlantic Canada to get into the oil and gas industry.
It was also in 1997 that Noftall launched Quality Matters. With the province’s oil and gas industry starting to take off, she saw a chance to capitalize on her expertise. “I wanted to stay in the province at the time to be a part of that expansion,” she says. “Our main goal was to work with Newfoundland and Labrador companies to help them with opportunities in the industry by improving QHSE management systems, and allowing them to work with and supply international [companies.]”
As the mining and oil and gas industries grew in the province thanks to offshore projects like Hibernia, White Rose and Terra Nova and the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine, Noftall says the company naturally found a lot of work in those areas. Even with the current downturn in both sectors, 60 per cent of its current work is with resource-based industries. However, it’s also working in construction, aerospace, manufacturing, education and service sectors.
That diverse clientele has certainly helped Quality Matters get through the extended slump Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and gas and mining sectors have experienced since 2014 due to low commodity prices. But Noftall feels the economy has finally settled and growth could be around the corner.
To prepare for that, the company continues to expand its services. One example is its contract with SGS, a company that provides inspection and registration services globally, to provide ISO registration services in Atlantic Canada. She’s also looking at hiring two more full-time staff, and says the company’s work order book is “very busy” this year.
Noftall is not resting on her laurels. Perhaps that’s because she’s experienced so many peaks and valleys in the provincial economy during the company’s 20-year history, she knows companies can’t stay relevant if they aren’t constantly evolving. “You can never sit back. You need to have a strategy, (keeping) in mind who you are and where you want to be,” Noftall says. “Our long-term plan is to continue to expand on our product and service offerings, and continue to enhance our reach into the Atlantic region through partnerships.”