Ray Castelli

Under Castelli, the company has diversified into international business lines that include field hospitals for COVID-19 patients

Few elections have changed the fate of Canada like the federal contest of 1993, in which the ruling Progressive Conservative Party recouped only two seats across the entire country. The seeds of change planted then are still evident today, as the Bloc Québécois became the official Opposition in their first election and the PCs merged with Preston Manning’s Reform Party to create the Conservative Party of Canada we know today.

It also left Ray Castelli wondering what to do next. Castelli had been chief of staff to former defence minister Kim Campbell in his late 20s, helping organize her leadership campaign after Brian Mulroney stepped down. Ultimately, he served as Campbell’s deputy chief of staff during her reign as prime minister.

“It was a great experience,” says the Prince Rupert native. “I learned about the country, how government and business work. It was fantastic.”

But Castelli, who had a business administration degree from SFU and was “always more business-oriented than political,” decided to go back to school after the Tories were voted out of office. He entered the international executive program at private French university INSEAD.

From there, he held high-level roles in the U.S. with companies like Alcan Aluminum and Quadrem—a mining procurement firm he co-founded and sold to software giant SAP—before heading back to his home province, eventually settling in as CEO of Coquitlam-based Weatherhaven in 2008.

“They were doing about $10 million in revenue with a really good product and an international reputation,” Castelli says of the company’s status as a camp outfitter for mining and military operations. “I had a mix of mining and defence with the government, and a lot of what they do is government procurement–related, so it was a really good fit.”

In the mid-2010s, Weatherhaven went through what Castelli calls a downturn. “We rethought the whole business,” he says. That meant outsourcing manufacturing and becoming more of a research and development outfit, with several shelter products focused on mobility. That was necessary because military deployment operations were changing.

“It was moving away from the days where they would send 3,000 people and put them in one place for two to five years,” Castelli says. “Because the kind of people they’re fighting, it’s more like whack-a-mole—pop up over here, hit them over there, pop up again. You have to be very agile, nimble, mobile.”

Weatherhaven, which now has 140 staff, has developed 52 patents and earned some $600 million in contracts since 2017.

“Ray has taken Weatherhaven to a completely international marketplace,” says Donald McInnes, a longtime energy and mining executive and current head of Vancouver’s Sun Metals Corp. “He’s changed the product mix substantially from just doing the mining camps and temporary shelters to mobile field hospitals and centres for the military, and things for NATO and the UN.”

Castelli obviously couldn’t have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, but Weatherhaven was uniquely positioned to help. The company had a long-standing field hospital solution that it would sell a couple of each year. Castelli, who is of Italian heritage, saw what was happening in Italy early on, with people catching COVID in hospitals thanks to poor air ventilation.

“We came up with the idea to take our existing hospitals and modify them, make them more like fallout shelters, where they become airtight and you can actually apply negative pressure to them to suck all the air out,” he says. “And you recirculate in fresh air every two minutes, so it gets recycled and cleansed 30 times an hour, just like on airplanes.”

Weatherhaven completed that change to the product in six weeks and eventually built 20 new hospitals around the world, in places like Canada, Chile, Dubai, El Salvador and Greenland.

“Our business jumped, but it was also nice to do something to help,” Castelli maintains. “The bigger the viral load, eventually it’s going to get past PPE. If we can keep that viral load low by cleaning and exchanging the air, it’s much safer for frontline health-care workers.”

Although Castelli came back to B.C. for family reasons—“my wife had been following me to Paris, Montreal, New York, L.A. and then Dallas”—he recently moved down to Washington, D.C., to help Weatherhaven’s corporate relations stateside.

“He’s very dedicated, calculating, thoughtful,” McInnes says. “But daring and visionary in what he’s done for the company and its customers and employees.”

Has that dedication found a permanent home in Weatherhaven, or might Castelli make the move back to politics some day? “Politics is a young person’s game,” he says with a knowing chuckle. “I have a few friends involved here and there, but I haven’t been actively involved for about 20 years.”

That sound is a bunch of Weatherhaven clients and employees breathing sighs of relief.

10 Questions With Ray Castelli

What was your first summer job?

Working in a fish plant in Prince Rupert.

Is an entrepreneur born or made? 

Good entrepreneurs are born. Great entrepreneurs are made.

What is your definition of success? 

Making my family proud.

What other career might you have had? 

My childhood dream was to be a stand up comic. Sadly, I didn’t have the stage presence or the talent...umm…or the timing.

Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

I’ve won a karaoke singing competition.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more...”

Ambition.

What businessperson do you most admire? 

Elon Musk.

What do you do to relax/unwind? 

Walk my dog.

How would you describe your leadership style? 

Set tone at the top, own strategy, delegate execution to great managers.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing

Bose portable speakers.