Founded by Charles-Émile Lussier (CEL) in his garage in 1988, the company has gone with passion through the steps that led it to its current international status. A flagship of aeronautical engineering, still little-known in Quebec, CEL collaborates with the largest aircraft engine manufacturers in the world. Its core business: the construction of test cells for aircraft engines. A cutting-edge sector that combines technology and human expertise, thanks in particular to Steeve Lepage and Pierre-Alexandre Morais, who represent the company’s next generation.
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Shaping your destiny
At the origin of this rather crazy project is a self-made man, a true workhorse and a visionary.
Charles-Émile Lussier has been working since the age of 12 and has had many jobs. He worked day and night, mainly at Steinberg as a diesel mechanic, even while studying at the CEGEP or at Polytechnique.
“I only stopped working nights during my last year of university, but I didn’t know what to do to keep myself busy. Let’s just say that going out for fun was totally unknown to me.”
His career path takes a new turn after obtaining his engineering degree. He designs airport fire trucks, and then holds various positions at Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC).
I had a very rapid progression at PWC and found myself managing several mechanical design and test cell engineering departments. But in the end, I was only dealing with the administration of budget and employee evaluations, which didn’t excite me at all.
Surprising his entourage, he resigns in 1988 and, in the process, founds CEL Aerospace Group.
Willpower & Determination
The difficulties of financing
Manufacturing test cells in the aeronautical sector certainly requires sharp skills, but also a certain financial buffer. Charles asks for banks’ support, but is mostly met with incomprehension.
“It’s hard to convince financiers with such a project. I told myself I would stop when I ran out of money, which came close..”
He therefore has to rely on himself to develop his company. At the end of the first year of operations, Charles has used up all his savings. The clientele does not seem to be there and he is about to return to the labour market.
That’s when I got my first contract and from then on it never stopped.
Charles’ perseverance finally pays off.
He comes out of the turbulence zone and good things start to happen. The profits on his first contracts are significant. Charles mainly makes a profit on his technical skills and keeps his costs to a minimum. Business takes off and Charles has to hire staff and rent premises to keep up with the company’s growth.
Everyone told me I was a bit crazy to leave PWC for this venture, but I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.
In 2022, over 34 years after its inception, CEL’s evolution can only prove him right.
Today, we sell test cells on all continents and our annual turnover exceeds 55 million dollars. I think it was a good thing to hang in there.
Today, CEL Aerospace is a global leader in engine test equipment for civil aviation (helicopters, aeroplanes, jets), as well as for the military. Its clients include Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce, Honeywell, GE, etc. The company has even been asked to build a test bench for NASA.
There is no shortage of large-scale projects and challenges.
A well-kept secret
Yet the company is still little-known. A fact that seems to suit Pierre-Alexandre. It must be said that CEL Aerospace is moving forward at its own pace. It has not yet made any acquisitions; its development is organic.
Even though it has around a hundred employees in 2022 and divisions in Poland, Asia and the United States, growth at any price is not the aim. CEL Aerospace is building its credibility over time.
The relationships it builds with its clients are strong and based on trust.
Some new clients are sometimes surprised to discover a company with such expertise, but which they have never heard of. We’re a well-kept secret and that’s fine with us.
Vision and values...
Exceptional client relations
There are many reasons why CEL Aerospace became one of the top three or four major players in its market segment.
The first one is based on a very thorough client approach, one of Steeve’s prides.
“We could be building equipements according to pre-established standards that meet 80 % of our clients’ needs, but that’s not how we see things. We want to achieve 100 %!”
Our partners tell us that this is our trademark.
Indeed, the CEL Aerospace’s team exceeds expectations on a daily basis. It questions and challenges its clients to achieve the most adapted and optimized results possible.
“We never let our customers down, it’s in our DNA. They view us as true partners, because we build truly customized testing solutions that perfectly meet their needs.”
This philosophy has paid off in the long term, as corporations such as Pratt & Whitney have been working with them for some 30 years. In fact, the vast majority of clients who decide to do business with them remain with them afterwards.
Targeting the needs
Today, our customers are our greatest ambassadors. They talk about their satisfaction in working with us. We couldn’t ask for better advertising.
Letting talent shine
Meeting such high standards requires a lot of in-house expertise. In other words, it takes brains.
A company cannot survive the departure of its founder if new talent is not developed in-house.
This is a crucial parameter that Charles takes into account from the beginning. He recruited Steeve 25 years ago when he came right out of university, and he soon gave him major responsibilities. He did the same with Pierre-Alexandre and most of the employees in whom he saw potential.
My greatest pride is that I have managed to surround myself well. It’s easy for me to let them command. Steeve is an even more competent engineer than I am and Pierre-Alexandre, a better administrator than I have ever been.
At CEL Aerospace, a diploma is not the only thing that counts. “In our company, every person is important in the chain, regardless of their status. Judgement is not acquired through studies.”
The three leaders are therefore especially attentive to the predispositions of their employees and do not hesitate to give more responsibilities to those who have the abilities, regardless of their level of education.
Unlocking the potential
We hire humans, not robots. We want to have creative employees, so we have to give them the opportunity to be creative.
In an ultra-competitive labour market where it is sometimes hard to stand out, this way of looking at things makes it possible to acquire and retain the know-how within the company.
“Of course we offer excellent working conditions to our employees, but so do the others. So we believe that in order to keep them, you have to know how to motivate them. You have to give them challenging projects and offer them the opportunity to develop professionally.”
