Dave McCullough: Making Safer Workplaces for the Most Hazardous Jobs

Top 10 Most Inspiring CEOs in Business in 2022

As second-generation entrepreneur, Dave McCullough, President & CEO of The Conspec Group of Companies, describes his true responsibilities as CEO as being part Empath, part Intelligence Officer, part Historian, and part Quartermaster.

His job is to figure out what will be needed, which of those needs he is capable of fulfilling, and making sure his team has the processes, tools and resources to work toward best serving those needs, all while minimizing risk, and yet, simultaneously maximizing reward.

Founded by Dave’s father, Larry, who had a multi-disciplinary problem solving mindset, Conspec Controls has been offering reliable and affordable gas detection systems for a range of applications for over 50 years, with an emphasis on improving safety and operational productivity.

The early lessons of entrepreneurship

Dave’s father, Larry, was raised during the Great Depression, and he earned degrees in both electrical and mechanical engineering, along with an MBA. It was this background that led his focus to always be on the process.

Dave recalls that his father always wondered how he could find a solution to improve a process – whether as an engineering solution, a change in management process or system, or simply as a means to better enjoy life. It was never about the end goal for him, but about how he could best contribute and enjoy the journey.

“It was about what small, incremental steps could be made to improve a process whether to make a more enjoyable workplace, a more productive industrial plant, a more energy efficient operation, or a more enjoyable family life. That mindset has stuck with me and throughout the Conspec team,” says Dave.

Dave grew up working in and around Conspec. As a 5-year-old his father had him working hard, folding direct mail marketing material and putting them into envelopes. For most of his adolescence and youth, he spent his Christmas holidays counting inventory, and his summer vacations serving as a clerk, and later an apprentice, in different departments of the company.

After he got his driver’s license, he was often sent on weekends to pick up demo equipment from distributors, or to drive tradeshow booths to and from regional exhibitions. “I then spent a year in my late teens working the ‘traffic desk’ (purchasing, shipping and inside order desk) for the Canadian Operation,” recalls Dave.

He points out that, having grown up in and around Conspec, the company was always part of his life, even when he ventured off to do other things. “I suppose that is both the blessing and the curse of a child of a company’s founder,” he observes.

Dave was highly influenced by Austrian Economic Theory and in particular the teachings of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, and through that lens, Dave feels that ‘Entrepreneur’ is the only word that would be truly appropriate to describe him.

He takes the experiences market conditions and business cycles of the past as a basepoint comparison to present conditions, the best available research of the future to map out a clear path to guide his team and shareholders to maximize available opportunity in dynamic market conditions.

At the forefront of gas detection technology

Conspec products provide support to the global mining, oil and gas, power generation, heavy industrial markets, and most recently, have begun to introduce solutions for commercial HVAC applications. The business continues to be at the forefront of gas detection technology by combining cutting-edge components with NDIR, electrochemical, PID, and catalytic bead type sensors.

Conspec gas monitors maintain affordability and have a low cost-of-ownership while being designed for simplicity, dependability, and performance in some of the harshest environments. Their systems are designed with the end-user in mind, are simple to install, need little maintenance, and maximize protection of personnel, productivity and profitability of their customer’s operations.

Conspec’s individualized approach to each customer enables them to adapt to each end user’s operations, while offering prompt delivery, top-quality goods, and a high level of customer service.

Customers are assisted by their sales team and application engineers in choosing the best solution for their unique requirements, including sample draw systems, remote monitoring, and leak detection for specialized processes.

Conspec’s round-the-clock technical support assures the highest level of production for end user’s staff and assets. Their goal is to help their customers’ businesses grow by safeguarding their people and the environment, and leading the market by offering top-notch customer service and specialized goods.

Providing simplified solutions that deliver

Under Dave’s leadership, Conspec has returned to a back to basics mentality focused on providing simplified solutions that deliver, such as post-blast monitoring for underground mines to minimize operational downtime, and remote well pad monitoring for leaks to increase safety while reducing costs.

Conspec’s recent innovations include incorporating Kalman Type filtration algorythms to reduce nuisance alarms and improve accuracy over time in dual sensor Monitors that discriminate between naturally occuring increases in Carbon Monoxide levels and temporary increases due to the exhaust of passing diesel equipment, and fully integrated ventilation management solutions based on real time atmospheric monitoring for energy/cost reduction, all while promoting the protection of health and safety – whether in an underground mine or a parking garage.

Dave feels that what sets Conspec apart is their increased focus on Conspec’s integrated systems and a solutions-based approach, rather than products based approach; allowing operators to dive deep into data to find the real challenges, not the surface solutions.

“We’re a process control company with an expertise at remote sensing, and in particular gas detection – it is our control system designs that often further drive sales,” he notes.

Conspec focuses on recycling already deployed infrastructure as much as possible in their systems and are not afraid to turn down a job if they cannot do it yet… yet being the keyword.

Dave’s plans for the future of Conspec include greater diversification, to take their experience in process control and remote control systems for hazardous environments to provide improved solutions for reducing the environmental and energy impact of more mainstream applications while improving productivity and safety.

