By: Michael Connors Issue: Transformation Section: Business
Structure as Transformational Metaphor
Take a close look at the world around you. Every human-made object has a literal and figurative impact on our life. Buildings, bridges, infrastructure are all transformational edifices that help shape our physical existence—they are at once real brick, stone, concrete and glass constructs yet also serve as monumental structures that define civilization and modern human reality. Perhaps no one better understands and relates to the foundational nature of construction than those in the industry. PCL Constructors (PCL), the largest construction company in Canada and the sixth largest in the United States, was established in 1907 and has quietly become a powerhouse in the industry today. This collection of professionals are passionate about the industry and communities where they live and work. They have immutable bonds to the communities they transform and are deeply proud of PCL. A Fortune 100 top employer to work for, PCL is leading the industry in green technology and innovation, encouraging their people to have compassion for those in their world who need help. President and COO Peter Beaupre was kind enough to sit down and enlighten me about the giving spirit of his company and what, exactly, it is that makes PCL an extraordinary place to be. In just one short visit with Beaupre, I learned much more about the heart and soul that goes into every project.
The strength of PCL’s philanthropy is in direct correlation to the robust success of their businesses. PCL has strategically positioned them in a mid-market construction niche that serves a plethora of needs-based projects. Beaupre elaborated on the recent business strategy. He said, “Although these last few years have been disappointing, they’re not surprising. So it was pretty obvious that we need to be geographically diverse, but we also need to be sectorally diverse. You want to be in the public sector, and in civil construction, as well as industrial. So when the private marketplace dropped off in 2008, we were able to shift our focus to a lot of military work; we are strong in transportation projects, and we have a strong resume in the industrial sector. Our industrial company in the western United States is as busy as it has ever been.”
Beaupre emphasized that not only do they have business fundamentals in the areas of strategic growth and financing, permitting, materials, and the like, but they excel at bringing together talented people who are customer-service oriented and passionate about fulfilling the expectations of the client.
Much of the service-oriented enthusiasm is due to the fact that PCL is an employee-owned business. And that value of inclusion is a conviction that the second-generation Poole family instilled in 1977 when the first investment option was offered to employees—which was led by Bob Stollery. Beaupre elaborated, “He left behind a legacy of generosity and a legacy of caring for each other and caring for the client. He believed that this company should be a broadly held employee-owned company—and not a closely held organization. He saw his vision fulfilled when the company became 100 percent employee-owned—all of these people that you have come in contact with work for the company and own a piece of it too. So when they work with a client they know they are not just an employee putting in time—they are an owner!” He went on, “Essentially, ownership inspires us to invest ourselves in what we do and at the end of the day it is the talents of our people that we sell to our customers, no matter what industry. And this success then generates the resources that enable us to then give of ourselves in our communities.”
Therefore, a commitment to excellence breeds success, and that success opens doors to even larger projects. PCL has been involved in many noteworthy large-scale projects from hospitals and bridges to military facilities and industrial instillations. But it is the small, community-focused projects that often bring the most satisfaction to the team. While some of the projects are iconic and recognizable—such as the Denver International Airport or the Staples Center—it is the smaller projects that Beaupre fondly recalls. He said, “A lot of them are way under the radar screen, but are really important to the people who are developing them. We've built some special needs schools some health clinics and some community centers that were fundamentally needed. And these places became the center point of their communities. So it is on a smaller scale that our worlds are often most affected, and these are the structures that we come in contact with most and are often of the greatest need.”
A prime example of PCL’s commitment to developing communities one project at a time can be seen in the Mercado del Barrio development in San Diego. Working with the city of San Diego, PCL built an affordable housing development that included shops and a grocery store. In many ways it serves as a foundational blueprint for sustainable neighborhoods and development. A press release by the City of San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency noted the far-reaching impact an affordable housing project such as this can inspire.” It goes to say, “It is anticipated that the Mercado del Barrio Project will create 201 short-term jobs, 223 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs while bringing approximately $200,000 in annual sales tax revenue to the City. The project will also generate approximately $3 million in tax increment over the lifetime of the project area. When the residential, supermarket and commercial phases are completed and occupied, the Mercado del Barrio will represent an $80 million investment in the community.”
This is not just about bricks and mortar; it is about transforming a neighborhood, and by extension, a city. Each contribution has a ripple effect that strengthens the pride of the neighborhood and draws other resources. Investing one’s craftsmanship and resources into the world where we live also benefits those doing the work. Beaupre observed, “We’re building communities, and that is such a great joy because of what it means to our employees.”
Beaupre also said something very interesting—it’s simple yet deeply profound and is an example of what we should all strive for. He asked “What good is building and working in a community if we don't have the support of that community?” PCL supports myriad of nonprofit organizations from United Way to Habitat for Humanity, and nearly all of the support is organic, meaning that their community service is inspired by their employees and comes from the heart—the places where they live.
This spirit of giving is nurtured by PCL in that the corporation encourages and helps match the philanthropy initiated by their employee-owners. The bottom line, according to Beaupre, is this: “There are a lot of organizations that are trying to do the right thing to help the community. I am very proud to work with a company that feels as strongly about working for the community as we do.”
Michael Connors has an M.A. in literature and an extensive background in teaching. He is a Colorado native and spends his free time in the Rockies skiing and hiking.