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Interview with Mifab 's Founder and President Michael Whiteside
January 11th, 2017 10:15am
Recently I had had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Milab's Founder Michael Whiteside for a Q&A JM: Good Morning Michael,how are you? Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. MW: I am well and all is very positive at MIFAB. Thank you for the opportunity for me to share the MIFAB story with your readers.

JM: Michael, I know a little of your company's history and I think our readers will find your story an incredible Point of interest story as well as a very inspiring one especially to some of the many young professionals coming into our business or any business. How Did you come up with the Name MIFAB, what year did you start the Company and what were you doing prior to starting MIFAB?

MW: The name MIFAB was created by two people in Toronto, Canada in the early 1980s – Mike and Fabio. MIFAB was the combination of their two names. My father, Jim Whiteside, bought MIFAB from these two people in 1983 and kept the name. During the 1996 ASPE trade show in Phoenix, AZ, an engineer walked by our booth and asked me what MIFAB stood for. I was standing beside my father and was inspired to answer him: "My Father's Business". This is what MIFAB stands for us today. My father bought the existing MIFAB in 1983 as mentioned above. I started MIFAB, USA in 1992 after I graduated from University in Canada and realized that MIFAB, Canada was about to go out of business. To save ourselves, I started MIFAB, USA to sell our way out of the difficult situation that we were in. Before starting MIFAB, USA I had worked several summers with my father in the factory and office and completed my University degree in History.

JM: I heard that you started MIFAB with a high Limit Credit Card. Is That true and what was your vision at the time as you were obviously very young.

MW:In order to sell MIFAB's grease interceptors in the USA, the PDI (Plumbing Drainage Institute) approval was required. My father gave me the product samples for testing but did not have the money to pay for the PDI testing. In 1992, I therefore maxed out my $10,000 credit card, borrowed $20,000 from my Mother and worked odd jobs at night (stocked shelves at a local retail store – Canadian Tire and dealt blackjack at a Charity Casino) to save the necessary funds to pay for the PDI grease interceptor testing. My vision at the time was one of survival. We were in bad shape and we needed to sell our way out of it.

JM: I heard you were working out of the back your station wagon in the beginning and you were in Eastern PA. when old trusty broke down and you left it there and had a friend come pick you up. Was This the Same person that ended up investing in your Company? You were Living in Canada at The Time Correct?

MW: MIFAB, USA's first office was a 2,500 square foot industrial unit that had an extra office which I used as a spare bedroom. This lasted for about six months until I could afford an apartment. I was driving from a meeting with our representative in New York City back to Toronto in 1997, going through Scranton, PA on Route 81 North, when my car literally died on the highway. I directed it to the side of the road before it stopped moving and when I got out of the car; I noticed a pool of oil underneath the hood. I had blown the engine – after 230,000 kilometers on it. A local tow truck operator offered me $75.00 on the spot for my Dodge Shadow and I accepted it along with a ride to the rental car office in Scranton. I rented a car and drove it to Buffalo, NY where my best friend picked up me and drove me home to Toronto. The person that invested in MIFAB, USA was Charlie Hagedorn, the founder and owner of Ancon Drains. Charlie invested in MIFAB, USA in 2000 and gave the company the capital, knowledge and opportunity to enter the specification drainage business. I had the honor of working with Charlie for three years before he passed. I was the apprentice to a gifted entrepreneur and very lucky to have had a relationship with Charlie.

JM: Can You tell me about the person who believed in Michael Whiteside and what you were doing which encouraged them enough to invest and believe in you and your vision ?

MW: My Mother and Father believed in me. My Father always told me that I could do anything I put my mind to and I was the only one holding myself back. Charlie is another person that believed in me. I think that he liked my hard work ethic and desire to succeed and take on the big drain competitors. I will also never forget the representatives that agreed to take on and represent MIFAB in the early days when I was 23 years old, photocopied the MIFAB 20 page catalog myself on the office photocopier (it looked terrible !) and had only grease interceptors to sell. America is the land of opportunity and I am very grateful.

JM: Many Entrepreneurs grow up with a strong work ethic and drive to excel for variousreasons. Some fail many times before they succeed. Could you embellish on this a little; What really inspired you as a kid? Did you have a paper route? Did your mother and Father make you do chores and or were there other people who inspired you? Of Course, we all want things as a kid that drives some more than others. However, what would advise would give to inspiring youngentrepreneurs today?

MW: I always enjoyed working (and still do). My first jobs were a paper route and cutting grass for our neighbors. I then worked as a food vendor at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium selling Cokes and Hot Dogs by walking up and down the aisles. It was a great learning experience as the pay was 100% commission. During high school I started and operated a vending machine route – locating soft drink vending machines in factories around Toronto. I enjoy the "great game of business" and loved working at MIFAB, Canada as soon as I was old enough to stamp out access doors and paint grease interceptors in our factory – before it relocated to Western Canada in 1990. I was never forced to do chores or do extra work – I just enjoyed doing them. I strongly suggest entrepreneurs join EO (Entrepreneur Organization) and then YPO (Young President's Organization) as their business starts to grow. I joined EO and then YPO when I moved to Chicago in 2006 and I have learned a lot from the experience.

JM: Is MiFAB Involved in any training and educational channels and or foundations now you would like to mention?

