Kiely MacLean faced a tough decision upon graduating university. She could round out her business degree by taking a marketing job, or to take a leap and do something that scared her. She chose the latter, strapping on a pair of work boots and joining her father’s crew in the oil sands.
“It's rare to see a young woman in the field in this industry, or it was when I entered the industry. It's getting to be better now. You can almost use that as a strength too, the fact that people don’t expect you to be the owner of the company or that you were part of the startup. You can use that to your advantage or as your edge,” MacLean says.
“That’s one thing entrepreneurs do really well: use what can be seen as a weakness as a strength.”
Improving on a process
Together with her father, MacLean looked at how companies were cleaning their tanks.
“We got involved once we saw the way things were cleaned, which involved putting people in hazmat suits, putting them under air and inside hazardous atmospheres,” she explains.
MacLean was able to see the process of tank cleaning firsthand when she was the only woman on a crew with thirty men. This was not a regular occurrence – tank cleaning, which happens every five to ten years, is designated as a specialty project. However, once MacLean and her father saw how it was done, they came up with an idea to improve it – and change it forever.
“Once we saw that there was an opportunity, we started MacLean Tank Services to consult on using robots to clean tanks. My dad and I owned that company jointly, we started it fifty-fifty.”
Cleaning up the process
Their consulting business quickly grew, and MacLean and her father turned their sights to the environmental piece of tank cleaning – “taking the waste out of the tank and cleaning it up.” They partnered with Jack Seguin, owner of RJ Oil Sands, and created RJ MacLean in 2015.
“The idea is innovative products specifically in automation and robotics in tank cleaning, with a focus on remediating waste that comes out of the tank,” she says.
They began slowly –Canadian companies were hesitant to use robots. They would clean the tanks the conventional way, bringing one robot at a time. The companies liked what they saw, so they would bring more.
“In the last year or two there was a major shift in the industry where almost all clients require robotics for tank cleaning,” MacLean explains.
“Not only did we bring something new to the table but we changed the industry as a whole in terms of expectations.”
Stepping out of your comfort zone
MacLean encourages all young entrepreneurs, and especially young women entrepreneurs, to challenge their comfort levels and branch out into new and exciting fields.
“We really need young professionals to get involved at the front level of business. I think executive leadership requires a thorough understanding of the operational levels of the business and it's crucial for young female leaders to get involved on the front lines,” she says.
“Particularly in energy, we need more women’s voices and input in the field which in turn would create more women’s voices at the top.”
To MacLean, opportunities to network and speak with like-minded individuals are an invaluable asset.
“Things like SHEInnovates and different networking groups that I am a part of have been a major part of helping to not only build up my confidence and my own career, but other women in the industry which has been really important and influential in my career.”