To find one thriving century-old construction services company in Canada is incredible. To find two of them combining is historic. That is exactly what happened in the fall of 2020 as Bird Construction and Stuart Olson joined forces to create a company with increased breadth and experience to better serve its client bases across the country.
“You’re bringing together two equivalent 100-year-old companies, which brings together an incredible amount of experience and depth,” says Grant Rae, VP district manager for northern Alberta. “We’ve now got resources across Canada that we can draw on and that provides our clients and ourselves the best chance for success on our projects.”
And the firm is successfully expanding its footprint and further growing the business across sectors and across the country.
Growing Since 1920
Since Bird and Woodall Construction Company started in 1920, the business has consistently grown in scope and geography. By the mid-1940s it was the largest home builder in Canada and had set up operations in Alberta to facilitate its foray into the energy sector. Public since 1949, Bird Construction has worked on enormous projects ranging from university campuses to clean coal silos, big box stores to military facilities, hydroelectric generating stations to schools.
The company set up new districts as it secured clients in diverse fields. To accommodate its growth, Bird acquired its first company in 2007 to facilitate its push into the Maritimes. Then in the mid-2000s Bird acquired another to support its heavy civil infrastructure, mining and energy interests and expanded again with the acquisition of a leader in water and wastewater facilities construction. In 2017, Bird recognized the opportunities surrounding modular construction and acquired 50 per cent of Stack Modular.
In 2020, Bird Construction acquired Stuart Olson, another leading construction company that has operated across Canada since 1911. While it is an acquisition by definition, it is a merger by approach, and the teams on both sides of the deal are excited at what this relationship means for the industry and for the new Bird.
What Bird and Stuart Olson Can Do Together
The new Bird and Stuart Olson team has proven that one plus one is greater than two, and both legacy companies are working hard to maintain a sense of team.
“Stuart Olson and Bird are very aligned in culture, in process, in reputation, which will make the integration easier,” says Rosarie Zimmerman, office manager and executive assistant to Grant Rae.
While the businesses were similar in culture, they offered some different services delivered in a different way. The merger diversified the portfolio of the new company, and the complementary nature of the two sides’ strengths opened opportunities for new business.
The companies were essentially operating in separate market sectors so the overlap found in many mergers wasn’t present at Bird and Stuart Olson. There were things that Bird Construction did that Stuart Olson had not, and offerings at Stuart Olson that Bird had not explored. The teams are now amalgamating the best practices and processes into a new approach to business, thus leveraging more value for clients.
While Stuart Olson historically applied more of a construction management delivery approach, Bird Construction took more of a hard bid, lump sum method. Today’s company can offer most delivery models, finding success with general contracting and construction management, design-build, integrated project delivery, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC), and public-private partnership (P3) models.
“It is a very interesting yin and yang where there’s different experience and strengths that come from the two different companies and each company has developed a certain style. Then you bring them together and we’re picking the best from both companies and combining it into the new Bird,” says Rob Otway, executive vice president, Buildings West.
The new toolkit of skills and perspectives is attractive to both potential and existing clients. A client now has an expanded menu of capabilities, allowing them to use Bird and Stuart Olson as a one-stop shop that can cover all aspects of a job. The combined company checks off most boxes on a client’s list of needs, and there is now a team equipped to meet nearly any requirement a client could have.
“The opportunity of the merger between these two companies is not lost on me,” says Rick Andison, director of business development. “We’ve got a unique and grand opportunity to do really good things in a short time.”
There is little the new company can’t provide clients and with more that 5,000 employees operating in 18 districts across the country, Bird and Stuart Olson can cover greater territory and create specialized teams.
The company has expertise in a wide range of industrial construction and maintenance, infrastructure, and agricultural/food projects. It can offer clients financing options to kickstart projects that otherwise would be grounded. The company also has a strong buildings division that is broken into Buildings East covering jobs from Manitoba east and Buildings West servicing clients in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
As part of the company’s growth plan, Buildings West is looking to add people who are a cultural fit with the company and to place the right people from within the company into the right positions to increase volume and opportunities across the West. Rob Otway came out of retirement to join the company after the merger to assist with the next exciting phase of growth.
“It really is like rebuilding a company, like it’s a 100-year-old start up,” says Otway. “We’re trying to create an approach where rather than having three offices for Buildings West that are siloed, we have teams in each area that look after the local geography and clients but also cover Western Canada as a group.”
It is a hybrid approach where the three western districts have their areas but are available to help with a project in Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver as needs arise. This allows the company to serve more than just metropolitan centres as it can call upon expertise in other areas to take on jobs across the buildings division.
