The Best in the Business: Contractor of the Year Awards winners and finalists
The five corporate winners of the Contractor of the Year Awards
by Sam Macdonald
Trade Contractor Under $15 Million
Winner: Everline Coatings and Services
CEO: John Evans
Head Office: Calgary
When John Evans started Everline Coatings out of his Calgary backyard, his main goal was to revitalize the industry and do what bigger companies did but more efficiently and on a smaller scale.
Starting out painting streets and parking lots, Evans stays a step ahead of other businesses by innovating new technology and techniques to create better value for clients. One such innovation is the provision of more durable paints, designed to last much longer than what the competition can offer. “What we did was produce efficiently and prove ourselves in the city,” Evans says, “We’re proud to be recognized by the City of Calgary, and have prime contractor status with them, as they move to install material for their crosswalks and bike lanes. With their paint crews, they have to paint four times a year, whereas with my material, that changes to once.”
Evans’ efforts to get a reputable brand have paid off, with EverLine showing steady growth since its beginning in 2012. The company has taken on a broader variety of jobs, building solid relationships with clients along the way. Evans admits that it’s been an exciting time, as the company has taken on multiple high-profile projects such as the renumbering of the Calgary International Airport (involving the change of over 800 signs and markings), the restriping of the Bow Tower, which involved a customized re-painting of the building’s entire six-level parkade, and the rehabilitation of the Calgary Stampede after the 2013 flood.
“With each project there’s been some sort of critical thinking or problem that’s helped us grow,” says Evans.
To continue its growth, EverLine continues to adapt new methods and technology into its repertoire, proving itself in the market. “When we started in parking lots, we usually worked at night and we had the area to ourselves,” Evans says. “Now we’re operating in more residential neighbourhoods and major roadways.” He says the latter kind of work introduces complications and opportunities to adapt that include traffic and areas that are more complicated to navigate than an empty parking lot.
EverLine takes a tactical approach to operations, with thorough plans for roadway work. He talks about the heavy planning required on a night when 400 stencils for lines and wayfinding marks were painted through a series of Calgary neighbourhoods in a “multi-pronged approach” involving fast-paced collaborative work between a co-ordinated team of drivers, painters, and safety personnel. “We planned it like a general would do with a table of maps,” he says. “It was a crazy smooth motion, keeping things moving forward. We blew them away with how much we did in an evening.”
To make better use of the cold, snowy months of winter, EverLine has moved business indoors as well, painting safety lines in warehouses to keep busy in what is usually a season of downtime for line painters.
“We started specializing further,” Evans says. “We’re bringing the research and design we used for outdoor line painting to interiors, because they’re two different worlds.”
EverLine has even begun to do some of its own a preparatory work. Rather than hiring subcontractors to street sweep before a painting job, the company purchased the necessary equipment to do the work itself. Evans looks forward to making EverLine a full franchise, opening a branch in Edmonton, and building upon policies and technology in place to continue growth.
CEO: Don Bunting – Edmonton
With departments that are individually managed and specifically trained to specialize in the many technical aspects of a project, Action Electrical has all its bases covered. The company has a strong dedication to safety, particularly through its testing department. Those things, along with a tradition of employee retention, have helped it adapt to a gamut of specific demands in its sector.
CEO: Bill Knight – Edmonton
Starting in 1999 with four trucks and four employees, B&B has seen tremendous growth and now offers disaster recovery, abatement and waste diversion. In its growth, it has acquired significant technology to expand and provide cost-effective services. The company pays specific attention to the needs of customers, employees and the community, listening to input and offering valued service.
Trade Contractor Over $15 Million
Winner: Muth Electrical Management
CEO: Don Muth
Head Office: Edmonton
Muth Electrical is focused on building and maintaining a strong team that works together at all levels to create top-quality results. Founder and president Don Muth says the company’s teamwork and commitment to do the right thing give it a competitive edge.
