Coming Through Tragedy
Last October, Allen Williams of A. D. Williams Engineering of Edmonton was killed when the small plane he was flying crashed in the mountains near Golden, B. C. Williams was accompanied by Steve Sutto...
Last October, Allen Williams of A. D. Williams Engineering of Edmonton was killed when the small plane he was flying crashed in the mountains near Golden, B. C. Williams was accompanied by Steve Sutton, the company’s chief financial officer and Williams’ three-year old granddaughter Kate. Both men died instantly, Kate survived and was found some hours later.
In March, 2008 five months later to the day, tragedy struck again. Allen’s son Reagan Williams, who was president of the firm, was flying the company’s small plane when it crashed near Wainwright, Alberta. Travelling with Reagan were two executives from A. D. Williams Engineering, Rhonda Quirke and Phil Allard, as well as two young men, Trevor Kozol of Ledcor and Shaun Stewart of Jordan’s Flooring. All five on the plane died.
Naseem Bashir, P. Eng. has worked for A. D. Williams for 17 years. Before the accidents Naseem was vice-president, located at the Calgary office. Now president of the company, he talks about what it was like in the days following the tragedies, and explains how the company plans to carry on.
Q. THE DEATH OF ALLEN WILLIAMS MUST HAVE BEEN A HUGE SHOCK. WERE YOU AT THE RETREAT IN GOLDEN?
Yes. I drove back to Calgary. It was just after 8 o’clock in the evening when I got the phone call.
Q. HAD KATE BEEN FOUND?
No, at the time it was: “We can’t find them. Search and Rescue is looking.”
Q. YOU JOINED A. D. WILLIAMS RIGHT FROM UNIVERSITY. WAS ALLEN A MENTOR TO YOU?
Oh absolutely. The ability to be able to work with people and build relationships, and also to understand how business really works, how you make money in this business — those are the things that you learn from a guy like Allen.
At Golden, the day before he died, I had actually said: ‘It would be great if you could write down everything you know in the next few years, so we could remember it and put it somewhere.’ It would have become part of our knowledge management system so that we could capture that intellectual property.
And I can still see the look on his face, like “Oh gee, that’s a pretty daunting task, I’d rather go skiing! I’d rather do something else than that.’ It is rather poignant.
Q. AFTER THE DEATH OF ALLEN AND STEVE I EXPECT YOU ALL BEGAN TO BOUNCE BACK, AND THEN THERE WAS A SECOND ACCIDENT.
Yes. Actually I was with Reagan and Phil and Rhonda in Edmonton the day before. We had a number of meetings during the day. One of them was with the same facilitator we had in Golden in October. It was to start to plan leadership development, senior and mid-level leadership.
The next morning I was driving into the Calgary office just after 8 a. m. and I got a call. I was stunned. It was disbelief, because at that point, I felt like, I don’t know really what’s going on any more.
After the accidents, the media attention was phenomenal. We were very selective in how we communicated with the outside world. We didn’t want to speak on behalf of the families, but on behalf of the company. We wanted to be able to also deliver a message to the world that said we’re still here.
Q. HOW IS THE STAFF DOING NOW?
There are always these moments that set you back and you think hard about it. It’s the corporate group who really got hurt hard. They were pretty shattered. They lost Allen and Steve, and then Phil and Rhonda.
Q. GOING FORWARD, ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP THE NAME A. D. WILLIAMS ENGINEERING?
Absolutely. We think that the name is well recognized throughout the industry in Canada and with our clients internationally. The name is part of who we are. That’s our legacy.