One course on Engineering Entrepreneurship during his final year of study in the Mechanical Engineering Program at the University of Waterloo was enough to convince Mike Gribbons that he wanted to own a business. Today, Mike is the proud owner of Synergy Controls Corporation, a company that is based out of Sudbury with locations in Sault Ste. Marie, Timmins, Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Synergy Controls provides process control equipment for mining, pulp and paper, steel, water & waste, chemical, agrifood, pharma, and beverage.

Mike was the special guest March 17, 2008 on “Inside Education”, a local talk show on CKLU 96.7 FM that is broadcast live every Monday evening at 6 p.m. from the studios at Laurentian University. Robert Kirwan, an Independent Education & Career Development Specialist who operates a private practice called The Greater Sudbury Learning Clinic, is the producer and host of the program which consists of an engaging conversation with a person from a different career field each week. The purpose of the show is to provide listeners with some valuable down-to-earth insight and information which may prove helpful for those who are looking for tips and strategies that will help them become more successful in their current or future careers.  

Mike was born and raised in New Sudbury. He went to St. Raphael School up to Grade 8 and then moved on to Lasalle Secondary School where he graduated in 1978. He credits some excellent teachers, guidance counsellors and administrators for showing him that science and math could be fun and that it was important to "do what you love and be passionate about your work."

After graduating from Lasalle, Mike decided to enroll in the Mechanical Engineering Co-op Program at the University of Waterloo. His uncle was an engineer at Falconbridge at the time, and Mike thought he would like that kind of career. He eventually worked for three terms at INCO and was actually being groomed for a position upon graduation when the company was forced to downsize and restructure. That removed the chances of Mike finding employment with the mining giant, so he did his next work term at Dofasco. Mike then found employment with a company called Arriscraft in a Design Engineering role. This was a company that made artificial stone, but he didn't like the idea of being at a drawing board all day long, so he and his wife decided to come back to Sudbury.


Mike's Father-in-Law worked for INCO in the electrical department. He had always had an idea about starting up a business making electrical wound coils for industrial plants, so Mike teamed up with him to start up a basement manufacturing business. Thus was born Canny Coils, where Mike would spend the next three years. Mike's father-in-law continued to work at INCO, so the two of them would meet in the evenings and on weekends to discuss strategies for the business. Mike would manufacture the products and go out making cold calls to sell the coils to potential customers. 

Mike credits his father-in-law with being his most influential mentor. "He taught me how to sell, to organize myself and that work ethic and honesty were two of the most important characteristics of anyone who wanted to be successful in business."


Mike was soon recruited by Romatec, a company that sold pumps, valves and other instrumentation equipment. He was responsible for developing their business in Northern Ontario, so Mike found himself in charge of operations in Sudbury and Thunder Bay. He claims that he learned a great deal about running a business from 1986 to 1992 while with Romatec. However, one of the things that has always driven Mike Gribbons is his desire to "push himself to new challenges."

Therefore, it wasn't long before Mike decided that it was time for him and his wife to give up a combined income of over $150,000 a year and risk everything to start up their own business. "It was hard at first because so many people around us wondered why we would give up everything we had. We were living a comfortable life and seemed to have a perfect life, but it just wasn't enough. I wanted more of a challenge"


Mike hasn't looked back since establishing his corporation in 1992. In fact, he has built up his business to just under $10 million per year in total sales and has a staff of 14 working for the company. With his recent expansion into Manitoba he is poised to take Synergy Controls Corporation nationally.

"Self-motivation is the key to success," Mike explained. "Once you find something you are passionate about and you are good at, it is up to you to conquer your fears and continuously expand outside of your comfort zone. I have found over my lifetime that fear of failure traps so many people. They just have to realize that if you are not failing you are not trying hard enough."


Mike encourages young people to consider a career in sales. "We are all primarily sales persons. We are always selling something, especially ourselves. If you have a positive attitude, a lot of curiousity, and you like to work with people, you can be successful in sales. For myself, I also like pushing the envelope. I like to win and I enjoy being part of a team."

Mike identified several things that make sales a good career choice:

  1. You create long-term relationships and develop lasting friendships with many different people.
  2. Helping people make good decisions is very satisfying.
  3. It is a career that is varied and exciting, with new opportunities coming your way every week.
  4. You are continuously learning to keep current in your field.
  5. You are remunerated based on results and not on the hours worked. This means that your earning capacity is never tapped out. You can always earn more as you develop better sales skills.
  6. You will never be out of work if you can master the art of selling.


Mike Gribbons has learned a lot in life and business over the years and wants to pass on some of this knowledge to young people who will soon be starting out on their own.

  1. Make sure you find good mentors. They don't have to be people you are in contact with, but you really should have role models to look up to and to learn from. If you can find a "career coach" to talk to and to guide you as you are entering your career it will serve you well. A good mentor will transfer his knowledge to you so that you have a better chance of achieving success.
  2. Get into the habit of doing more than you promise you are going to do, but don't promise more than you can deliver. Young people sometimes like to promise too much and then they can't deliver. It is better for you to know your limitations and then give more than expected.
  3. Be honest. If you are honest you will be trusted and in sales there is nothing more important to success than being trusted.
  4. Treat people fairly. Canadians value fairness as one of the most important traits of a person. If people think you are not treating them fairly it will have disastrous results.
  5. Treat your employees the way you would like to be treated. If you are fair with them they will be fair with you. Today one of the most expensive parts of being in business is training and retaining employees. If you are not fair, they will leave you to work elsewhere.
  6. Continue learning. It has been said that your "real learning" starts after your formal education ends. Once you are in business you understand what that means.
  7. Always be willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Do things that you feel hesitant about. Don't be afraid of new challenges. You will be surprised at how much you are capable of if you just push yourself to try new things.
  8. Be proactive. No one is going to wait for you to show up. You have to set the ball rolling in sales so do what needs to be done and be persistent. In sales, when a customer says "no", he does not necessarily mean "no". He may just mean that he does not have enough information or reason to agree with you at this stage. Continue giving him information and more reason to agree.
  9. Do what you love and love what you do! You spend more time in a work environment than anywhere else in your life. If you don't love it...leave it!
  10. Set goals and review them often. If you don't have goals you don't know where you are going.


Mike feels that it is important for Canadians to prepare for a future that is going to be very challenging. "We have different goals and aspirations in Canada than in many other parts of the world. With the global economy we are finding that some of the fastest growing economies in the world are Brazil, Russia, India and China. People from those countries have a tremendous work ethic and many of them want to come to Canada and the United States to go to school and to work. In Canada we are going to have to improve the way we are training our employees and our youth for the future. We are going to have to find ways of transferring the "intellectual property" of our retiring employees so that our young people can benefit from their experience and knowledge. Our future depends on it and if we are not prepared, others will come in and take away jobs and careers that are there for us to grab."

If you want to speak to Mike Gribbons about anything in this article, or if you would like to find out more about Synergy Controls Corporation, visit the web site at: 


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