Home Month and Year June 2020 Johnston Builders Daring to be Different

Johnston Builders Daring to be Different


Johnston Builders specializes in design build, construction management and general contracting primarily in the commercial, industrial, institutional and hospitality sectors across Western Canada and the Yukon.

In 1990, Don Johnston was at a crossroads. He had options on which path to take but there was only one path he wanted. His dream was to have his own construction company. With equity partners Murray Nason, Terry Moen and Brian Mumby, Don forged ahead. His strategy was unique. The team would bid on jobs other contractors didn’t want, which is why Johnston Builders enjoyed many great projects in Northern Alberta and in remote, rural communities.

Don’s strategy, along with the efforts of a hardworking, experienced team, paid off. By 1994 Johnston Builders was in its first office – which they promptly outgrew. This theme would repeat itself again an again until the company built its own large facility in Campbell Park and started operating out of it in 2012. Johnston Builders reached another milestone in 2019 by opening an office and shop in Whitehorse. Don retired in 2017 and is pleased to see the company still growing and thriving.

James Hackney, president & CEO, has been with Johnston Builders since 2001. “At that time, we were a small company working out of a combined shop/office. Don ran the company and projects while I worked under him as a junior project manager/estimator and as the safety coordinator in charge of getting our COR. We had Bob Kahanyshyn as a senior project manager. Chad Muldoon was another project manager. Bonnie Huckabay did the accounting and reception and our superintendents at the time – Ron Nicholson, Kevin Pytyle, Murray Urkow, Geno Barahona and Mitch Ethier – were also very hands on.”

“We all exemplify our core purpose: the journey from imagination to fruition, and our brand promise: collective teamwork, positive results,” continues Hackney. “This explains a lot about who we are and what we do. We are a lot of likeminded individuals here for the journey.

“We are not a niche contractor; we can do any project in any location and we have staff that are willing to work abroad. We are confident in taking calculated risks and not scared of complex or remote work.

“Our culture is strong and therefore retention and attracting top individuals is very good. We have great strategy from our board of directors, and our leadership group is accountable to ensure those strategies are executed. I feel that we are progressive with evolving into a better company than what other companies our size understand and accomplish.”

A clear advantage of being a strong company with an open and agile attitude, Johnston has been able to shift focus while continuing to operate during the pandemic.  Hackney explains, “Our strategy at the start of the year looks a bit different now with the uncertainty of COVID-19. However, we are doing everything we can do to progress with business with four key priorities to combat the situation: communication, health and safety, budget control and contracts. Our task force that we setup to mitigate the risks of the situation and our staff have done a remarkable job. We will get through this together and will be ready for the rebound.”

Johnston Builders is in a great position for its existing contracts and the coming rebound thanks to experience with large projects such as a recently completed $23 million residential condo complex and a $21 million dollar complex started in March. Just a few of the other projects where Johnston Builders’ innovation and creativity are apparent include:

Drive Products: new headquarters that includes office space, a large showroom, warehouse storage, and maintenance bays. The multi-use facility was constructed on location where poor soil conditions existed. Portland cement was used to stabilize over 23,000 square metres. Occupancy was six weeks ahead of schedule.

The Crimson Hotel: complete renovation, modernization, and restoration of the historic 1950’s hotel, including the addition of a new underground indoor pool and hot tub all while maintaining the original footprint of the building. Johnston Builders staggered the opening of rooms so the hotel could continue to generate revenue during the construction process.

Chapelle Gardens: excavation for the back section of the foundation was located extremely close to the existing sidewalks and poor weather conditions required an alternative approach to constructing the deep foundations. Johnston Builders worked collaboratively with the structural engineer to redesign foundation. Work was completed on schedule and without any open excavations.

Hinton Garden Inn West Edmonton: a 168 unit hotel with an indoor pool, lounge restaurant and banquet rooms. Johnston Builders worked with Platinum Investments on this project as construction managers. Hackney notes, “It was unique for us as we had not done a job this size at that time. This was a turning point for our company. Working with Hilton Hotels Corporation was a lot of fun and we were able to fast track it and complete the design and construction in 13 months. We worked collaboratively (design and construction teams) as we were building while designing. While the site/foundation was being worked on, the load bearing steel stud panels with windows and the exterior finish were being completed in St. Albert. It was remarkable and am very proud to be part of that job.”

Hackney loves the challenge of design/builds like this and tells clients, “Lets have fun; we won’t let you down! We want to build complete trust and transparency where you have no reason to ever go to another contractor in the future. We treat you right and respect you and your vision. We can tailor our contract and services in ways that will work for you and we will be loyal partners now and into the future.”

It’s not just projects the company builds. They are community builders too.

“We have always selected groups to support annually such as: Relay For Life, RunWild, Make-A-Wish®, The Ride to Conquer Cancer, St. Albert’s Food Bank, Sturgeon Community Hospital Foundation and multiple amateur sports teams,” he says.

Between the interesting and challenging projects that allow the team to push themselves, and the community involvement, it’s no wonder why employee engagement is high. Over the last four years Johnston Builders has worked collaboratively with a consulting firm to improve their culture, vision, strategy and accountability. In the past year they redeveloped their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to continue to remeasure employee satisfaction. While the average satisfaction score is +30 points (out of a scale of -100 to +100), Johnston Builders’ employees rated the company a whopping +70 points, which is legendary status.

On behalf of the founder and his equity partners, and the past and present staff, Hackney thanks everyone that has been instrumental in getting Johnston Builders to where it is today.

“There are so many key organizations we have done business with. Our clients are great and have good loyalty with repeat work,” he praises. “Edmonton is such a versatile business community, but it is also small. There are a lot of opportunities. Yes, oil and gas are a big part, but so is the government sector, hospitality, institutional with great schools, and some of the industry leaders in medicine and technology. We, as a company, can partner with so many sectors. There is great competition with other construction companies, which only makes us all better. I respect them.”

He concludes, “The plan for the future is slow, organic, successful growth in the North, and we will refocus on the right opportunities in Alberta.”