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Panel describes taking over as a next generation owner

Lindsey Cole
Panel describes taking over as a next generation owner

Teri Urban says there’s a common misconception that as the daughter of a successful construction company owner she’s been given certain advantages in her career, certain entitlements.

The safety co-ordinator for Winnipeg-based general contracting firm Parkwest Projects Ltd. made it clear that is absolutely not the case during a panel titled Not Your Father’s Construction Company: Taking over as the Next Generation Owner.

“My father and my uncle worked very hard to get where they are today,” she told attendees of the discussion, which took place during the Canadian Construction Association’s recent 100th annual conference in Banff, Alta. “Being in a family business, entitlement is far from what we do. We work hard to get where we are. We love what we do. We’re very passionate about the construction industry. That’s my biggest pet peeve.”

She said she is often kept up at night thinking, “I see what he (her father) has done, what he’s accomplished and maybe sometimes I’m a little hard on myself, thinking, ‘OK am I going to be able to get to that point?’ ”

Urban was one of five panellists, which included her father Randy Clegg, who described the current climate and the challenges the industry is facing from a multi-generational point of view.

For Clegg, the next generation is “better prepared than one might think or give them credit for.”

He said they are often concentrating more on education and the outlets available to them, which changes the dynamic onsite and in the office.

The panellists highlighted how over the years there’s been a change in the concept of work-life balance, where now, in most instances, couples are both working, while managing a family.

“I’m finding with people around my age, where the husband and wife are both working, they have to share the tasks,” Urban stated. “You’re forced into that balance.”

“We’re needing to have two people in a family work to have a decent standard of living,” Clegg said, adding to his daughter’s comment, mentioning, however, that the emphasis on family time is an evolution in the right direction. “We are getting some work-life balance. It’s good that we’re moving forward.”

Another area that is constantly evolving is technology, but the panellists all agreed newer forms of communication should take a backseat when it comes building relationships.

“I think it’s more important in the electronic age to pick up a phone and stop a 30 email chain from developing into a big problem,” said Nick Bockstael, the director of project delivery, who is also a principal/project manager with Bockstael Construction Ltd. “The face to face part is a big deal. A lot of what we do is still relationship based.”

Urban echoed that sentiment stating, “most people do try and handle things via email. Our industry is built completely on relationships and email sometimes seems like it’s pulling us away from it.”

But while traditional communication methods were encouraged, preparing for other forms of new technology was also an area where the panel said the industry must adapt.

“It smack of a little bit of arrogance to think that things will stay the same and that there isn’t a possibility for someone to come in,” said Katy Fairley, the vice-president of business development for Kinetic Construction, when asked about future industry disruptors. “When public sector owners are scrounging around trying to find any new delivery method to try and build better, somebody’s going to figure it out and likely make a lot of money doing it and we could be in for an interesting time.

“Things are changing so quickly now. It’s too hard to imagine what could come in the next 10 to 15 years.”

John Bockstael, the president and CEO of Bockstael Construction Ltd., said with the size and scale of projects changing, buyers of construction are setting out new expectations.

There is “the constant pressure to grow the size of the company and with that deliver it with all kinds of new tools through which we have yet to harvest that skill set completely. What piece of technology should we buy? That’s the biggest quandary.

“Whatever progression of technology we’re going to do, we’re going to have to marry that to the skill sets and the talent pool that we already have out there in the workforce. You’re not going to tell some robot how to do its job unless the mason actually tells it what job it has to do,” he added.

It comes down to having the right people for the job, no matter what age, the panellists agreed.

“I dismiss all of those labels of these generations. You just look for the eager talent amongst them because it’s there,” Bockstael added.

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