More than 300 employees. An impressive fleet of branded equipment that is well-known across Edmonton and all of its suburbs. A large multi-story office in one of the city’s best known industrial districts. Must be a company steeped in history and tradition with roots going back for decades, right?
No. It’s Devlin Construction Ltd., a runaway success story just 15 years in the making.
“When I started the company, it started off as Devlin Excavating and there were just two people involved: myself in the field and Shelley working part time on my books,” says George Devlin, founder and president. “At the time, I just wanted to do something small and casual for myself that would also be fun. It grew year by year and ended up snowballing.”
Today, the company is known for building concrete and asphalt roads, heavy excavating, base construction, building sidewalks, snow removal and much more.
This year marks 15 years as a company, and seven years with the current management team that rocketed the company forward.
In early March, George sat with that management team, reflecting on the journey – and the overarching sentiment was, “whoa, what just happened?!” as they discussed how fast Devlin went from a small business to an in-demand corporation.
Marcin Hrehoruk, general manager, came on board when the company had grown to around 28 employees. That same summer, under the new name of Devlin Construction the company grew to 55 employees, evolved to include asphalt and concrete work, and purchased its first property in Winterburn.
George and Marcin met while sharing a cab 21 years ago. As fate would have it, they wound up working at a local asphalt company together. A few years into that job, they parted to make their own ways in the world. The world had other plans, and after another meeting again in Montana in 2010, they shook hands over lunch and became business partners.
Shelley Peterson, controller and office manager, started with Devlin Excavation from its inception.
“I remember moving into our first building,” Shelley reminisces. “That place was in rough shape! We had to haul out the garbage and the previous owners had smoked in there. When we took the curtains down, they pretty much stood up on their own!”
George laughs, “I remember sitting with Marcin in that empty lobby, looking at the empty parking lot and wondering how we were going to fill it. That place seemed way too big for us.”
“But within just a couple of years, we were triple parking,” Shelley smiles. “We ran out of space.”
In 2015, Devlin Construction moved to a much larger space in Winterburn, and now the staff comfortably enjoys a large, modern, roomy base of operations.
Marcin points to Kim Zurowski, estimating manager. “Kim was a milestone. We were looking to expand, and he had the background of working with large companies and running an estimating division.”
Kim is pleased with the compliment, but points right back at the team: “No. It’s all a group effort.”
“When I started in 2011,” Kim continues, “I thought, what I am getting myself into? Who are these guys? They don’t even have a grader! But it’s been a great ride. I didn’t really have any doubts about coming on board.”
Kris Pawlikowski, project manager, is also happy to be part of the team. “I like that, as a team, we put a lot of heart into everything we do, and we treat every customer and client equally. As a group, we all have specialized knowledge in different areas, and we come together to strategize.”
Devlin Construction prides itself on growing to become a full service company that keeps pace with construction companies that have much more time and experience in the business. The management team cites the willingness of Marcin and George to take risks, the team’s cohesive way of working together, the excellent care they take of their staff and clients and their outstanding reputation as reasons for the company’s rapid growth and success.
“Our portfolio of work is 85-95 per cent for municipalities, cities and developers,” says Marcin. But we never forget about our other customers.”
“We treat everyone equally,” adds Kris.
“People like to associate with success,” confirms Marcin. “Maybe they see success with us, a company that started from zero and grew into this. Now we are one of top teams in the industry and we are probably the youngest owner group among the surface construction companies in Edmonton. It’s been an excellent journey. Even with the current economy, we are still the local company supporting local businesses. We produce, but we also make and spend here. We are a part of the larger economy.”
Devlin Construction gives equal respect to the staff, which has helped the company maintain very low turnover – a rarity in the construction business.
“We look to have our guys working with us for 12 months out the year,” confirms Marcin. “Equipment, buildings – everything else you can purchase, sell or trade, but people are the biggest factor. The decisions we make don’t just affect us. They affect each staff member and all of their families. We never forget that.”
