Expect the unexpected might well describe Shane Belvin’s career path to date.
The vocational journey of Belvin, who is currently managing director at Nobel Weather Associates, into the world of snow removal began unexpectedly. According to Belvin, September 2008 saw the collapse of Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers, and with it, the international banking system. Belvin was working for Lehman Brothers at the time, and though the collapse didn’t end his banking career, he knew the world of investment banking wasn’t the one for him.
With the recession came backstabbing, deceit, and rampant self-interest, which directly countered Belvin’s values. Lehman Brothers was bought by Barclays, and Belvin said the staff of his Chicago office began to crumble around him.
He immediately started plotting his next move with two primary criteria:
1) His next job had to be for a small business.
2) He wanted to exit the culture of expensive suits and polished shoes to get his hands dirty once again. “My career began in the US Army and there was some rugged labor missing from my daily routine,” he says.
Lucky for him, a close friend and fellow veteran had been offered a unique job opportunity and reached out to Belvin in return. Bill Noyes, who was in the property services business, was looking to “shake things up” at Mac’s Property Management Services, in business for almost 30 years and employer of 25 full-time employees, which serves the Northwest Chicago suburbs.
Their services, provided to about 100 properties, include landscaping, sweeping, and external maintenance and repairs, but the bulk of their profits had come from snow removal.
“The owner wanted me to tackle a whole slew of issues, from re-evaluating the way we did business to something as simple as overhauling the website. One of the first things we addressed was the uncertainty that the weather heaps upon snow and ice management providers,” Belvin says.
“Using my background in engineering and finance, we were able to use financial products called derivatives to protect ourselves from the ups and downs of the weather. We were able to offer our customers fixed price seasonal contracts without bearing the risk in a season of high snowfall. These derivatives would pay us out in these high years, keeping us in business while ensuring that the customer didn’t break their banks either.
“When we quickly figured out the difficulty in scaling a removal operation’s labor and equipment needs, we decided to divide the business into two parts. One offered the landscaping and snow removal services while the other offered the consulting and financial protection services,” he adds.
This spawned the company’s new business, Nobel Weather Associates, started close to six years ago. Though they still do weather protection for Mac’s Property Management and a number of properties throughout the Midwest, they have since expanded to properties and snow removal providers in the Rockies and the East Coast. The two companies now work in partnership.
Nobel Weather Associates helps both service providers and property managers, ensuring a high level of service without ruining either person’s budget. It serves as a consulting business, helping snow removal providers analyze how winter weather affects their business and helping them do something productive with that information.
“We sign the contract and provide service no matter how much it snows. We are buying protection from weather. We were paid out if it snowed. In high snow years customers still got great service and we got paid out for our insurance policy to cover labor, fuel, costs, etc.,” he says.
“(Nobel Weather Associates) provides them with financial confidence, even though the snow removal business can have its seasonal ups and downs,” he says. Nobel Weather Associates has two full-time employees, about 20 active clients. Unexpected journeys
His start in snow removal has given him the opportunity to help other sectors affected by the weather, from ski areas to grocery stores.
“In the end, my professional career has taken me on a series of unexpected journeys, from the desert of Iraq to the aerospace industry designing equipment for NASA. The one I am most thankful for is how I stumbled into snow plowing back in 2008,” he says.
“There aren’t a lot of people doing what we’re doing in the weather protection or weather risk industry and applying it to snow removal,” he says of the multimillion dollar industry that impacts energy and agriculture. “It’s dominated by people in oil, gas, utilities, and farming. They understand how weather impacts their business. We’re unique in taking this industry and bringing it to new places. It’s a huge industry serving end users. What we do is not new by any means - but it is new to the people we’re talking to.”
Many people in the snow removal industry, according to Belvin, refer to themselves as “snow farmers” - just praying for good seasons. “But there is something you can do about it. People who are most successful aren’t just protecting themselves; they’ve figured out ways this can change their business.
“If you can take up risk for your customers that can help you grow your business,” he adds.
Special thanks to our Greatest Story Never Told contest sponsor: Stephanie Skernivitz is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.