MW: We joined ASA this year and are planning to improve on our training programs – for our representatives and customers through their Education and Training department.

JM: Now I'd like to flash forward a little.I know you hail from Canada originally.However, your Headquarters are in Chicago Correct? What made you decide to move there and what year did you Move to Chicago?

MW: Yes, I was born in Toronto, Canada and lived there for 35 years before I moved my family and business headquarters to Chicago, USA in 2006. I chose Chicago for the following reasons: 1) it is a place similar to Toronto in weather, culture and size, 2) at the time, MIFAB had two facilities in Canada – a distribution center in Toronto and a factory in Western Canada. Chicago was a convenient location to ship and receive product to and from both facilities., 3) Chicago is a terrific transport hub – rail for our motor shipments that go throughout the USA and airport – one can connect to most US cities directly, 4) my wife lived most of her young adult life in Chicago and loved the city. She was very happy when I came home one day and told her that we were moving to Chicago!

JM: Michael, I'm going Back a little. Is it true that your first Stocking Rep in the U.S was Roy Evans of Evans &Associates Here in Atlanta GA.? Can You tell us how the story of how you got Roy on Board? I guess this area may be a little special for that reason. I knew Roy and he was a special man and Evans and Associates still is your Rep correct?

MW: Yes, Roy Evans of Evans & Associates in Atlanta, GA was MIFAB's first stocking representative. Evans started representing MIFAB in 1995. I was working with our rep in New Orleans, Louisiana (Bob Conley) and he referred me to Roy. Roy was a special man – a real character. It still amazes me that he agreed to take on the small line that MIFAB was at the time. Roy was intimidating to those that did not know him but inside he was a real gentleman and a great businessman. I will never forget my time with Roy. Yes, Roy's son, Mark Evans owns Evans & Associates now and MIFAB is proud to be represented by them. Roy would be very proud to see how Mark has grown and expanded his agency.

JM: So, for many years MIFAB was known so much for your Drains and Grease Interceptors. Can you tell us a little about the new lines you have expanded with over the years?

MW: We have expanded into the following product categories: 1) BEECO backflow preventers, pressure reducing valves, strainers, gauges, gate valves and other valve related products, 2) C-PORT roof top engineered pipe supports, 3) FILCOTEN fibre re-enforced concrete trench drains, 4) stainless steel, steel, plastic and cast iron trench drains, 4) Pressure drop and electronic trap seal primers and MI-GARD floor drain sealers, 5) Champion regular and heavy duty shielded no hub couplings, flexible rubber couplings and transition couplings, 6) Fixture carriers, floor sinks, backwater valves and wall and ground hydrants, 7) HDPE molded grease interceptors up to 100 GPM, 8) Hydromaxsiphonic roof drains, 9) water hammer arrestors and 10) access doors.

JM: I know you have distribution all over the U.S and Canada. What over emerging Markets are you in and what other areas to you for see growth opportunities?

MW: We have distributors and customers in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Philippines, Thailand, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Ireland, England and all of the G.C.C. countries in the Middle East. We see growth in central Europe with our new, EN approved HDPE molded grease and oil interceptors.

JM: What advice would you give your Distributors Reps and Engineers and how important are these relationships?

MW:We know that we need to visit the engineering community to get our products specified and to create demand for them. We need to have the right local reps that have good relationships with distributors and engineers. Our relationships with our representatives is critical for this effort with the engineers. MIFAB is a proud supporter of ASPE and we learn a lot from visiting engineers to get ideas on new and innovative products.

JM: What are some of MIFAB's current product categories of Growth and what new products are on the Horizon that you can share with our readers now? What are you most excited about?

MW: We have two new products coming in the interceptor category. We have a super-large family of plastic interceptors in development that are about a year away. We see more demand at the engineer level to move away from concrete because of the nature of concrete material. The other one is an automatic recovery grease interceptor. These are manufactured out of stainless steel and have a wheel that removes the grease as it accumulates. In the long run, we see water conservation and water quality hitting the treatment plants being a bigger issue and people getting stricter on what can be dumped into the sewer. We think that there is a growing demand for interceptors. We want to expand our range and be a one stop interceptor manufacturer whether it is plastic, steel or stainless steel. There is no other company that has as complete an offering. We are also working on attaining USC approval for our BEECO backflow preventer line. That is another year and a half before it is complete. That will lead to a big surge in volume because most of the country requires that approval. When that happens, we will need to think about the physical expansion of our building (MIFAB currently operates out of a 60,000 square foot building in Chicago and has the ability to expand to 100,000 square feet on the land it owns).

JM: Is Looking back. Is There anything you might do differently?

MW: I have made a lot of mistakes since starting MIFAB, USA. While painful, I have done my best to learn from them and to not make them again. I have no regrets would not change anything.

JM: Michael,thank you so Much for taking the time to speak with me today. For Those who may not know. Michael Whiteside is The President and founder of MIFAB. MIFAB Manufactures a host of commercial plumbing products from floor, roof and area drains to grease interceptors to its BEECO line of pressure -reducing valves and backflow preventers and a full complement of precision laser cutters and fabrication machinery for custom stainless -steel jobs. Michael resides in the Chicago area with his lovely wife Justine and Michael recently became a U.S. citizen. (Congratulations) Maintaining dual citizenship with the United States and Canada.

MW: Thank you, Jack. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about MIFAB with your readers.