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The Best in the Business: the class of Alberta’s construction industry this year

Meet the 2014 Contractor of the Year Award winners and finalists

May 2, 2014

by Allison Myggland

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AltaPro uses custom tracking software to make the sharing of information between office and field more efficient
Trade Contractor Under $15 Million

Winner: AltaPro Electric
CEO: Bert DeBruin and Jeanette DeBruin
Head Office: Edmonton

Speaking to Bert and Jeanette DeBruin about AltaPro Electric, the business they own and run together, it quickly becomes evident they are strong advocates for better business strategies that benefit their employees as much as their clients. The DeBruins have implemented several new programs since they last won this award in 2011, including the removal of barriers between office workers and those working in the field. “Some businesses have a really big disconnect between the field and the office, whereas ours, we’re hoping to make it seamless,” says Jeanette.

“There’s not so much a hierarchy; we’re trying to make a real community of information.” She and Bert recently decided to purchase laptops, printers and wireless hubs for their field crews, allowing them to communicate in real time with head office. Now, workers in the field can access information from the office much more easily with fewer hindrances, and that ease of communication helps everyone get more work done. The DeBruins have also invested in a system to define Standard Installation Procedures (SIPs) for each and every piece of equipment AltaPro installs. What previously required stacks of instructions to be printed off is now accessible with a Dropbox link. Custom labour tracking software enables workers in the field to save a trip to the office by submitting time sheets wirelessly, using the laptop on site.

That kind of innovation extends beyond the field and into the culture of the company. “I’m all about if anybody has a better idea how to do things we’ll certainly listen, and test it,” Bert says. For example, a monthly peer-to-peer recognition program that rewards workers who have gone that extra mile has been developed for AltaPro employees by the employees themselves. The DeBruins are proud of the program. “What it does is create a higher level of excellence for people,” says Jeanette. “It was brought on by the idea that recognition is really valued by not only management, but the workers. We really found that to retain people they have to feel valued.”

Finalist

Everline Coatings and Services
CEO: John Evans – Calgary

Clear communication and an excellent finished product enabled EverLine to bring visibility to the often overlooked business of line painting for parking lots and roadways. With new products that last longer and reduce the volatile organic compounds released, EverLine is on the forefront in the sector.

Finalist

Falco Electrical Systems
CEO: Miles Gillham – Calgary

With a focus on projects that promote health and fitness, such as the Trico Centre and the Centennial Arena in Calgary, and by providing employees gym and shower facilities in the office, it’s clear that Falco’s team of 68 employees concentrate on health and wellness in all areas of the company.

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NCSG has one of the youngest crane fleets in the industry
Trade Contractor Over $15 Million

Winner: NCSG Crane and Heavy Haul
CEO: Ted Redmond
Head Office: Edmonton

Where Ted Redmond sees opportunity, NCSG Crane and Heavy Haul will be there. “We are looking to grow into areas where we see significant upcoming maintenance or project type work,” says the president and CEO of NCSG. Although proud to be a finalist in last year’s Trade Contractor category, NCSG wasn’t satisfied with second best. With one of the youngest crane fleets in the industry, NCSG is a prime contender in the crane and heavy haul industry. And it’s not content with small contracts or keeping pace with competitors. Redmond is keen to grow the company while the economy is steady. In the past year, NCSG acquired four competitors in locations like Tumbler Ridge, B.C., Wabasca, and Cold Lake that provide further access into coal, upstream oil and gas work, heavy oil, and wind projects.

Local stakeholders hold significant influence over the outcome of a project, and NCSG is committed to fostering working relationships with communities near its operations. Working in remote areas throughout Alberta, NCGS recognized that aboriginal partnerships will be a growing part of the Canadian economy. Redmond says NCSG is working to increase local hiring and to enter a joint venture with an aboriginal community to service companies in northern Alberta.

Working in a dangerous industry means training and apprenticeship programs are an integral part of NCSG’s operations. “In the crane business, if you have a load with a large surface area it can catch the wind and significantly change the characteristics of lifting the load,” Redmond says. So NCSG employs a team of more than 20 people who oversee safety on site and provide company-wide training and resources. Redmond recently invested in a state-of-the-art crane simulator to provide operators with experience handling cranes with heavy loads for complex and potentially dangerous situations. With six screens and the ability to simulate three models of cranes, the machine allows operators the opportunity to safely navigate problems in a controlled environment. As a result, Redmond says, “We’ve had significant improvement not only in our safety program, but in our safety performance.”

