Leaders 2015: Bird Continues to Spread its Wings

As Originally Seen in the 2015 Edition of The Leaders: Canada's Best in Construction www.cmdbr.com/Leaders2015 :

Bird Construction perseveres in challenging economic times because the company stays true to its core values, carefully choosing what direction to take in an economy that is always changing and posing different obstacles.

“For us, we maintain who we are. We’re a very operationally focused organization. Our emphasis is on securing select projects and successfully executing them,” says Ian Boyd, Bird’s president and CEO. 

“We’re one of the largest general contractors in Canada. I certainly want to be able to maintain that status in the industry.”

Bird was featured in the 2010 edition of The Leaders, where the focus for the company was overcoming the recession.

Boyd, who assumed his role in 2015, says the company has fared well because of its acquisitions and its ability to diversify and reinvest in its employees.

“There certainly are some headwinds right now when you look at the low oil price and generally low commodity prices. We are very much a resource driven economy. It certainly makes us concerned in terms of how this affects our overall business,” Boyd explains. “There are always opportunities, even in a recession. During the last recession we learned that diversification of the business, both geographically and through a range of service offerings, is very important to be able to weather some of the headwinds that come with the cycles of the economy.”

This is exemplified through Bird’s acquisitions. In 2008 the company acquired Rideau Construction Inc. in Atlantic Canada. 

This was strategic as Bird wasn’t physically in this area, Boyd states. It was the first acquisition Bird had ever done. 

In 2011, Bird acquired H.J. O’Connell, which was an example of the company diversifying its service offerings, with H.J. O’Connell more focused on heavy civil, mining and industrial projects.

“It’s about our culture whether these acquisitions can be a natural fit with who we are as an organization,” Boyd adds. 

Bird purchased Alberta-based Nason Contracting Group Ltd. in 2013. The company specializes in the construction and servicing of water and wastewater treatment and pumping facilities.

“Coupling Nason’s strong abilities in the mechanical, electrical and instrumentation scopes of work with Bird’s civil construction and general contracting knowledge makes for a natural fit to grow both organizations’ markets,” Boyd adds.

In a tough, competitive market he says it’s important to make the right acquisitions at the right time.

“Our acquisitions have to make sense for us, that’s why we’ve only had three acquisitions in the history of the organization,” he states. “We want to continue to look for areas of diversification to perhaps mitigate some of that cyclicality that comes with construction. Continued diversification is key to surviving in this competitive industry.” 

Bird has weathered many storms since it was founded by Hubert J. Bird in Moose Jaw, Sask. in 1920, even prospering throughout the Great Depression.

Boyd says Bird’s resilience also comes from its commitment to reinvesting in its employees, something he is highly familiar with. He started as a project co-ordinator with Rideau Construction Inc. in Halifax in 1996, eventually progressing to become the vice president and operations manager for the Nova Scotia office. When Bird acquired Rideau, Boyd began to move through the company, undertaking a project based in Calgary called the Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement, where he was the project director for two years. He continued to move up in various capacities until he assumed his current role.

“We have continually reinvested in our people over the years,” he says. “We believe in our staff. If you’re willing to work, are committed and driven, then you will work on a range of challenging projects and attain opportunities. You get the most development out of your people when you can put them in a position to succeed. Give them enough rope, but be sure to guide them. It’s about guidance, but it’s also allowing staff to make their mark.”

Bird has been able to leave its mark through some major cross-Canada projects since the company was profiled in 2010. These projects include the RCMP E Division Headquarters in Surrey, B.C.; general civil works for the Wuskwatim Generating Station in Thompson, Man.; the Thunder Bay Consolidated Courthouse; bulk excavation and civil works for the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Generating Station; the Long Harbour Processing Plant site in Newfoundland and Labrador; and the $465-million East Rail Maintenance Facility in Whitby, Ont.

“These larger, challenging projects are what drive our organization and our staff, including myself — being part of a team that is working together for one common goal: a successful project,” Boyd adds.

“Delivering a large, complex project can be extremely rewarding. Seeing the final product — the fruits of your labour, it’s the tangible results of your efforts.”

While Boyd emphasizes Bird’s strengths, he acknowledges the current economic climate is uncertain.

“Currently in the industrial sector we are close to the conditions we experienced in 2008,” he says. “I don’t want to be an alarmist, but it’s not on the upswing right now. I think there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty as to what’s going to actually happen.”

But, he adds, Bird’s strength is its “execution and operational excellence” which will continue.

“We’ve been selective with the projects we pursue. We try to make sure that we have the best opportunity possible to secure our projects. We do not try to be all things to all people,” Boyd says.

“We go after projects that couple with our strengths.” Boyd says the previous description of the company culture being “lean and mean” still holds true.

“We’re still very cognizant of our overhead structure. Now obviously as you grow, you add, but we are still very careful in terms of our overhead,” he explains. “Our M.O. is to grow people. By giving young adults the resources for training and welcoming them into our culture, we can grow together. We definitely support the idea of development from within. While it may take longer, we are prepared for the work because these are our next leaders.”
Leaders 2015: Bird Continues To Spread Its Wings : News & Media : Bird Construction