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Ledcor Construction’s vice-president Bob Walker is 2012’s Construction Person of the Year

PCL, Emcee Construction and Management, Flatiron Canada, Alberta Glass Company and United Decorating round out the winners for the 2012 Contractor of the Year Awards

Apr 1, 2012

by Alix Kemp

There’s more to the construction business than cement and steel, and nobody knows that more than the winners of the Alberta Contractor of the Year Awards. These companies have been building a better Alberta, working on some of the most challenging and impressive construction projects in the province and, at the same time, committing to the highest standards in safety, environmental initiatives and charity. Their hard work, expertise and creativity earned them recognition at the awards gala on March 29, but their time in the spotlight isn’t quite over. Here’s a closer look at the winners and finalists and what they’ve been doing to build their companies and the province’s future.

Construction Person of the Year

Winner: Robert Walker
Vice-president, Ledcor Construction, Edmonton


Robert Walker
Photograph Curtis Comeau at the Art Gallery Of Alberta

By 2015, Edmonton’s city centre will be a very different place, and we’ll have Bob Walker to thank – or to blame.

The vice-president of Ledcor Construction’s building division for northern Alberta, Walker has paved the way, sometimes literally, for some of the city’s most controversial projects, starting with the City Hall project, completed in 1992. Most recently, his company won the contract to build the Royal Alberta Museum and has spoken in favour of the downtown arena project, both slated for completion within three years. Unlike some contractors who shy away from those visible public projects, Walker has made them the centre of his career.

To hear Walker tell it, it was practically coincidence. After he put in a bid for the City Hall project in 1988, the City of Edmonton asked him to handle the media until it could hire a public relations company. Walker turned out to be so good at doing the press that the city didn’t bother hiring anyone else, and Walker discovered that he loved the challenge. “They’re never boring,” Walker says of the controversial projects. “If I could work just downtown, my life would be perfect.”

Walker followed up the City Hall project by working on the Rexall Place renovation, Telus Field, the River Cree Casino, the Art Gallery of Alberta and, most recently, the Epcor Tower, the first downtown highrise office tower in 20 years. Walker’s involvement in the Royal Alberta Museum will also be anything but quiet. After the designs were revealed, critics were quick to criticize the building for being too bland and box-like. Then the project was suddenly in question last October when the federal government wavered on its commitment to kick in funding. But Walker didn’t have any doubts. “I’ve done this before,” he says. “We weren’t going to build a new City Hall; we weren’t going to build the art gallery; we weren’t going to be able to build the Epcor Tower.” But just as all those projects went through, so, too, did the Royal Alberta Museum when Ottawa reaffirmed its pledge to partially fund the project.

“It was the best thing to happen to this project,” Walker says of the two-week delay. “People thought they were going to lose it, and when they think they’re going to lose it and then get it back, all of a sudden it’s a great project. Now nobody’s complaining about the price and nobody’s complaining about the design.”

When he’s not causing a furor with his projects, Walker spends his time helping other organizations do some building of their own. Right now, he’s on the board for the Kids with Cancer Society and The Banff Centre, and he’s involved with the City of Edmonton’s business advisory committee, among others. “These places are looking for a Builder Bob … who knows how to make the first call – how do they renovate, how do they decide between renovating and building new, the whole process,” Walker says. It’s a position he’s happy to fill. It’s also why he has been recognized by all three levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal – for his community contributions.

Jamey Singh, Ledcor’s manager of major projects, has worked with Walker on most of the big projects he has undertaken since Walker joined the company 14 years ago. “What he’s really good at is knowing what buttons to push, or which people to talk to,” Singh says, crediting Walker for helping resolve the Royal Alberta Museum funding issue in two weeks when it could have taken months. He also says Walker’s positive attitude has been a good influence for his co-workers.

That’s not hard to imagine – Walker is almost stubborn in his optimism and hardly has time for the negativity that has surrounded some of his work. “A lot of people are just negative,” he says. “They think taxes are going up, and they think it’s a waste of money, but most of the people that don’t say anything are the people for it, because they’re busy with their day-to-day lives, accomplishing something.” Walker’s accomplishments speak for themselves and let him deflect some of that pessimism. “Everybody loves the art gallery. Everybody loves the baseball stadium, the City Hall, Epcor Tower – and so you can fall back on that, and say, ‘Yeah, OK, bitch and complain all you want, but I think you’re going to really like this. So just be patient.’”

Construction on the Royal Alberta Museum is due to begin this summer, so we won’t have to be patient for long.

Finalist

Les LaRocque
President, Botting and Associates Alberta – Calgary

Les LaRocque has been president of Botting & Associates Alberta since 1989 and has grown the company from a small business with only 10 employees to one of the largest mechanical contractors in Western Canada. He’s known for his commitment to health and safety, and for his role in advancing the workplace through technology and human resource innovations. LaRocque is also involved with a number of community organizations, either as an individual or through the company, including Kids Up Front, the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Calgary Zoological Society.

Finalist

Bill Knight
Founder and CEO, B&B Demolition – Edmonton

Bill Knight has been instrumental in building the reputation of demolition as a trade and business. Knight’s active role in the Edmonton community and construction industry has led B&B Demolition to be involved with several local organizations, such as the Entrepreneurs Organization and the Edmonton Regional Safety Committee. Personally, Knight has supported a number of charitable organizations, from the Edmonton Humane Society to the Youth Emergency Shelter Society.