Finalist

EPCOR Techonologies
Director of Technology:
Rick Dowell – Edmonton

Wherever you are in Alberta, Epcor has had a hand in electrical work in your area. Recent projects include streetlight replacements in Lethbridge and Edmonton and installation of road weather information stations which provide information to Alberta’s new 511 road report system.

Finalist

Concept Electric
CEO: Dave Kinley – Calgary

Concept Electric runs a full gamut of operations from commercial and industrial electrical design-build projects to a service division that provides technical maintenance for building operations that range from energy management and billing to security services.

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Rockwood Custom Homes
General Contractor Under $50 Million

Winner: Rockwood Custom Homes
CEO: Allison Grafton
Head Office: Calgary

When Allison Grafton and Grainger Nimmo agreed to start Rockwood Custom Homes, they knew that in Calgary, people take great pleasure in swapping war stories about their nightmares in the construction industry. “We said we want to turn that on its head. We want them to be talking about good experiences,” Nimmo says, “and that is what we’ve been able to achieve over the last four and a half years. We want to continue doing that. It’s really setting a new standard. What we do, the way we treat our clients, is unheard of in this industry.”

This year, Rockwood proved its commitment to the client extends beyond the delivery date. In June 2013, as Calgary made preparations for the upcoming Stampede, severe flooding was predicted for areas surrounding the Bow River. “When we saw that there was a potential for flood, we went out and we bought generators and everything we possibly could,” says Grafton. As the floodwaters hit in the dead of the night, Rockwood was prepared. “We had pumps, some generators, protective clothing, fans and dehumidifiers,” says Nimmo. “We had it all purchased within 24 hours.” Three hours after the flooding hit, the Rockwood team was on site and prepared for the disaster. “We were some of the only people in these areas,” says Grafton. Six of Rockwood’s clients were affected by the flooding, some quite severely. “The floods were wildly dangerous times,” Grafton says. “And we were right in there … We felt like we had a civic duty and [responsibility] to our clients that we’d already built for in that area,” says Nimmo.

Despite the increased workload caused by the unprecedented flooding, none of the nine other homes Rockwood had under construction at the time fell behind. With that kind of exceptional service, it’s no wonder Rockwood is in such high demand – they accept only 30 per cent of the clients that approach them. However that may soon change: Rockwood has signed on as the exclusive builder for two new neighbourhood developments, and a subsidiary company is in the works that will focus on high-end multi-family developments. Grafton is confident that their quality will not be compromised. “We are not stepping down to become the same as anybody else,” she says. >

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Finalist

Maverick Oilfield Services
CEO: Chris Challis – Calgary

Maverick has experienced dramatic growth over the last year, in part due to the practice of conducting customer satisfaction interviews once a job is complete. Management uses this feedback to inform policies and to ensure Maverick fulfilled all of the client’s expectations.

Finalist

Carbon Constructors
CEO: Terry Androsoff – Calgary

Carbon Constructors was awarded the contract to renovate the fully functional Merit Contractors Association office. Working under the nose of an organization that operates to provide training for the construction industry is a testament to the high standard of work Carbon Constructors requires.

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GCS began with a single backhoe and a gravel truck
General Contractor Over $50 Million

Winner: GCS Energy Services
CEO: Greg Schmidt
Head Office: Red Deer

Greg Schmidt was an entrepreneurial teenager in 1994 when he started Greg’s Contracting Services Ltd. in his hometown of Hardisty. Back then he was doing small projects with a single backhoe and a gravel truck. The one-man operation has since grown to include three branches across Alberta and Manitoba, with 400 full-time employees. Now known as GCS Energy Services, it’s a specialized industrial oilfield service company with revenues of between $100 million and $150 million each year.