These include such as commercial and light industrial HVAC, as well as industrial agribusiness, with a focus on developing more cost-effective solutions for better ventilation management, early fire detection and suppression across industries, to continue to make safer and more productive workplaces.

Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection

Dave admits that he never took anything for granted and, having been taught early by his father that by being the boss’ son, he had to work three times harder than everyone else to prove himself, as he rose through the ranks in different divisions/operational activities of the business.

He believes in continuous learning, as in the famous quote by Mark Twain, that says, “Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection,” and tries his best to see the world as it is, not how it is painted by others.

Dave believes that there are five key questions that need to be asked whenever facing a challenge with integrity. These questions are:

  • What can be better about this?
  • What can I do to make this better?
  • What steps am I willing to take to make this better?
  • What steps am I not willing to take to make this better?
  • How can I best enjoy the process?

“Although it means we had to pass up on some opportunities in the past, I feel these five questions have served us well over the years,” says Dave. “The last two are the most important of these, and I feel they provide an opportunity to better assess the impact that our decisions and actions take on others before we make them.”

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” – Mark Twain

Staying ahead of the curve during the pandemic

Dave recalls one of his most memorable achievements, and what he views as the best recognition as a leader that he received just after the first set of COVID restrictions were announced.

When the new started coming out of China in January and February 2020, both from on the ground reports from Conspec’s Chinese employees, as well as from alternative business sources he followed, Dave initiated a full review of their supply chains to try to best identify critical materials they would need to continue manufacturing – a process they have kept in place to this day, for continuous adjustment to supply chain difficulties.

Dave recalls that, at the time not only did most of his staff, but even many of their suppliers thought he was overreacting, though he was certain that his suppliers appreciated the surge in business he provided them.

“Even during my one annual vacation to attend Anarchapulco, an annual conference that promotes individual liberty, personal responsibility and self-improvement each February, I was in my hotel room in continuous Zoom meetings with my team to seek out potential supply chain challenges. Because of this I missed much of the actual conference,” he recollects

When lockdowns began in North America, Conspec was declared an essential business, as a supplier to critical mining and energy industries, and their manufacturing operations continued with all the appropriate safety protocols, while the rest of them continued to do the best they could from home.

Dave recalls that, as the COVID restrictions began, his CFO at the time, Christopher Boddington, wrote in an email to Conspec’s Board: “Dave saw this a mile off. He’s been ahead of the curve from the beginning. The group, from a CFO’s perspective, is in good shape. If I had to name it, would say, top 5% preparedness.”

Dave notes that those prophetic words from a friend of 25 years who left Conspec to spend the pandemic with his wife back home in Europe, and to whom he holds infinite respect, delivered what he considers the best praise he has received not only as a leader, but in his entire career.

Building a team of equals at Conspec

As a leader, Dave views Conspec’s staff as a team of equals, each with their own respective contributions to make towards the company’s success.

“I listen carefully to everyone’s opinions, and I take the time to explain my own reasoning behind my decisions. I try, as best I can, to foster a collegial atmosphere. I invest in training and ensure each member of my team has both the tools and the time to succeed,” he affirms.

Where possible, Dave tries to promote from within, and provides each member of the team with a fair compensation package with excellent benefits, based on each team member’s contribution to our mutual success.

“I constantly remind my team, and more importantly myself, what we are here for: to make safer and more productive workplaces, especially for those who work the most hazardous jobs,” he observes.

It’s not about the end goal, but the journey

Dave believes that the definition of success changes from individual to individual, and throughout one’s life.

“When I was younger, I used to think it was about my personal accomplishments – meeting my sales goals, growth in my division, delivering new products. Over time, I have come to appreciate that it’s not about what I achieve, but how I can best serve others,” he reflects.

Dave believes that it’s not about the end goal, but the journey he takes to get there – empowering the Conspec team and their customers, and together making their contribution towards a better world in the process.

While he admits that balance is still work in progress for him, and probably always will be, he tries to live a life that’s as simple and uncomplicated as possible, outside of work.

Dave enjoys gardening and cooking to unwind and is constantly listening to podcasts and audiobooks for self-improvement, and to increase his all-around knowledge, especially on his veranda in the evenings, or on long drives in his car.

“When I do have time for a few days off, I will often travel to an amusement park or take an adventure vacation to purge any pent up cravings for excitement that I may have. I am a bit of thrill-ride junkie,” he reveals.

Dave observes that no one really achieves all they have dreamed of. After all, there’s always going to be a new challenge to overcome, and a new problem to solve. “For me the key is to simply try my best to deal with each new challenge with integrity, and to enjoy the process as much as possible,” he states.

His message to aspiring business leaders is: Trust your gut; don’t be afraid to fail in order to learn; live within one’s means and put in the work alongside everyone else; do not be afraid to say “I don’t know,” then learn what is unknown; do not be afraid of saying ‘no’ when needed, either for business reasons, or to maintain your own integrity, values, and principles.

He also recommends applying all five of the questions above to everything you do, in work and life, and to live with integrity.