Be the best and experience success – This is the mission statement of AltaPro Electric. A company that has been around for 35 years and has a proven track record of success. I met with Bert and Jeanette DeBruin, the founders of AltaPro Electric to discuss the achievements of their business and the challenges they have faced in the recent years since their 30th anniversary. Through talking to Bert and Jeanette it was obvious that there are passionate about their business and especially their people and who they work with. I would like to share with you a bit about where they have come from and their achievements, since the 30th.
This tremendous growth in the areas of solar PV(Photovoltaic), IPD (Integrated Project Delivery), their service department, along with some of the key projects, challenges and solutions around that, and I would also like to share their excitement around some of their accomplishments and the bright future I see for AltaPro. Five years ago the De Bruins shared with Business in Edmonton how they started and built the company through grit and determination, all with the goal of being at the top of their game, while providing a great place for people to work through the intentional development of leaders, and be in a position to always give back to the community. They did all that in 30 years. Now, at their 35th anniversary, the discussion is “What has happened since?”
For 35 years, this is the foundation that Bert DeBruin, CEO, Business Development and Jeanette DeBruin, Director, HR Manager, have built their brand upon.
AltaPro is continuing to lead the way in the electrical design-build industry for clients in the multi-tenant, institutional, educational, multi-family, healthcare, recreational, correctional, agricultural, transportation, hospitality and religious facilities. Their special projects and service department is still in constant growth. More now than ever before the design build services has largely transitioned to be procured through the IPD department.
When I asked Bert to highlight a few of the recent accomplishments he rattled off a list bigger than I was expecting “Since AltaPro’s 30th anniversary, annual revenues have more than doubled, almost tripled in fact. “Our team has designed and installed Canada’s largest rooftop solar array, we have experienced unparalleled accomplishment with the completion of 16 IPD projects and counting, our solar department is experiencing explosive growth, and we have expanded our pre-fabrication shop, to name a few,” Bert explains grinning with boyish enthusiasm.
“Additionally, we completed over 22 schools through design build, design assist or IPD, and more than 500 projects of all types, over the last five years. But you can’t forget our biggest project to date that we are currently working on which required an unprecedented hiring feat from Jeannette whom we are very proud of”
Jeanette, as HR Manager couldn’t be happier about achieving a record, she and her team set in 2021. “Since May 2021 we hired well over 200 great people and grew our total staff to over 330 employees. We had a huge target to hit and the team pulled together to refine and lean up processes to help me be able to meet the targets, sometimes hiring around 20 people a week! “she explained.
On every front, AltaPro has experienced what the De Bruin’s call “ferocious growth in both people and revenue, but this would not be possible without our team continually performing and living to our core values.”
Key projects of note include our IPD projects such as the Edmonton Public Schools projects Thelma and Soraya, Garth Worthing School, the St Patrick’s Red Deer Catholic School. Also the Freedom Cannabis facility with Canada’s largest rooftop solar array and YEG2 Amazon Sort facility in the Acheson business park. The IPD project of Larkspur and Pilot Sound communities provided unique opportunities, challenges and risks that our project team handled with excellence. The two schools opened under budget and ahead of time and were part of a long-standing relationship with many of the partners for AltaPro.
Garth Worthington School was an IPD project with challenges in budget constraints requiring target value designing, critical forecasting, and team building which lead to wish list implementation. Additionally, the project was just starting construction when COVID hit but the team pulled together, pivoted and delivered a successful project that was also on time and under budget.
St Patrick’s School, established in 1981, was one on the first school IPD projects that consisted of a renovation and an addition with many unknown levels of asbestos and what lurks in the walls and above the ceilings. The biggest challenge of the renovation was that the school had to remain open for the students, pressing the project to many phases with strategic turn over of class rooms and teacher spaces. Again, there was success; under budget and ahead of schedule.
Freedom Cannabis involved a large-scale design-build warehouse tenant improvement with Canada’s largest rooftop solar installation (1.83MW). “Our innovative design-build practices, in short order, saved the FC owner over one million dollars, which allowed them to add more solar and become the largest rooftop solar array in Canada,” Bert stated with a big grin.