Safety is also at the forefront of each project and decision.
“In 2008, George came to me and said, ‘we can’t bid on these jobs because we need COR.’” COR stands for certificate of recognition, and it is issued to companies who have a health and safety plan in place that meets strict third-party guidelines.
“We quickly realized COR was a huge thing for safety,” Shelley continues. “It took six months to get it.” Devlin embraced the challenge wholeheartedly, knowing that it was the best thing for the staff and field crew. “Now we have two full-time safety operators and belong to the Alberta Construction Safety Organization. This year, we started an in-house safety committee with one person from each department so employees feel empowered to speak up about issues that concern them.”
Devlin Construction is also incredibly innovative and has won a client award in 2017 for their high-level integration of the construction software Explorer and B2W (Bid 2 Win). Shelley explains, “The software connects the estimators with the field staff and with accounting.”
Using this technology has enabled the entire Devlin team, field and office, to go 90 per cent paperless, and to maintain a very high rate of accuracy, communication and efficiency with every project.
In addition to outstanding relationships with staff and clients, Devlin also focuses very heavily on giving back to the community.
“Three years ago, we started a charity golf tournament to support a local boy that was in the hospital for 14 years. Sadly, he passed. We started the tournament to support his family. It was a huge success, so we just kept on doing it. We ask the Stollery about the patients that need help. For example, one child needed a special wheelchair for $11,000. We raised the funds. Over the last three years we have raised over $115,000. My wife, Sue-Ann is very instrumental in putting together the tournaments, contacting the vendors and arranging for sponsorship.”
Devlin opens the doors to others to help them raise these vital funds by providing information about the tournament and sponsorship opportunities at golfdevlin.com.
The company also proudly supports local sports teams, church groups, the Sturgeon Community Hospital Foundation’s annual gala and more.
While Devlin Construction has been fortunate to receive awards and recognition from many high-profile clients over the years that thank them for providing an outstanding end product and a clean, organized jobsite, one incident is very fondly remembered by the management team: receiving home baked cookies from a group of students as a thank-you for getting their school fixed and opened on time.
“We don’t provide Band-Aid solutions that only last a year or two,” confirms Kim. “We provide economic solutions that last.”
The management team all agree that it doesn’t feel like 15 years has passed. In fact, as they sit in the boardroom thinking about the start of the company (just something fun to do, as George had put it) to the reality of today, a moment of silence turns into bright smiles as they commiserate about the company’s growing pains and celebrate the many milestones.
“We just came on the scene so fast. Boom. We were just there,” George shakes his head. “But we promote a good image on site with our safety record, the tidy appearance of our crews and project sites and our work. It gets noticed. We are major company with a great reputation. You can trust us to do the right thing.”
“Our end results are among the top finished products in Edmonton and area,” says Marcin with great pride. “We look at each project as if was something we personally want done for ourselves. Our approach and our prices are put on the table upfront. Good or bad news about a project, we are always transparent. We talk to the residents around each project, too, so they know what is going on. It can be scary to see 35 tons of excavator at your door!”
Shelley nods. “Devlin has had lows from growing pains, but we’ve also had amazing highs with our growth.”
Kim adds, “We take each challenge as a way to learn how to do things better. Our rapid growth has never been about ego. It’s always been about responsible growth to fit into a bigger niche.”
“And the best part is,” concludes Kris, “seeing the customer happy when the job is done.”
More than once, George and Marcin have been asked how many cities they operate out of, or if the company is multinational.
“Surprise! We are a local success story,” laughs Kim.”
They certainly are, and with 15 (very fast) years gone by, Devlin Construction plans to continue building their legacy. They may be the new kids on the block, but they also planned, designed, poured, landscaped and finished that block, and then returned each winter to clear the snow off of it. So watch out world! With Edmonton and area having no shortage of Devlin projects on the go, the future is unlimited.