By Janet Jensen and Jimmy Kokaji
Associated Engineering and Morrison Hershfield celebrate 75 yearsCompanies & People Associated Engineering employee-owned Infrastructure Morrison Hershfield
The firms are both competitors and sometime partners.
For the last 75 years, Morrison Hershfield and Associated Engineering have participated in tens of thousands of projects nationwide and worked to ensure the quality, reliability and safety of Canada’s infrastructure. They are proud of their successes and the contributions they’ve made to improving the quality of life in communities across the country, while navigating economic downturns, upturns and periods of growth.
Although they are competitors by nature, their similar corporate cultures and ownership models have led the two firms to partner on many projects over the years, from Toronto’s Basement Flooding Protection Program to Alberta’s South Edmonton Hospital, Smith Crossing Pedestrian Bridge and Highway 63-12.
Both firms credit strategic and sustainable growth strategies, a focus on continuous improvement, a steady emphasis on relationship-building and a commitment to employee ownership for their longevity. They have thrived by developing and maintaining meaningful, long-standing relationships with clients, peers and employees.
From humble beginnings
In Toronto in 1946, Carson Morrison, Charlie Hershfield, Joe Millman and Mark Huggins formed a partnership to offer civil, structural and mechanical engineering services. Today, that firm is known as Morrison Hershfield.
That same year, Herb Ripley, Norm Lawrence and Al Rowand formed Associated Engineering Services in Edmonton. The company initially worked on water and sewer assignments for municipalities throughout Alberta.
Now, 75 years later, both firms have grown to more than 1,000 employees and have expanded their markets, services and geographic reach. Associated Engineering has remained wholly Canadian, with 21 offices across the country, while Morrison Hershfield operates 23 offices: 11 in Canada, 11 in the U.S. and one in India.
Associated Engineering has expanded its service offerings to include planning, environmental science, landscape architecture, project management, climate change adaptation and mitigation, community resiliency, asset management and quality management.
“Since Associated Engineering was founded 75 years ago, we have risen to many challenges, created better communities and achieved our collective goals,” says Martin Jobke, the firm’s president and CEO. “Confidence, resilience and a keen eye to the future defined the men and women who built the Associated group of companies. Our previous strategic plans inspired us to reach new heights. We have done so, achieving our vision to be a leader in our industry.”
Morrison Hershfield has become a multidisciplinary firm, involved in building, critical facility, environmental, land development, solid waste, telecommunications, transit, transportation and water projects from coast to coast to coast, from rehabilitating Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway to engineering and managing the fixed wireless portion of Alberta’s SuperNet. Current areas of specialty include transit maintenance facilities and energy-efficient building envelopes.
Both firms are employee-owned.
The ownership advantage
Both firms are 100% employee-owned. Indeed, they cite the offer of share ownership to employees as a key factor in their success, one that has helped attract and retain talent. Staff is highly involved in planning and goal-setting, with a focus on creating a common vision for the future.
“Our journey as an employee-owned firm is something we take great pride in,” says Anthony Karakatsanis, president and CEO of Morrison Hershfield. “We are always looking for opportunities to do things better, smarter and more efficiently. Some things are out of our control, but we can take ownership in fine-tuning the way we do business. Engaging our employees in continuous improvement initiatives, even just incremental changes, is critical in terms of achieving long-term gains. We also have the flexibility to make longer-term investments to create opportunities for future generations of the firm. Our 2025 Ambition, for example, will provide us with a compelling journey and create a destination that inspires the next generations to achieve even greater success.”
The 2025 Ambition goals relate to agility, focus, technology, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and culture.
“As an employee-owned firm, our focus is on long-term decisions, rather than reacting to short-term quarterly results,” says Jobke. “We listen to staff’s ideas and if they make sense, we grow in that direction, which has created opportunities for entrepreneurship, to improve systems and to create programs. Key initiatives, such as our Carbon Neutral program and Climate Change Basic Awareness Training, came from our staff and their commitment.”
Following a 2007 corporate commitment, the firm achieved carbon-neutral status in 2009. The training program followed in 2016, showing staff how to collaborate with clients to develop sustainable, resilient projects.
A culture for continuous improvement
Planning for sustainable growth requires detailed road maps for success. It also requires the implementation and continuous improvement of processes and tools to ensure efficiency, quality and exceptional experiences for clients and employees alike.
“A strong and ongoing focus on improvement helps us maintain and increase performance, respond to changes in internal or external conditions and create new opportunities,” says Joan Vinci, Morrison Hershfield’s corporate quality management system (QMS) director. “It’s a mindset, an ongoing philosophy, that helps us stay ahead of the game.”
“We are continuously evolving and improving our systems and tools, from production and QMSs to information management and communications,” says Lance Kubrak, Associated Engineering’s chief operating officer (COO). “Our goal is to continually improve project delivery and our clients’ experience.”
Both firms pay particular attention to where they invest time, how they improve success rates and where they can find efficiencies to deliver higher levels of growth with lower costs. Morrison Hershfield’s ISO 9001:2015-certified QMS, for example, was put in place to help identify new opportunities, manage and mitigate risks and provide guidelines that reduce ambiguity. This way, there is a constant drive for improvement at all levels.
Project delivery is core to the success of consulting engineering firms. Continuously finding opportunities for greater efficiency of project management processes, technology and training is simply good business—and having staff involved in identifying incremental improvements leads to a greater sense of ownership, increased productivity and a common drive to succeed. Finding the right blend of delivery systems that improve the client experience and that are faster and easier for employees to execute is a win-win-win for clients, employees and the firm.
Investing in people
Both privately held firms invest heavily in their staff through professional development, training, awards and community and industry involvement.
Facilitating continuous learning and personal and professional development are key elements of their corporate culture. Individuals at all levels are given the opportunity to enhance their skills and competencies and contribute ideas and efforts toward enhancing value in the eyes of clients, their fellow employees and stakeholders.
Shaping the next 75 years
As the world goes through important changes, Associated Engineering and Morrison Hershfield have worked to be future-ready, with thoughtful strategies in place to help them remain focused during times of uncertainty and new opportunity.
Both firms are committed to remaining employee-owned. Creating opportunities for staff to grow and build their professional careers will produce forward-looking, proactive and creative people who are influential in their professional fields and in society in general. They are not only creating a legacy in their firms, but also in the communities where they work and live.
“While our company has changed a lot over the years, one thing remains constant: the heart and dedication of the people who make up our organization,” says Jobke. “We are excited to commemorate our anniversary.”
“We look forward with optimism, confidence and determination to meet the challenges of the future and realize the possibilities that lay ahead,” says Karakatsanis.
Janet Jensen is corporate communications co-ordinator for Morrison Hershfield and Jimmy Kokaji is a senior marketing specialist for Associated Engineering. For more information, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer.