Steve Bassett has reached a business milestone in Hay River.
On Oct. 18, Bassett Petroleum – a trucking company specializing in moving fuel – marked its 30th anniversary.
However, Bassett, the company’s president and co-owner, is low-key about the milestone.
“Maybe it’s just the kind of guy that I am,” he said. “It’s just another day and we’ll just carry on. It’s a tough enough business that, even though you’ve done 30 years, you never have it made. You still have to prove yourself.”
Bassett started from the bottom and worked his way up in Hay River.
“Remember the TV commercial – he liked the company so much he bought it type of thing,” he said. “Well, I started with nothing, with very little.”
After first arriving in Hay River in the early 1970s, Bassett worked as a truck driver for a number of fuel delivery agents, before starting Bassett Petroleum in 1989.
At that time, he was working for a Shell agent.
“And I was the guy that did everything. I unloaded railcars. I refuelled aircraft. I delivered fuel,” Bassett recalled.
When the agent quit, Bassett approached Shell about taking on that role.
“I had to write a resume,” he recalled. “In all the years I’d been in Hay River I never had to write a resume because I always had a job.”
Bassett noted that his late wife, Georgina Bassett, was nervous about the new business venture.
“It wasn’t until she agreed that I pushed it forward,” he said.
So they became co-owners of Bassett Petroleum.
They still had to overcome some doubts from Shell, Bassett recalled. “Shell was reluctant primarily because of my lack of education. I didn’t have a university degree…. And all the previous agents had a post-secondary education.”
However, he noted with a chuckle that one of the previous agents had a degree in optometry.
“I only have the post-secondary of experience,” said Bassett.
In the beginning as Bassett Petroleum was establishing itself, Georgina Bassett worked in the housekeeping section of the old H.H. Williams Memorial Hospital.
“We needed her wage just so we could have something to eat,” recalled Steve Bassett.
Georgina Bassett eventually began to work in the office of the family business.
About 22 years ago, Bassett Petroleum became a fuel delivery agent in Yellowknife after another agent quit and Shell asked Bassett to temporarily help out.
Eventually, Shell asked him to remain its agent in the capital city, even though he was happy just in Hay River.
“They said, ‘This is how it’s going to work. If you don’t want to be the agent in Yellowknife, we’re going to find someone that will take over Hay River and Yellowknife,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘Well, I guess I’m the agent in Yellowknife.'”
The company is now the distributor for Bluewave Energy.
Over the years, Bassett Petroleum has added new locations – Edmonton over 15 years ago and Fort McMurray almost 12 years ago. About a year ago, it even opened a two-person warehouse in Richmond, B.C., to deliver lube oils for a partner company.
And it has evolved into new products, such as aviation fuel, road and airport salt, wood pellets, and even fuel for heli-skiing operations in the mountains of southern B.C.
Currently, Bassett Petroleum has 80 employees.
“I never had a business plan,” Bassett noted. “I just went with my gut.”
At one time or another, Bassett Petroleum has delivered fuel to virtually all NWT communities accessible by all-season or winter roads.
And Bassett still drives truck himself.
In fact, he recently returned from hauling fuel on the Dempster Highway.
“I said this many times, I’m not a businessman,” he explained. “I’m a truck driver with a business. That’s the best way to describe what I am, I guess.”
Bassett said, when he started out in business, one of his goals was that people would respect the company’s work.
“That if people were to deal with us, generally speaking, they would say, ‘Those are good people,'” he said. “Quite truthfully, I didn’t go into this for fame and fortune.”
As for the financial rewards of being in business, Bassett points to the equipment in one of the company’s yards in Hay River.
“Personally, I have very little,” he said. “If you want to know what I’m worth, it’s right in front of you.”
Bassett noted that he and his late wife had a wish that they would create a business for their sons.
“The beginning was to have a family business, and if they would like, the boys could have this business. And three of them they bought into it. They have 51 per cent ownership now,” said Bassett.
That ownership arrangement, which happened in September, leaves Bassett with 49 per cent of the company.
“I’m in a position to be fired now,” he quipped.
Bassett was born in Ottawa, but lived across Canada and even in Europe since his father was in the military and the family moved often.
“I’m from Canada. I’m an army brat. I never had a hometown,” he said, although he now considers Hay River to be home.
Bassett noted he always wanted to come to the North, and the opportunity arose when an uncle moved to Hay River and he followed in 1972 when he was a teenager.
After a brief return to Ontario to finish Grade 12, he came back to Hay River with $100 in his pocket and has lived in the community ever since.
“We’ve done well out of Hay River,” he said. “Hay River has always been one of the busiest places for us.”
The 64-year-old has no plans to retire, but he is now interested to see what his sons will do with Bassett Petroleum.
However, Bassett jokingly noted, “I’m still the boss, no matter what.”