Schmidt credits GCS’s 20 years of success to a good team of management. “They’ve been with me for a long time,” Schmidt says. “We all stick to the same goals and objectives that we lay out. We do monthly management meetings and go over any concerns, issues and discuss them all.” One of the major areas the team has focused on is ‘Success through Safety.’ “It’s been a huge, successful thing for us,” Schmidt says. “There are always things at every construction job to be aware of and notice that are or can be a hazard.” GCS has implemented several unique practices that allow them to stay ahead of the safety curve. Each work rotation requires employees to fill out Hazard ID cards. The data collected allows Schmidt to identify trends and anomalies and enables management to respond appropriately.

The company also sets itself apart with a unique mentorship program. Realizing that it was sitting on a gold mine of knowledge within its existing staff, GCS began the Gold Hand Mentorship program. Identified by a gold star on their hard hats, Gold Hands are experienced field staff who were nominated by supervisors and agree to provide insight and assistance to anyone on site who requests their help. Recognizing that speaking to a supervisor can be intimidating, Schmidt says the Gold Hand mentorship program is freeing new and inexperienced staff to bring up questions and concerns because it’s a peer level program. “I would call us one of the leaders in [safety],” he says. “We have many awards and accolades in that area and we continue to strive to be the best we can be.”

Finalist

Strike Group
CEO: Stephen D. Smith – Calgary

Since last year’s win, Strike has only improved on the practices and policies that put it ahead of the pack. A new comprehensive incident reporting system was rolled out to provide management with feedback about a wide range of incidents with the goal of prevention.

Finalist

Synergy Projects
CEO: Dennis Mozak – St. Albert

As the only general contractor in Alberta registered as ISO certified in environmental and quality management, Synergy is leading the pack in quality control and environmental stewardship. Recently its construction waste recycling program recycled more than 420 tonnes of concrete from a single job site.

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Pidherney’s Inc.
Heavy Civil Contractor

Winner: Pidherney’s Inc.
CEO: Mervyn Pidherney
Head Office: Rocky Mountain House

Pidherney’s Inc. came to be in 1957, just after Mervyn Pidherney sold his Chevy Bel Air to buy a gravel truck. “It was a very tough racket,” Pidherney says. “It was hard to make a living.” With only one source of income, Pidherney soon realized two lessons that would become the backbone to more than 50 years of success: “You couldn’t work for the other fellow – you had to develop your own work,” he says. “And then I had to diversify.” Today, Pidherney’s employs more than 400 full-time people and operates in heavy civil construction, oilfield construction and remediation as well as sales and delivery of gravel and concrete. Diversification at this level has allowed Pidherney’s to successfully complete projects from surveying a site and building access roads to construction of specialized facilities and everything in between.

Pidherney believes strongly in providing the best tools, the latest technology and new equipment to employees. It also provides extensive safety and training programs to staff. In fact, they’re so integral to the business that when the company built a new office in Blackfalds, it included a dedicated training room that accommodates 34 students. “Not one single person goes through the system without going through the training program,” Pidherney says. “And it’s a continual thing.” The company even offers a group benefits plan and a retirement savings program – unusual in an industry where seasonal turnover is the norm. “We want them around for the long haul,” Pidherney says. “We have 30-year employees right now.”

Philanthropy has long been a large part of Pidherney’s workday. “I think I need to give back to the community if I’m taking from there,” he says. “Where I can help, I do.” In fact, 2013 marked the completion of Pidherney and his wife Earlyne’s fundraising efforts to upgrade the Red Deer Curling Centre. The facility was subsequently renamed the Pidherney Centre to thank them for their support. “We work in so many different communities all over Alberta that we try to share a little bit with everybody,” Pidherney says. “We look after the wagon races, we look after 4-H and we look after the hospitals.” Commitment to excellence in client satisfaction, employee reinvestment and community support has enabled Pidherney’s success thus far, but, as he says, “It’s going to go a lot further yet.”

Finalist

PCL Constructors
CEO: Paul Douglas – Calgary

Operating since 1906, PCL has grown into one of Canada’s most prolific contracting organizations. Impressive in-house employee training programs and sustainability directives for waste diversion, energy reduction and equipment maintenance show PCL’s wide-reaching commitment to excellence.

Finalist

Graham Construction
CEO: Grant Beck – Calgary

Graham is a company that has diversified to great success, winning contracts for large commercial developments, transportation infrastructure and unusual projects like the creation of a fish habitat lake near the Athabasca River. Graham employs 1,300 full-time staff across 13 branches in North America.

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