Up Front (October 01, 2008)
Heads of mega-companies speak
Executives from three of the largest consulting engineering companies operating in Canada spoke on September 10 at the International Federation of Consulting Engineers/FIDIC conference in Quebec City. They spoke about what is driving their corporations to expand on a global scale, about practical issues they face, and also about what values their corporations aspire to.
Rick Firlotte, P. Eng., president of Golder Associates, was first to speak on the panel entitled “Industry Leaders.” His employee-owned Canada-based company started in the 1960s and has now grown to 7,000 people in 32 countries, working in 18 languages.
Firlotte said that the advantage of being a global company is that it can serve international clients. Operating on an international scale also protects an engineering company from the ups and downs of different countries’ economies, said Firlotte (a factor that became even more important after the Wall Street meltdown, which began a few days later).
There is some tension, it seems, in running a global company. Firlotte said they have to strike a balance between the need to build a strong brand name that is recognizable worldwide, and the need to preserve some autonomy in local offices.
He said the company’s accounting practices cannot be uniform in every country, but that they do ensure that the Golder accounting systems “speak to each other.” He said a global audit is absolutely essential. Also on a practical front, he said the internet is a critical tool for working globally.
Maintaining Golder’s ethical values is important when operating in other countries. “Everyone has to understand that we are working by the same rules around the world,” Firlotte said. The company also saw the need to set up systems to ensure that employees are treated the same, no matter what their nationality.
Pierre Shoiry, ing., president and chief executive office of Genivar, was also on the panel. The company has grown from a firm of 70 people in Quebec City 40 years ago, to a publicly traded company with 3,300 employees and 80 offices in Canada and overseas. Genivar has made 23 company acquisitions in 27 months since going public in 2006, said Shoiry. He noted that the company also has had 25% organic growth.
Shoiry stressed that non-financial factors play an important role in building strong organizations. “The best firms are those that create an environment where employees are committed to the organization.” The company’s core values include an emphasis on teamwork and putting the client first, Shoiry said.
John Dionisio, president and chief executive officer of AECOM, also spoke.
The U. S.-based giant, fresh from its recent acquisition of Earth Tech, now has an astonishing 41,000 employees, half of whom are outside the U. S. The company had revenues of $4.7 billion in the last year.
Dionisio opened with a lively video promotion, but the message of his talk was similar to the other CEOs. He stressed the importance of motivating employees and the company’s desire to give clients “quality products.” But, he said, all our core values are “embraced by integrity. It is not open for any discussion.”
Bay-Adelaide Centre rises at last
The first phase of the long-awaited Bay- Adelaide Centre in downtown Toronto is due to be completed in 2009. The towers and park complex in the prestigious banking district had a false start during the 1990s recession, and after construction stopped the elevator core was left stranded above ground for years.
Now, the first 51-storey tower, a 1.1 million square foot edifice at the northeast corner of Bay and Adelaide, is well under way, having been topped off in September. KPMG is the anchor tenant. Designed by WZMH architects, the building incorporates the 1926 historic facade of the former National Building. It is designed to LEED Gold environmental standards and will be connected to Toronto’s underground path system.
Structural engineer is Halcrow Yolles, mechanical engineer is The Mitchell Partnership, electrical engineer is Mulvey + Banani.
WATER & WASTEWATER
Benchmarking network links municipalities
For 10 years Earth Tech/AECOM has been running a program that brings together water and wastewater infrastructure managers from municipalities across Canada to compare notes.
The National Performance Benchmarking Initiative was presented at the ” Future of Canada’s Infrastructure” conference in Toronto on October 1. David Main, P. Eng., manager of the program at Earth Tech/AECOM’s Burnaby office, explained that the program has 42 cities from across Canada participating. These municipalities measure, track and report on their plants’ performance, and share the results with each other.
Earth Tech’s staff compile the data sent in from the different utilities, and the company organizes an annual workshop over several days where municipal staff and utility managers compare data. The municipalities pay a fee to Earth Tech/AECOM.
Earth Tech began the program because there was a lack of useful benchmarks. Public sector goals tend to be ” vague and contradictory,” Main said, adding that the initiative has grown into an important peer-to-peer network.
The goal is to glean and share best practices in areas covering everything from the reliability of systems, to water quality, operation costs, employee safety, absenteeism, and protecting the environment. It took about four years of collecting data to arrive at meaningful common measures, Main said.
There are many practical benefits for those participating. For example, a city engineer can compare whether his or her systems are suffering an inordinate number of water main breaks compared to others and then use the data to convince city councillors that they need to invest in new infrastructure.
One of the program’s initial goals was to compare the cost efficiency of publicly operated versus privately operated plants. The results showed there is no correlation and that publicly operated plants are sometimes among the most efficient plants, and sometimes among the most inefficient.
Earth Tech posts a public report and a performance measures index at www.nationalbenchmarking.ca.
