Bret Jenkins runs the Sales & Services department at Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions (Shell & Whitmore). He’s the first to admit the company name is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s important because it reveals an astonishing history and a milestone acquisition.
For the first issue of Mining & Minerals Today, Bret enlightens us on that history, which goes back more than 100 years. “Whitmore first got into mining while building the Panama Canal, and they did it with P&H shovels,” he begins.
“Since then, the company has developed significantly. We have grown into a very specific niche, becoming a leading specialty lubricants manufacturer for mining and rail applications, as well as heavy duty industrial uses.
“These include open gear lubricants like GearMate and SurStick 800, which are used on mobile equipment and meet all the OEM’s requirements. All our products go above and beyond and are proven in the field; they extend the life of gears and keep machines performing above spec.
“On the grease side, we have something truly special,” he contends. “It’s a calcium sulfonate grease with molybdenum disulfide. We call it Matrix M.
“It’s recommended for difficult applications such as extreme pressure, water, heat, or chemical attack. I’ve never seen anything compete with it in the market.”
In April 2021, Shell, one of the largest oil companies in the world, paired with Whitmore to form a joint venture with the intention of servicing two new markets: rail in the US, Canada, and Mexico; and mining in the US.
“We’ve got a strong portfolio of legacy Shell and Whitmore products, as well as a wide-ranging host of services on offer,” Bret details.
“Those services include designing and working on all types of lube systems and also delivering products to pieces of equipment in the field,” he adds. “Mining equipment (draglines and electric shovels, for instance) has onboard bulk tanks that need lubrication.
“If something goes wrong, then we might have to get up at two o’clock in the morning and deliver products directly to those pieces of equipment.
“Another service we pride ourselves on is our auditing of pinch points. We assess where an issue or pinch point may occur in a production process and work to alleviate and solve it.”
When Whitmore joined forces with Shell, everything – and nothing – changed. Bret reflects on the landmark moment: “It is a fifty-fifty joint venture. I came from the Whitmore side, and my boss, Heather Rodgers, came from the Shell side.
“It’s essentially been a process of building a whole new company with two parent firms that have a very long legacy in the mining space. We’re a relatively small company and Shell is huge – so we had to do a lot of things differently.
“Having the support of our parent companies means we now have the power to get our products out there,” he goes on. “We can occupy a top-tier space in the market.
“Despite our rapid growth, we’ve still got our entrepreneurial spirit, which means we’re able to move quickly when making big decisions – sometimes on the fly. The Whitmore identity is still very much there.
“Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions as a company is quite small, and focused on key segments: Rail and Mining,” admits Bret. “We’re always in contact with each other. Everyone always says their company has a family-like culture, but in our case, I really believe that it’s true. Everyone has a voice; no one is a number.”
As the Director of Sales & Service, Bret knows that in order to make Shell & Whitmore a successful business, it must create and support quality products. “By that, I mean we have to always provide best-in-class service for the customer; we always want to be involved,” he details.
“I pride myself on leading a team of great people,” Bret continues. “We really do put our money where our mouth is. We lead with Demonstrated Value Records (DVRs), so we go to our customers and clients at the end of the year and assess ourselves against these DVRs.
“It might be that, over the course of the year, we’ve managed to save them $500,000 on oil drain interval changes or we might have noticed something wrong in their processes and by changing it for them we’re now helping them deliver more value.
“In my role,” he goes on. “I coordinate our people and make sure that they’re always in the right place at the right time, and that we’re all following the same strategy. In doing so, that improves our customers’ experience and impacts our clients’ bottom line.”
As our conversation winds to a close, we’re excited to learn about Shell & Whitmore’s plans for future growth and product development. Fortunately, there’s no one better to tell us all about them than Bret.
“Okay, well, for starters,” Bret says, before quickly pausing. “Sometimes I get too nerdy! So, just stop me if I go full nerd!”
He laughs, but his passion is evident. “First, we have some really exciting new technology on the way, including a new open gear lubricant that doesn’t rely on solids and boundary lubrication.
“It’s a fully synthetic lubricant which can be used for mills,” he reveals. “It has a very high viscosity, meaning it offers full film hydrodynamic protection. We’ve seen a lot of great results in the field and we can’t wait to send it to market.
“Looking further ahead, I just hope our ideas turn out to be successful. There’s strong competition out there, so we need to hold ourselves accountable – especially when it comes to our impact on the environment.
“We’ve got some great customers that love us, and we in turn love them,” he concludes. “I hope that within the next decade we can grow as an organization and better serve them.”