When Don Freschi’s friends tell him he’ll never retire, they are probably right. As CEO of a metal manufacturing company, consultant for new entrepreneurs, and owner of a television fishing show, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Don lives and works in Trail, British Columbia, and his family is deeply rooted in the area.
“My dad was the main safety guy up at Teck, and my mom worked in the school district as an administrator. My grandparents moved here from Italy in the 1920s, and my grandfather worked up at Teck also,” says Don.
As soon as he finished his engineering degree, Don landed in the electronic materials division at Teck (then Cominco).
“So that’s three generations. I worked there for seven years before I started my own business.”
After decades of experience running multiple businesses, in 2015, Don launched Fenix Advanced Materials, a clean technology company that manufactures high-purity metals.
A Bright Future in Trail
When Don started Fenix seven years ago, he didn’t know the company would get into electric vehicle (EV) batteries. But the timing was right, and the company’s work was in line with EV battery development.
“We just stumbled into it. It was kind of a coincidence,” says Don. “We produce ultra-high purity metals used in our new next-generation EV batteries. We’re developing them with the University of British Columbia Okanagan. We came to a partnership agreement to work on new lithium batteries.”
Don is excited to be part of creating cutting-edge batteries.
“We’re on the third generation of the battery now, and we’ve put in more novel materials to make them bigger and better and get them ready for sale.”
Hooked on Fishing
Testing the business waters and reeling in clients is a quality applied to other areas of Don’s life. A lifelong angler, Don loves fishing in any capacity.
“I always have fun fishing. My grandson is three, and he’s getting into fishing. I take him. It’s awesome.”
His favourite fishing spot is not a secret.
“The Columbia river around Trail, it’s world-class, one of the best.”
For six to eight weeks of the year, Don works filming and editing a fishing television series called Sports Fishing on the Fly. Over the show’s twenty-seven-year run, he has noticed changes around him.
“The fishing is what brought (the changes) to life. We had fewer fish going to spawn every year, and our steelhead and salmon were affected. We saw declines in all the stocks in the last ten years. We have seen crazy weather in the places where we go fishing. We’ve had extreme weather conditions. I told my brother, ‘we’ve got to do something, this is crazy.’”
As a grandparent, Don is worried for the next generation.
“I felt sad because it’s bad for the kids. I thought, ‘holy cow, we better do something for the grandkids, or they won’t have anything.’ What if I can’t even bring my grandkid out fishing because there’s no fish? That was a real a-ha moment for sure.”
So when the opportunity arose for Fenix advanced materials to get into electric vehicle battery materials creation, Don was on board.
“It’s tough with climate change and all the different things happening in nature. We’ve just got to fight climate change in the best way we can.”
Good, Clean Jobs
There is another side of battery production that Don knows well: recycling.
“(Fenix) always did a lot of recycling. We make the batteries, and since we know how to make them, we will be able to recycle the batteries. We want to make sure it’s a full loop.”
By “full loop,” Don means that his company will be in charge of breaking down the waste it creates in the EV batteries. What Don is referring to is an idea called a ‘circular economy’ where products are designed to avoid waste, and when waste is present, it is recaptured and used again.
“Everybody is becoming aware that we need a circular economy. More companies are looking at recycling and keeping things clean,” says Don.
Don would love to expand his operations in the Trail area.
“In the future, we will definitely look at expanding. We have to decide where we’re going to build and recycle the batteries. We can’t say we’d for sure do them here, but Trail is a great fit.”
He likes the idea of bringing more good quality jobs to Trail.
“These are high-paying tech jobs, and usually, when people have stability, they stay and live in a beautiful area like Trail. So that’s the goal. We could have hundreds of employees, who knows? It’s very cool.”
Don loves working and living in Trail.
“That’s where I want to be.”