Bird and Stuart Olson have a robust buildings division nationwide and services a diverse client base. It has an extensive footprint in the commercial and retail arena, engages in a variety of residential projects, and boasts a strong portfolio of institutional projects. The company has also been involved in cultural and recreational projects along with various food processing, defense and military, and transportation buildings.
Bird has embraced the growth of modular buildings, integrating conventional site construction with the opportunity to leverage pre-built steel frame modular buildings of up to 40 storeys. The company has partnered with Stack Modular on a variety of remote housing, hospitality, long-term care, and multi-unit residential projects. Bird is also currently involved in a large LNG project in Kitimat incorporating 400 units.
This aligns with the combined company’s commitment to environmental practices too as modular construction reduces waste, consumes less energy during construction and operation, and minimizes noise and other site disturbances during construction.
Environmental practices are ingrained in Bird’s culture and it is implementing sustainability practices at multiple levels. The company delivers systems that meet LEED, Green Globes, Passive House, and Zero Carbon building requirements and, combined with Stuart Olson, has built more than 200 LEED buildings to date. It also seeks out strategic partnerships with environmental companies to provide the best green options for clients while exploring inhouse net zero possibilities.
Bird and Stuart Olson employ innovative energy-efficient initiatives for sustainable construction and low carbon solutions. Their mass timber projects use renewable wood-based resources to capture carbon and offset total CO2 emissions. The company also implements plans to reduce waste and reuse materials when possible to avoid the landfill.
“There is a lot that we engage with on a regular basis on the environmental side – reclamation of old sites, environmental cleanup, solar power – and it seems that every new opportunity that comes along opens up a new universe because we have the tools and resources at our disposal including a solid team of knowledgeable people able to deliver and bring that value-add to the client,” says Andison.
To further help the company build smarter, more efficient environmentally-friendly buildings, Bird and Stuart Olson created the Centre for Building Performance. This group helps construction teams, designers and clients implement systems that optimize building systems sustainability while reducing its environmental footprint.
Once the building is turned over, the Centre provides building management solutions that can reduce operating costs and improve efficiency over time. Clients can monitor building operations in real time to identify if systems aren’t operating at peak capacity. The Centre helps teams implement the best smart building technology system for each individual project to get the best outcome for clients.
The team at Bird and Stuart Olson is proud of their commitment to sustainability and is drawn to clients who are as dedicated to reducing environmental impacts as they are.
The company is dedicated to the health of the environment as well as the health of the communities in which it works. The company contributes to more than 60 causes and scholarships yearly, with employees often steering the initiatives’ direction. They host a quarterly blood drive in the Canadian Blood Services facility Bird built, and partner with organizations like Zero Hungry Kids to make sure kids in schools like those they build don’t go hungry. The company and its employees donate time, funds, and fundraise for many causes dear to them to better their communities. This includes bettering the First Nations communities touched by many of its projects.
“We are committed to our Indigenous Relations program, and to fostering long-lasting, and holistic partnerships with Indigenous communities; and we also provide mandatory Indigenous Relations training for employees,” says Rae.
with a Twist
Encouraging workforce participation is happening in Edmonton as well. Stuart Olson is proud to help address Edmonton’s affordable housing shortage with its Londonderry Affordable Housing project, a 240-unit redevelopment in north Edmonton. But the company is doing more than just building the facility. In partnership with Civida, Stuart Olson is creating a unique labour engagement initiative that helps break down employment barriers by recruiting the same people who would live in the complex to work on it. They aim to have five per cent of the trades workforce recruited from Civida’s affordable housing program with hopes that it leads to a new career path for them beyond the project.
“The city of Edmonton has a shortage of affordable housing beds and we know that we’re only taking a small bite out of it – but we’ve taken a bite. It’s super satisfying,” says Rae.
Bird and Stuart Olson are moving forward post-merger with sights on measured growth through a quality product coupled with social and environmental responsibility.
Future is Bright
As the combined company enters its second century in business, it is revamping its IT and delivery systems, financial systems and technology to be ready to meet the challenges of the future. It is leaning into digitizing the business, working with 3D-digital versions of buildings to allow clients and teams to look at all aspects of a building virtually in pre-construction.
“The new Bird going forward is going to be a very modern and sophisticated company that delivers on what clients are really asking for – the relationships and collaboration as well as the technical expertise,” says Otway.
It’s exciting times at Bird and Stuart Olson and the integrated team is more than up to the challenge.
Take a look as two 100-year-old
companies come together for #OurBestBuildYet