For Charles and his managers, the client is important, but not at the expense of their employees. They take care of their team, and in return the team is fully committed to the projects. In the end, everybody wins.
Promoting the interconnection of knowledge
When people retire, an important part of the company’s knowledge often disappears. In order not to lose this expertise, Steeve sets up a clever method: “the senior champion league”.
“We organise meetings between experienced and our newer people. It allows them to ask questions, get concrete answers and discover ways of doing things that are not taught at school.”
Staff training is also carried out on an ongoing basis through the creation and distribution of video clips, PowerPoint presentations and one-pagers (a simplified document that groups relevant information on a single page).
CEL Aerospace also considers it important for the team to have a global view of the manufacturing process.
“It’s on the floor that you can actually see the realisation of your plans, by talking to those who built and assembled the product.”
The company therefore encourages its engineers to leave their offices to go into the workshops. A habit that Charles has always advocated and that Steeve and Pierre-Alexandre are trying to strengthen.
“An engineer should spend time on the floor with the production team to become better. I have always taken the pulse of my company by walking around the workshops.”
The executives therefore do everything possible to promote communication between employees, because they firmly believe that this connection leads to excellence. This method works, as the managers see a real evolution in the way that the engineers design equipments after their workshop visits and exchanges.
In our company, everything is possible. Our employees know
that opportunities and responsibilities depend only on their own skills and motivation.
A solid client relationship, valued employees and a permanent transfer of knowledge, this is the winning trifecta for CEL Aerospace. Its success is based on its values, and it is on such values that the company wishes to keep growing.
Behind the scenes...
President and founder of CEL Aerospace
A Mechanical Engineering graduate, Charles has carved his own niche through sheer determination and 60-hour weeks more often than not.
Today, at the age of 70, he looks back with amusement at the road travelled and with pride at the successors he has been able to find, train and polish. He is happy that the company’s continuity is assured with the leadership he has put in place.
“ After so many years, I have learned that I have not changed. I don’t cultivate a large social network. To this day, my company and my relationship with my colleagues are a priority for me. I would do it all again the same way, I had a lot of fun, and so many adventures to tell! ”
The problem solver
Head of Operations and Development
Steeve holds an MBA in business management and a degree in mechanical engineering. He has a passion for project management and above all, he likes to be involved in all aspects of engineering, from mechanics to electronics to programming. His greatest strength: always having a plan B in case things go wrong.
“ I came into CEL as a blank page, it was my first job. I was lucky that Charles gave me responsibilities very quickly. In a larger company, it would have taken several years before I become a decision maker. Thanks to this confidence, I was able to travel all over the world and expand my horizons. ”
The clever strategist
Chief Executive Officer
Pierre-Alexandre practiced his financial skills in various different settings before joining CEL Aerospace. He notably worked at the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and within the Deloitte financial advisory team. He was therefore not really familiar with the world of engineering and he had to learn on the job. But his colleagues say he would be worthy of an honorary engineering degree today. He specialises, of course, in the financial and strategic management of the company.
“ I learned here that there is a big difference between giving advice and implementing them. I have had to gain experience, mostly on the technical side and in managing people, but it has been rewarding and has allowed me to meet great partners. ”
An outline of the future...
Exceeding cruising altitude
Notoriously polluting, the aviation industry must make a green shift to remain in existence. Governments, both Canadian and international, are calling for and supporting this evolution. Several companies have already started the movement and are producing electric or hybrid engines.
CEL Aerospace is not to be outdone. It is working with the Institut national de la recherche scientifique in Quebec City on new methods for capturing CO2. It is starting to develop a test cell with the Centre technologique en aérospatiale for new generations of hybrid and electric engines. The Quebec company hopes to adapt this new technology and offer it to its clients in the future.
On a more personal note, CEL Aerospace took advantage of the construction of its new offices to install solar panels on the roof.
We have an electrical production capacity of 48 kWh with these panels. We are therefore able to produce a large part of our energy needs and maybe generate a surplus at times. We’re doing our part as much as we can and it’s an important issue for CEL Aerospace.
CEL Aerospace moves into its new offices in October 2022, having outgrown its old rented offices.
“After 34 years in the same location, we ended up occupying all the available space in the building stock where we were located. As we expect to grow further in the coming years, we decided it was time to build our own space.”
And the company has taken a big step forward. The factory now covers 31,000 square feet and there is still space on the plot to erect new buildings in the future and double that capacity.
At the moment we are taking up about half of the plot, but with the ideas we have in mind, we have to plan for more room.
There is no shortage of projects for CEL Aerospace. It plans to enter the high-trust engine market, the places that power airliners. And while the company is a leader in its sector, this new segment will require major adjustments.
The test cells for the engines of these aircrafts are much larger. Therefore, it is necessary to build facilities that are large enough to contain them.
“Today, we have the technical skills needed to test this type of engines, but not the expertise in building construction. So, we will have to work with new partners.”
For this, CEL Aerospace is looking toward the United States. It knows which companies are able to carry out such projects and, when the time comes, will partner up with them to meet clients’ demands.
In the meantime, there is no shortage of contracts since the regional aircraft industry is doing well and even the pandemic has not really slowed down this market. Charles, Steeve, Pierre-Alexandre and their team are therefore confident for the coming years and ready to take on new challenges.
CEL aerospace – English
7150, John Molson
Longueuil (Quebec) Canada J3Y 8Y9
Author: Erwan Guéguéniat
Translator: Frédérick Poulin
Graphic designer: Liliane Racine
Graphic artist: Élyse Levasseur
Proofreader: Céline Chabot
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