With all of these proud achievements constantly pushing their team to new boundaries of success they knew the team could tackle anything they set their minds to. Then came the opportunity of YEG2. It is a complex 2.7million square foot facility that was to be built in just over a year! This massive of an undertaking was going to require a unique approach so Bert reached out to friends in the industry to partner up and help us tackle this mammoth project. It is nearing completion and is on track to be one our biggest successes to date.
AltaPro’s renewable resources/solar division was started more than five years ago, but recently it has really taken off. By the end of 2022 AltaPro will have installed more than 25 megawatts of PV and is set to start work on the 100+ megawatts worth of projects in its pipeline. They are the company to call for the installation of solar PV and EV chargers, and are pleased to become one of Alberta’s largest solar-PV installation contractors. Practicing what they preach, AltaPro’s own shop has a roof top solar array that makes their facility operate at net zero electrically. To help Edmonton usher in the growing movement of switching to solar, AltaPro offers free solar assessments for residential, commercial and industrial properties.
In the past 5 years AltaPro has gone through some large growth and delivered some critical projects. “Our focus remains on hiring, training and retaining highly skilled people,” says Jeanette with the pride of their people beaming through her smile. “We intentionally train all our people for success. With this method we have enjoyed high employee retention with low turnover, especially in leadership positions. Every team member is a very key part of our success and we don’t lose sight of that. The personal touch is there”. Bert pipes in “The staff are often impressed that Jeanette will remember their birthdays and the names of their children or what they do for fun. It shows that the company really cares even though they are a medium sized business they know what it means to be a part of the lives of the staff. We have a social chat on our team’s platform that often celebrates people’s personal achievements and milestones. When one person succeeds, the whole team succeeds. We celebrate and recognizes these successes in part with a gong that we ring in the lunchroom when new projects are awarded. There are ski trips, river canoe rides, social activities and more with the team. We are very proud of our strong corporate culture.”
“Fostering the growth of key individuals in our ownership team is also important,” Jeanette points out. “We added an executive leadership team who work on the strategic focus of the business, which involves key leaders who drive the business forward and work on annual priorities and meet bi-weekly to monitor and track progress towards our goals. To keep the executive team as accountable as possible, we work closely with Results-orientated Business execution specialists.”
David DeBruin is one of our executive leadership team members. His vision as the VP of renewable resources has helped to propel AltaPro to be at the leading edge of the solar market in Alberta.
“David is highly knowledgeable in the solar design field and has become a resource for several architects and engineers who rely on him for design methodology, constructability and new product knowledge in the industry,” say Bert and Jeanette, with pride. “He continues to research new innovations in the solar market and bring them to the Alberta businesses and homes.
“On the project side, our focus is intentionally on our request for proposal method of opening doors to be pre-qualified for projects where we can focus on the value, we add to the project rather than how cheap we can do it,” Bert emphasizes. “We continue to bid on lump sum projects, but with contractors whom we already enjoy a positive working relationship.” AltaPro has a laser focus on negotiating with their partners for the best path forward with them as part of the team.
Thanks to a collaborative, high accountability approach and an early adoption of new construction technologies, AltaPro continues to build their industry presence and market share, standing on a great reputation for the mastery of design-build, IPD and solar PV. Their willingness to do joint ventures with the competition helps them grow across western Canada, as does the ability to provide quick turn around class D budgets for multimillion-dollar projects.”
“Through it all we still manage to have fun, even in tough times!” As with every business in Alberta, those tough times included the sudden industry changes demanded by COVID,” Bert says. “We are well advanced into the technology of our industry, which allowed us to pivot almost seamlessly into the COVID times because of our digital prowess. All of the systems we use were already on digital platforms and our staff were able to pivot almost instantly to a work from home approach. Its been many years since we printed drawings sets for estimating as all our takeoffs and estimating is live and digital. Of course, we have a large labour force who had to adapt to COVID policies on sites but our safety culture allowed for a smooth transition here as well.
“The transition to on-line only allowed our staff to fit more into a work day and we were able to achieve record productivity from many of our office staff,” Jeanette notes. “The executive team worked tirelessly making sure the transition was as fluid as possible and that our staff were able to stay connected and be a team even though we were spread across the city working remotely.
“Other challenges both directly and indirectly related to COVID, include supply chain management, procurement, material cost increases and finding the right team members. The unfortunate outcome is that these costs and risks have been borne by those least likely to be responsible for these cost increases, but AltaPro approaches each challenge with the experience and adherence to their core values that keep them overcoming the hurdles, one at a time.”
