Canadian Consulting Engineer

Starting Over

Starting Over

February 1, 2012   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Starting Over

Two structural engineers explain why they decided to leave an international company and start their own firm.

These days it’s rare to hear about the launch of a new consulting engineering company. We’re more used to hearing about small firms being taken over by large international corporations.

But over a year ago Barry Charnish, David Stevenson and David Watson started a new structural engineering firm known as Entuitive. Since then, two younger partners – Brock Schroeder and Sean Smith – have joined. Entuitive now has over 20 employees and offices in Calgary and Toronto.

CCE spoke to two of the partners in their offices on the 20th floor of a tower near the lakefront in downtown Toronto.

What made you decide to leave a large international company and start your own firm?

Barry Charnish: There are numerous different company cultures in consulting engineering. There are foreign company cultures; there is an infrastructure company culture; and we come from a culture of entrepreneurial Canadian firms who work in the buildings industry. I think that these are quite distinct cultures and they are difficult to put together. Following the acquisition at our former firm, we found that the culture shifted and we wanted a fresh approach.

Sean Smith: For me the transformation was more about the idea that engineering should be fun. At a smaller firm you know what you are doing, whom you are working for, and people appreciate your efforts. You can have the sense of being part of something and identifying with it personally.

How did you start the new company, Entuitive?

Barry: We started on January 19, 2011. We have a technical staff of 18 in Toronto and four in Calgary plus support staff. There are five principals: one around age 60, two around 50, and two around 40.

We have a clear vision and a five-year business plan. And we have a shareholders’ agreement. We want the firm to last for 50 years, so we have to do the proper things.

We also decided that we want to embrace technology. So we are investing in this and I think that we’re probably one of the leaders in the industry. I think we’re going to a higher performance, and we’re very proud of that.

As for the name Entuitive, we wanted to have a legacy and rather than ultimately ending up with initials, we decided to not add our names — Charnish, Stevenson, etc. We wanted the name to be inspirational. We had a brand advisor and fell in love with the name as soon as we heard it.

What was it like to start from scratch?

Barry: I think if I had moved to Vancouver to start Entuitive it would have been a failure. I — all of us — have been very thankful to our friends in the industry. We wouldn’t be here without them.

You focus on structural engineering for Buildings?

Barry: I have a history of doing difficult jobs. In Toronto I designed a tower on top of the Yonge subway. We took the roof off the subway while keeping the subway active. We built a 17-storey building on the top and widened the platforms. We’re doing the next tower of the Bay-Adelaide Centre and we’re doing the recladding of First Canadian Place. In New York we’re doing a project spanning 16 rail lines with a series of 240-foot precast girders. This is above the busiest commuter rail facility in North America.

Is the competition stiff in Toronto?

Sean: There has been a lot of consolidation in the industry so there’s an opening for a small to mid-size firm that is really focused on the quality structural engineering of complex buildings. A kind of niche has opened up for us.cce

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