Muth Electrical’s culture extends back to its beginnings in Muth’s basement in 1997, when he and his wife started a full-service contracting business. With strong lines of communication in the field and office, the company took six months to develop a list of best practices to streamline work, figure out which business risks were worth taking, and improve workflow. “We also asked ourselves ‘Why do we exist?’ ” Muth says. “The answer we came up with was to empower the future. We wanted to build an enduring organization.”
Part of the forward-thinking dynamic of the company is a program to develop its own employees with internal mentorship and external training. Over the past year, Muth Electrical promoted five of its own workers to upper management positions, building careers and solidifying its team while sticking to deadlines.
The company’s approach to keeping and developing a good team is an effective one – the two first employees that Muth hired still work with him.
Muth Electrical has faced challenges like partner contractors lagging behind schedule but the company exercised its collaborative spirit, worked with the construction manager of the project and pushed to have the job done with less than expected manpower and under budget.
“Contracting is the riskiest business you can do,” Muth says. “We are constantly problem-solving. Whatever decision we make, whatever we do, we want it to take one step more than what’s traditionally done.”
When solving tough problems, Muth emphasizes the importance of the company making decisions together. “We want to make sure we have a meeting of the minds,” he says. “Our culture is to be very comfortable bringing other team members in to help, and that’s powerful.”
CEO: Hubert Debruin – Edmonton
Innovation, collaboration, cost optimization, a focus on safety and technology embracement have helped AltaPro make a name for itself. These factors come together in the planning stages, when AltaPro models projects from drafting to completion using Building Information Modeling, a system that allows employees on all levels to collaborate effectively. A strong technical training regimen equips AltaPro’s employees to fully use the technology
at their disposal to create the best product possible.
Arnett & Burgess Pipeliners
CEO: Tom Arnett – Calgary
Arnett & Burgess has weathered eight economic cycles over five decades in the oil and gas industry. Between 2012 and 2014, the company has seen unprecedented growth, with record revenues in 2014 and 226 projects done on time and on budget. With entire families spanning generations working as employees and high quality and safety standards, the company excels in the setup, maintenance, repair, and even shutdown of pipelines.
General Contractor Over $50 Million
Winner: Kemway Contractors
CEO: Terry Kemp
Head Office: Edmonton
Kemway is a family company that started out small and has been growing steadily while weathering all economic conditions over its 25 years in operation. In the last five years, the company has made a substantial effort to grow, hiring new talent and developing new talent from within its own ranks, holding all of its employees to a high standard.
CEO Terry Kemp attributes Kemway’s growth to five core values: commitment to people, teamwork and collaboration, excellence and professionalism, integrity, and a focus on results. “We formalized [our core values] three years ago,” he says. “We got the team together and said: ‘What do you guys think we’re all about?’ We live our corporate lives and personal lives by those values, and use them in decision-making. It’s empowering for the team.”
An important component of Kemway’s success has been a focus on safety that has been elevated to a culture within the company. “We were probably one of the first smaller companies to get a core safety program,” Kemp says. “We continued to train our people, and got to the point where we’ve had our own safety guy for the last six months. Going from hiring that part of the work out to actually having it in-house was a big step for us.”
Kemp notes the importance of setting a good example at the leadership level for his employees. “It has to come from upstairs,” he says. “If we don’t think it’s important, our employees are not going to think it’s important.”
Kemway’s safety policies and values have helped it navigate the challenges of some of its more unique projects, like the various warehouses and offices built in extreme cold and requiring several major changes over the course of the work, or the a wholesale facility in Leduc, which required constant correspondence with decision-makers based in Europe.
Kemway focuses specifically on growing the skills of its workers. Kemp describes the company’s growth as “organic” because many of its employees started out young and inexperienced, growing their skills over the course of their careers with Kemway. “We’ve hired [workers] as young people, trained them up, and now they’re superintendents or project managers, and estimators,” he says.
Kemway has focused on delivering the same reliably good results for clients; Kemp believes this consistency has earned the company recognition. “What I’m most proud of is we haven’t changed our focus, our quality or our work for the customer,” Kemp says. “Looking at a project, it’s consistent all across the board. I’m proud of our people, who take the bull by the horns.”