“Today and in the near future, the risk will be material procurement, product cost increases, availability of a high performing labour force or just knowing that a contractor will still be there to complete your project. With our value add of driving pull planning, QA/QC and keeping the end user and the customer, happy,” Bert says.. “This partnership is rare and irreplaceable, especially when trades are at risk of bankruptcy as our industry has been absorbing all the costs of tremendous material increases and labor shortages, especially in the last two years.”
“Our core values drive our performance to be your strategic partner more than ever for all types of electrical and related systems. Our culture resonates from the top to the bottom and we operate as one team. Our values and success are not limited to a few people in the company.
“The culture we have built ensures that no matter which project we are building, you will receive AltaPro’s unparalleled experience. Whether it is an IPD project, solar project or a design-build project, we will ensure you have the same success no matter which team members are on your build because we work together as one team, push performance and continue to rise above. We focus on innovative solutions to the industry’s biggest challenges such as material procurement, labour shortages, and stale project delivery models. We continually strive to be the best and experience success, our track record proves that we deliver on our promises every time.”
Alongside overcoming the many challenges, AltaPro celebrates the wins that help maintain this balance. Just some of the memorable moments over the past five years include the ribbon cutting ceremony for the solar array installed on AltaPro’s roof; the successful transition to a near-paperless office; remaining stable through tremendous growth; Jeanette’s Alberta Women Entrepreneurs win; achieving Strategic Partner of the Year 2019 by Kemway Builders; and being an EY finalists for Entrepreneur of the Year Prairies Region in 2012, 2015, and 2019.
The recognitions are nice, but Jeanette and Bert both cite their greatest achievement, “What we are the proudest of is seeing our people flourish and grow in their fields of expertise, developing as a team and living our core values.”
AltaPro has always used its success as a platform to give back to the industry and the community. The founders sit on seven industry boards and committees, have donated AltaPro’s electrician training centre to NAIT as an in-kind gift to train future electricians with hands on learning as AltaPro expanded their pre-fabrication space. They also donate free electrical services to non-profit organizations around Christmas. AltaPro is a proud supporter of Edmonton’s Food Bank, Edmonton Down Syndrome Society, hope mission, United Way, and the Mustard Seed.
A lot has happened in the last five years, and there is a lot more to come. Jeanette hints at the future saying, “We are currently successfully facilitating and executing the first IPD project as a three-member team of solar contractor, electrical engineer, and structural engineer, delivering approximately $6 million of solar across 12 schools in 7 months time. A first of it’s kind!”
Bert goes on to talk about some of the business strategies that have helped them to succeed. The Board of Directors and shareholders have been available for many afterhours conversations that help our business to pivot and adjust to the multiple challenges that came up in the past five years. Covid especially showed the strength of AltaPro’s versatility and adaptability. AltaPro was able to maximize the opportunities and limit the attrition through a very tough time in the construction industry and in the rest of the world. They came out ahead of the curve and started their growth pattern which continues to this day and looks like it will continue forward from here. “we have the owners that are willing to step up to the plate whether it be to help out on a project, get a submission done in time, rush a complex bid out the door or even attend business community functions. We can count on our other owners to step up to the plate.”
AltaPro continues to grow their renewable energy dominance, create more IPD projects across Western Canada and grow the service and special projects department. AltaPro is on a mission to spread knowledge and skills in IPD across the industry through mentorship, alignment and support to other contractors and team members on new IPD projects across different regions.”
Faith and community are drivers of the core values of Bert and Jeanette and realize that the success is not of their own doing but is derived from a team that has and will continue to develop their God-given talents. The health and welfare of their People is constantly in their prayers.
The founders are incredibly grateful to, “Our people, close industry friends, leaders that press us to ‘do better,’ developers, architects, consultants, engineers, contractors, sub trades, suppliers, industry leaders, results coaches and boards and associations.” Bert adds, “my number one thanks goes to my wife Jeanette who is the core of our culture here at AltaPro, with huge thanks to my son David, the ownership group, and the rest of our upcoming leaders.”
Address: 13415 149 St,
Edmonton, AB T5L 2T3
Phone: (780) 444-6510