General Contractor over $50 million

Winner: PCL Constructors
Edmonton
CEO: Paul Douglas


PCL led Alberta’s first P3 project, the southeast leg of the Anthony Henday ring road around Edmonton

How do you run a company with 3,400 owners? For Paul Douglas, CEO of PCL Constructors, there’s a better question: how do you run it with only one? “I would shudder to think how you would do that if it wasn’t employee-owned,” he says. “I know I’ve got 3,400 other owners thinking the same way I do. That lets me sleep at night.”

Douglas credits employee ownership for helping the contractor survive 2008’s economic downturn. With offices across Canada, the U.S. and now Australia, PCL’s decentralized, employee-driven approach allows independent units to react to their own marketplaces without blind orders from the head office in Edmonton. “The engine and the power is on all those employee ownerships who will work … as owners in survival mode going out to do what’s required to run their business,” Douglas says.

Another part of PCL’s strategy was the move into public-private partnership (P3s) as the market was beginning to flounder. PCL led Alberta’s first P3 project, the southeast leg of the Anthony Henday ring road around Edmonton. Since then, those partnerships have become an enormous part of the contractor’s business across Canada and the U.S. It was a natural step for PCL, says Douglas, and one the company was well-suited to take. “One of the greatest fears of all investors is construction risk,” he says, “and that’s our risk, that’s what we do the best, and we have the balance sheet to put our money where our mouth is.”

PCL hasn’t just been spreading its wealth to P3 projects. In 2011, the company donated $2 million to Edmonton’s United Way, and in February it announced a contribution to the Red Cross International Disaster relief fund. While “community building” is often a literal description of the company’s infrastructure projects, it’s also something that’s important to the company as a philanthropic cause. “We strive to excel in everything we do,” says Douglas. “Whether it’s construction leader, industry leader or community leader, that’s what we want to do.”

Finalist

Clark Builders
CEO: Paul Verhesen – Edmonton

Clark Builders has been specializing in large- scale infrastructure projects across Alberta for 38 years. It recently sold a partnership interest in the company to American behemoth Turner Construction, a relationship that will allow Clark Builders to work on bigger and better projects in the province and abroad. Recent projects include Calgary’s Atlantic Avenue Art Block and the new Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton.

Finalist

Graham Group
CEO: Bill Flaig – Calgary

Graham Group is Canada’s sixth-largest construction company. They are an environmentally conscious builder with extensive experience in general contracting, design-build, construction management and P3 projects. They recently worked on the Anthony Henday ring road around Edmonton, the Chinook Regional Hospital Parkade in Lethbridge and the Mitchell Business Centre in Calgary.

General Contractor under $50 million

Winner: Emcee Construction and Management
Edmonton
CEO: Mark Lindquist


Emcee doesn’t make a big deal of its environmental practices. “It’s just something we do,” says CEO Mark Lindquist.

Supposedly, bigger is better – and in some cases, that’s certainly true. For Emcee Construction and Management, though, being small has its own set of advantages. That’s not to say the company hasn’t grown. It recently expanded into a larger office and hired a full-time safety co-ordinator. But according to owner and CEO, Mark Lindquist, that’s enough for now. “With growth come a lot of challenges, so we’re going to stick where we are now for the next couple of years and just get better at what we’re doing.”

The company is already doing pretty well. With only 36 employees, Emcee is small enough that employees know everyone at the company, but it still has the heft to tackle a variety of renovation, expansion and ground-up building projects.

Emcee has also been making a name for itself pursuing environmentally friendly building practices. “A lot of times [clients] ask us how much it would cost to have a recycling program,” Lindquist says. “We usually just fill it in as no charge; it’s just something we do.” Their new office on Edmonton’s west side is aiming for LEED Silver certification, which Lindquist says is important to the company “just as a matter of principle.” It’s something that shows with its other projects, too. Emcee overhauled Edmonton’s Alberta Municipal Place, outfitting it with a windmill and solar power. Next up is an energy-monitoring system that will track the building’s efficiency.

Emcee wasn’t always in the green business. In fact, until eight years ago, it was called Ernest Construction and specialized mostly in residential home renovations. In 2004, Lindquist bought half of the company, and he and partner Ernest “Ernie” Blouin renamed the company and started pursuing commercial construction.

Soon afterwards, Blouin was diagnosed with cancer, and Lindquist purchased the rest of the company in 2007. Despite the change in tack and the company’s growth since then, Lindquist says the heart of the company hasn’t changed. “The thing is, the values we learned with being a home renovator have been really important in the commercial industry,” he says. “What sets us apart is we still view projects as more of a personal thing.”

Finalist

Willowbrook Homes
CEO: Garett Jenkinson – Calgary

Home builder Willowbrook Homes specializes in designing and constructing custom homes in and around the city. The general contractor sets itself apart by working closely with families as they design their dream homes and by using software that allows customers to keep track easily of changes and costs. Builders also share their schedules during construction to keep clients informed of progress on their homes.

Finalist

Glen Armstrong Construction
CEO: Richard Armstrong – Peace River

Glen Armstrong Construction serves northern Alberta, providing general contracting services from subdivision servicing to pipeline excavation and oilfield construction. The company’s strong commitment to its employees means 90 per cent of them have been there for more than 10 years. Thanks to an experienced workforce and excellent safety program, Armstrong has gone for eight years without a lost-time injury.

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