Kiely MacLean isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty – and now, it’s paying off
LIFE IS ALL ABOUT CHOICES. Take the one that Kiely MacLean made when she graduated from the international business program at Nancy-Université in 2011. At the time, there was a job opportunity that would have kept her in Europe, where she’d already had the good fortune of travelling and exploring. Instead, she chose to take a job cleaning oil tanks in Lloydminster. “Within a week I had gone from France to Lloydminster, working on the ground in coveralls, boots and a hard hat. It was a culture shock,” says MacLean, who’s now the CEO of the recently created RJ MaClean Tank Services.
At the time, her father Greg was in Alberta running a crew doing tank cleaning and he needed more help. Kiely thought the hard labor would be a great way to pay for the globetrotting she’d been doing. What she didn’t know at the time was that the experience in the field would play a key role in her future. “When I started, I was really green. I didn’t even know what a pipe wrench was. But I’m really lucky that I had great mentorship. Within a day on the crew I felt like I was with family,” she says. “I attribute my abilities to that fieldwork. If you want to be a leader in any company, you need to know what happens on the ground level. It gave me the context and ability to see the whole picture.”
It didn’t take long before she was a project manager running her own tank cleaning crew. She then took on a businesses development role for an Azerbaijan-based tank cleaning company, which she helped find work for in Canada. That experience led her to partnering with her father in 2013 on MaClean Tank Services, a consulting company that helped international clients manage tank cleaning projects. “We were consulting all over the world, in Brunei, in Kazakhstan and all over Africa,” she says. “We were providing the consulting services and our clients started to ask if we could bring the equipment too.”
With the company poised to grow, they connected with RJ Oil, which had developed an oil-water separation technology that would be instrumental in cutting down the amount of water needed to clean tanks. Together, they formed RJ MaClean Tank Services in August, with the MacLeans providing the expertise in the robotics and RJ Oil providing its oil separation technology. “In the field, I was finding that even though we were recycling the water, the client was still sending it for disposal. Our concept here is using separation technology, so we can reuse the same water and give the client back their oil,” she says. “It’s essentially in situ remediation.”
The new Edmonton-based company has already wrapped up its first major project and, with the tank-cleaning season winding down for winter, it is now looking to secure jobs in South America, Europe and in Vancouver, where temperatures are still mild enough for cleaning jobs. Moving forward, MacLean is aiming to grow the company into a leader in optimizing water usage. “We want to be a company spearheading changes for typical tankcleaning processes and remediation. Water is such an important resource and we’re seeing that worldwide,” she says. “In Canada there will be more of an effort by the stakeholders in the energy industry to optimize our water usage. We’re already thinking about that here.”