MMM and McCormick Rankin join
Two well-known Canadian firms who work in the Ontario transportation sector have joined forces.
On September 8, Ian Williams, chief executive officer of McCormick Rankin Corporation, and Bruce Bodden, president and chief executive officer of MMM Group (formerly Marshall Macklin Monaghan), announced a merger of the two Toronto-area firms.
MMM Group has 1,100 employees and is based in Markham, northeast of Toronto, while McCormick Rankin has 400 employees and has headquarters in Mississauga. The companies have worked on projects together over the past decade, including Toronto’s Highway 407 extension, and the Fredericton-Moncton Highway in New Brunswick.
Currently they are working on construction management for the Toroncontinued to Transit Commission and on a major highway project in Algeria.
MMM’s experience in design-build and P3 projects, and McCormick Rankin’s expertise and their focus upon transportation is one reason for the merger. “The strategy was driven by wanting to become one of the strongest transportation companies in Canada,” says Bodden.
MMM has acquired 10 companies across Canada since 2004. It has just moved its headquarters to a new office building in Markham. McCormick Rankin has offices in Ontario, one in Halifax, and a branch in Edinburgh, U. K. Both MMM and MRC have offices in Ottawa.
As for the company names: “We will operate under MMM and under MRC,” says Bodden. “We’ll retain and promote the MRC brand — which is a platinum brand — but it will be identified as part of the MMM Group.”
Ecoplans, an environmental service company that is part of McCormick Rankin Corporation is included in the merger.
Ottawa pilots garbage processor
Cities in Canada are struggling with the mounds of garbage they generate. No-one wants a landfill in their backyard, and many people are suspicious of incinerators.
Ottawa, however, has succeeded in having a pilot “waste-to-energy” project built near one of its existing landfills on Trail Road south of the city.
Rod Bryden, president of Plasco Energy (and the former owner of the Ottawa Senators), presented details about the project at the “Future of Canada’s Infrastructure” conference in Toronto, October 1.
The Plasco plant was constructed between 2006 and 2007 and has been running tests for a year. Using plasma arc technology, the plant basically vaporizes unsorted, shredded, non-recyclable waste and produces a refined synthetic fuel gas for generating electricity. There are no emissions during the conversion process.
What’s left are reusable and marketable substances such as metals, sulphur, salt and potable water. The solid dregs are melted and vitrified into material that can be used as road aggregate. The process heat is recovered and recycled.
Bryden explained that while the plant was given a special exemption from Ontario’s environmental regulatory processes, the province imposed even stricter limits on its air emissions than are in the regulations.
There is another Plasco plant proposed for Montpellier, France said Bryden, and one approved for Red Deer, Alberta.
The Ottawa Trail Road pilot project was developed with help from several partners, including PCL and Canada’s Sustainability Development Technology Corporation. SENES was the environmental consultant and Stantec was civil consulting engineer.
POWER Nuclear in Quebec
Hydro-Quebec has decided to refurbish its Gentilly-2 nuclear power station. The Candu-reactor near Trois-Rivires is 25 years old. Estimated costs for the refurbishment are $1.9 billion, giving it a projected lifespan up to 2040. Groups opposed to extending the life of Quebec’s only nuclear plant were trying to galvanize support from political leaders during the national election.
BOMA’s green tool
BOMA, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada, has unveiled a new green building certification program. Called BOMA BESt, the program has four levels of certification. While it is now focused on office buildings, new criteria are being developed for assessing shopping centres, multi-unit residences and industrial developments. See bomabest.com
QUOTE Lightning strikes
“According to Environment Canada, at any given time there are 1,500 to 2,000 active thunderstorms on earth, and tens of millions of lightning points touch ground each year — some 2.7 million across Canada alone.” — Jill Frayne, “Struck by Lightning,” The Walrus, July/August, 2008.
COMPANIES Acquisitions continue
Trow Global consulting engineers of Brampton, Ontario has acquired Richardson Foster, a civil engineering company of 34 employees based in Barrie, Ontario. Trow also acquired Smylie & Crow Associates, a small mechanical-electrical firm based in London, Ontario. The firms will continue to operate under their own names.
Jacques Whitford based in Nova Scotia, has acquired a geotechnical, environmental and materials testing company in Winnipeg. The acquired company is National Testing Laboratories, which has been operating for more than 85 years.
Canada’s largest construction conference and trade show is being held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, December 3-5. Held with GreenBuilding Conference, Concrete Canada and other events. www.constructcanada.com, tel. 416-512-0203.
PROFESSION It’s a different world down there
“… the compliance rate for engineers in the U. S. seems to be around 20 per cent because engineers working for large corporations are exempt and only consultants are legally required to be licensed.” — Gordon Williams, P. Geol., president of APPEGA, in the September 2008 issue of the PEGG.