General Manager: Kevin Lapes – Edmonton
A strong reputation in and around Edmonton has helped entrench Pemco as a reputable company in the city’s construction industry. With solid employee retention, open communication and a record of building and maintaining important infrastructure within Edmonton, Pemco is a leader in the sector.
Maverick Oilfield Services
CEO: Christopher Challis – Calgary
Maverick Has been a growing force in the oil and gas industry for over 36 years. In its time it has never sacrificed the standards it upholds in safety, employee development and the quality of the work it does. This dedication is evident in the variety of jobs it has taken on, including oil and gas extraction facilities and pipelines throughout Western Canada.
General Contractor Over $250 Million
Winner: PCL Construction
CEO: Paul Douglas
Head Office: Edmonton
PCL Construction, the largest general contractor in Canada, prides itself in doing projects of all sizes. Best known for its larger projects, like the Rogers Place arena, currently under construction in downtown Edmonton, and the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Grande Prairie, the company has a presence across Canada and beyond.
President and chief operating officer of Canadian and Australian operations Dave Filipchuk says the keys to PCL’s success are proper planning and mitigation of risks. The company has built a reputation for navigating the complexities and necessities of each job by involving project management and supervision in the bidding process. “Often the same people who prepare the bid do the building,” Filipchuk says. “We like that model, because it’s a key to success. Ideally the people who do the estimate do the job.”
PCL is responsible for work on many of Alberta’s most important civil and private buildings and structures. These include Edmonton’s High Level Bridge and Calgary’s Bonnybrook Sewage Treatment Plant.
One of the most demanding and significant jobs PCL has recently undertaken was the construction of the Airport Trail Tunnel in Calgary, a passage built to accommodate six lanes of traffic and two LRT lines. PCL worked as a managing partner to several companies under the pressure of an extremely tight deadline. The company contended with adverse soil conditions and electrical complications to build the underpass before a new runway was completed. “The planning and scheduling was super-critical,” Filipchuk says. “We assembled a team quickly and worked with designers to make something constructible within a rapid period of time.”
PCL’s ability to make the best of a situation extends to where and when it does business. “We find that when one location goes into a slump, another is often booming,” Filipchuk says. “We have employees that are willing to move to where the work is.”
Straddling the lines between commercial and industrial construction, the company goes out of its way to work where there is a need, and has adapted to whatever need has arisen. This has led to PCL extending its business across Canada and internationally, into the U.S., the Caribbean and Australia.
Filipchuk credits the company’s workforce for its adaptability. “That has helped us keep growing, giving workers growth challenges when we work to meet new needs,” he says. “We have longtime stable employees, so the people executing the work are not hired on a job-by-job basis. They’ve been with us for a long time.”
Filipchuk says one strength of the company is its employee ownership. Originally a family company called Poole Construction, it was bought by its employees in 1977, rebranded PCL Construction, and has only continued to grow and diversify.
CEO: David Lemay – Calgary
Working general and trade contracting since 1911, Stuart Olson has completed integral projects like the restoration of the Shaw Court and headquarters in Calgary after an electrical fire and flood in 2012. With a guiding corporate social responsibility program, and development programs for its employees in skill upgrading, apprenticeship and management, there’s plenty of room for workers to grow and prosper.
CEO: Bill Elkington – Leduc
JV Driver is a company that has done work in almost every sector, having completed projects of various sizes in oil and gas, petrochemical, energy, forest and mining environments. Prioritizing safety and innovation, the company has encouraged a spirit of teamwork among its employees in an effort to continue to build great things, whether those great things are relations between employees or multimillion-dollar projects.
CEO: Tom Redl – Edmonton
Chandos collaborates with all of its clients on their ideas, and takes an environmentally conscious approach to construction, specializing in green buildings and energy retrofitting. The firm has turned a profit every year of its operation so far, and prides itself on a human approach to contracting. Being an employee-owned company, Chandos strives to improve its operations by encouraging feedback, from both within and outside the company.