Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022: Curtis Braber is under pressure at BE Power Equipment

Braber is excited about what's next for his manufacturing company—including a battery powered pressure washer.

Curtis Braber

Braber is excited about what’s next for his manufacturing company—including a battery powered pressure washer

BE Power Equipment’s roots in Abbotsford are older than many tall trees. Braber Equipment was founded in 1969 by Bill Braber to provide farmers with the tools to do their jobs. In 1991, his son Nick created BE Pressure Supply and became Canada’s largest manufacturer of pressure washers. That’s about the time when the third generation was brought in.

Curtis Braber started sweeping the floors and stacking the shelves at BE when he was 11 years old. “I was nice, cheap labour,” he remembers with a laugh. “They’d have the work truck pick me up and drive me to the facility while most kids were at the playground.”

Eventually, Braber moved through virtually every part of the business, from assembling equipment to stints in the product development, sales and accounting departments. But his favourite part of the job was and still is getting excited about new products. In 2018, after having taken over from his father, Braber renamed the company to BE Power Equipment to better reflect the business’s changing product line, including air compressors, generators and water pumps.

And while the company is still based in Abbotsford, it’s also grown beyond that, with some 400 employees across North America. Around 170 of these people are at the home base, with the rest split across facilities in Ontario, Minnesota, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Braber thinks BE is “still in a growth trajectory” and is excited about what’s coming next. “We continue to develop new equipment and stay on the cutting edge of change,” he says. “The world is going greener, there’s a heavy push on product development, lithium ion. We hope to be the first to market with a battery powered pressure washer.”

He acknowledges that the last product will be complicated to produce and will force BE to scale up its engineering department. “Some people think its scary, for sure,” he says. “Yeah, the core business could change, but I look at it as really exciting.”

That’s something that’s been bred into Braber since he was a kid. His father and grandfather, both immigrants from Holland, instilled in him a global mindset. “From a very young age it was always about learning the world and finding the best opportunity for purchasing technology.”

There are, however, some old school elements to the job that Braber can’t help but incorporate into his routine. “I like to put the face time in, that’s one of the keys to my success, I think,” he says. “I like to keep that one-on-one feel, remember names, check in to see how people are doing and remember experiences.”

As for how to keep those 400 or so people happy and gainfully employed, Braber points to a heavy emphasis on culture. “I think it’s a pretty awesome place to work,” he states. “The culture is mapped out on a wall—how we host meetings, what kind of egos we don’t enjoy, what we celebrate. Growth sounds great, but if you’re doing acquisitions and stuff and you don’t have the right people, you can’t do it. The goal is to make this a great place to work and attract talent and continue that organic growth.”

10 Questions With Curtis Braber

What was your first summer job?

I would like to believe Entrepreneurs are born with passion, curiosity and drive but ultimately are made by the people, experiences, and decisions they make along the way. I was fortunate enough to enjoy conversations around the dinner table as a child of the two previous generations and absorbs their successes and challenges into my thinking as I got older.

Waking up everyday excited to take on a challenge. Being able to balance a growing career while still be present with family to enjoy those special moments.

I spent a summer in high school as a general labourer carrying stairwell railings to the welders in the underground of Metrotown as the mall was being built. It was a fun experience, I enjoyed getting my hands dirty. 

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

I am quite the Elvis Presley fan—in fact, all meeting rooms in BE are named around Elvis.

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

Connection with other entrepreneurs, there is so much to learn from others who are on the same path.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Richard Branson, I really admire his ability to take risks both in his career but also the adventurous journeys he has tried over the years.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

I love to surf; I keep a surf van in Tofino filled with surfboards and wetsuits so I can pop up on day trips whenever the waves are good or if my body is telling me its time to unwind and clear my head. There really isn’t a feeling like catching an unbroken green wave.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Supportive and motivating. I do not micromanage. I believe it is my job to ensure the right people are in the right seats then to ensure they have the tools and guidance they need to be successful and help the business grow.

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

My swim suit, too often I take a quick one-day business trip only to find out my hotel has a great pool and I didn’t pack the shorts.