Valard, the largest contractor of its kind in Canada and among the largest in North America, is a vertically integrated transnational Canadian utility and construction contractor, with growth initiatives in Europe, Australia and the United States.
Valard’s services are diversified and include engineering, procurement, construction and maintenance for substations and electrical transmission and distribution lines. Through its Valard Telecom division and sister company G-TEK, Valard provides complete telecommunication solutions. A focus on a sustainable future sees the Valard Group of Companies innovating and delivering in the renewable energy sector. The Valard Group also provides complementing services such as welding, engineering, directional drilling, project development, financing, fabrication, and much more.
“The current incarnation of Valard was founded by Victor Budzinski and Bill Budzinski, when they bought a majority stake in Valard Construction in 1978,” says president and CEO Adam Budzinski. “Victor and Bill had previously been in business in Whitehorse under the name Ryco Contracting, and had been servicing communities up and down the Alaska Highway. Moving their business to Grande Prairie was the next logical step in their geographic growth into larger markets.”
Under the leadership of the Budzinskis, Valard thrived and has continued to grow and diversify, with 2018 being a record year for the company.
“Valard has recently rebranded its Corporate Controls group as Professional Services and is providing third-party consulting to other contractors and owners,” Adam explains. “Valard’s project management execution is backstopped by a suite of internally developed software packages, as well as advanced coordination of software from partner vendors to create a low-overhead, major project environment that can process, store and disseminate a large amount of project data with a minimal team.
“We are currently working on growth initiatives to move into Norway, Poland (where we just broke ground on our first project), Australia and the United States. Valard has been active in Europe since 2011 and has participated sporadically in American storm recovery since 2012. These latest initiatives will see us take on major projects in these markets and establish a permanent presence.”
When the Budzinskis took ownership of Valard in 1978, the company had a staff of just five. During the winter of 2018, staff peaked at approximately 3,990 across all the divisions and subsidiaries.
“Big contributors to Valard’s success have been our willingness to lead the market rather than to accept it,” continues Adam. “Valard made early investments in its health and safety, and its quality and environmental groups that led current trends by as much as 10 years. We have always been willing to offer a premium product rather than just being the cheapest bidder. Our vertical integration has also been a constant effort over the last 10 years – while there have been growing pains at times, we are currently enjoying a significant advantage relative to our peers who must seek subcontractors or partnerships to compete with us.”
Valard’s work is seen in high profile projects such as Alberta’s Fort McMurray West Transmission project, Eastern Alberta Transmission Line, Shell Saturn Substation, and the Labrador Island Link Transmission Line, among many others. Adam reflects on some of the projects he found memorable.
“A few significant moments for me were the completion dinners for the Muskrat Falls project and the Hydro One Bruce X Milton project. Both of these were difficult in their own right for different reasons, but they forged very strong relationships with the clients that we worked with to get them done. With major construction projects, there will always be points of conflict and misunderstandings; getting past this is what makes a good project great.”
Adam continues, “Another key point for me was receiving an award from our owner, Quanta Services, for our first year with revenues over $1B in 2014.” (Valard has steadily brought in revenues in excess of $1B since 2014.)
Valard is proficient in adapting to an industry whose climate is ever-changing. Adam explains, “Valard’s greatest challenge is keeping our project teams fed with work. We call it the “Giant Work Eating Monster” and it needs to be fed with a steady supply of backlog. The current economic environment in Canada is complex and getting more so. While complexity is actually advantageous to us over some of our peers, if owners and investors can’t bring project concepts to term because of regulatory challenges and anti-industry sentiment, there will be nothing to compete for, and the project teams that we have built will be lost.”
However, Valard has a history of overcoming challenges, and has celebrated many successes over the years.
“Our work with First Nations predates industry trends towards their inclusion in projects as well as some of the more recent judicial milestones,” Adam says with pride. “We always ensure that our First Nation and other Indigenous partners make meaningful contributions to our projects, and that we have a net-positive impact in the communities in which we work. This was established by our founder, Victor, and his executive vice president, Roland Bailey. Victor and Roland worked together in small communities when they were young linemen at Northwestel. This impacted both of their outlooks on how communities can be engaged to help execute projects, and to benefit from the economic inputs these projects have for communities.
“On a similar note, my work at Valard has privileged me to see all the corners of Canada. I’ve travelled to the remotest parts of Ontario, Labrador, the Yukon, the North West Territories and Nunavut, as well as conducted business in all the provincial capitals and major economic centres. This is not an experience that is unique to me; many of our employees have seen all the corners of this country and truly experienced its diversity.
“Additionally, it is very rewarding to stand back and understand all of the careers that we have kickstarted and nurtured – the leg-ups that we have given young people taking their first jobs out of high school or university, or local residents in the hundreds of communities we have worked in that have received training, advancement or a solid season’s work while it was available in their backyard. Projects are an economic stimulus, but that stimulus is really about having a positive impact on people’s quality of life, and their sense of accomplishment and contribution to their community.”
Adam does admit, though, that they have an unusual and rather cheeky method of ensuring each project is delivered on time, on budget, and with their signature stamp of excellence and innovation. “We drag our clients, kicking and screaming, to a successful project completion!” he laughs, but further explains that Valard’s mission is to overcome challenges and take a leadership role to ensure successful projects for their clients and for the communities where work is taking place.
“Regardless of what barriers might exist to an orderly execution of the project, we stay engaged and continue working towards getting the project done on time. This means we don’t threaten to walk off a project if there is conflict or change. We see the project through and ensure that when we resolve differences, we are doing so from the vantage point of a completed project, as opposed to a failed one that has become mired in a loss of direction.
“We have more experience in power system construction than any enterprise in Canada today; having the confidence to tell an employer or client that they are wrong sometimes puts a relationship at risk, but it is always in the service of giving them the best possible outcome. Putting our experience at the service of our clients is the best thing we can do to ensure their project is beneficial to both their investors and the communities they serve.”
The company is equally concerned with the success of its staff, both in the office and in the field.
“Valard has an over-reaching commitment to safety reflected in its pioneering OSHAS 18001 safety program, as well as in its supporting safety culture,” Adam confirms. “We have always believed that experience is the most important contributor to safe outcomes, and as such have always paid a premium to have people of profound experience employed on our projects. Valard is often at odds with other organizations that demand terminations for broken rules, and instead has maintained focus on deliberate negligence as the sole reason to terminate a person. If the employees make bad decisions because they are uninformed, that is the fault of the organization, and we need to correct our approach. The employee that has made a mistake and recognized their contribution to an incident is the most likely not to make that mistake again.”
Forty years have passed since the Budzinskis purchased Valard, and each passing year has solidified the company’s position as a reliable, effective, focused and successful contractor. Valard thanks its teams, clients, and community partners for continuing to trust them to deliver on a promise of “any project, any time, anywhere.”
With an unwavering commitment to its employees, clients, community and the environment, and with a dedication to using the best business practices to bring each project to an efficient completion, Valard looks back on a history it can be proud of, and a future full of opportunities.