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Jen-Col: Building a Better Future

For the 40-year old company, building the future comes first. Construction is a means to that end.

Photo by Michael Manchakowski.

Jen-Col is a commercial and institutional construction company. The president of Jen-Col, Cory Jodoin, has a firm handshake, an infectious laugh, and a relentless drive to create success on every project by producing and leveraging the most outstanding work culture in Edmonton’s construction landscape. It’s evident in the company’s headquarters, which was thoughtfully designed from the ground up to make every person on the grounds – staff, management, visitors, contractors, clients – feel not only fully welcomed and equal, but invigorated and inspired as well. Unique touches in the office include the “win” button that anyone can press to set off a hockey-goal alarm on every floor. It’s a signal to rush to the common area to hear good news: an engagement, a new client, a birthday – whatever needs celebrating in the moment.

Cory’s paradigm-shift thinking in focusing on the corporate culture and people he interacts with over a singular focus on revenue has produced radical results. The employees, contractors, and clients quickly and easily grasp the vision for each project, and they remain enthusiastic and positive for its duration. What does this mean for the company’s clients? It means Jen-Col has done the impossible: naturally attracting clients by making construction fun.

How? Well, that’s a story 40 years in the making.

“My parents, Ron and Yvonne, started the company,” explains Cory. He’s relaxed in the common area, a sprawling comfort zone specially designed for the staff. It includes a dreamy kitchen, large tables, comfortable couches, and a big screen informing passersby of upcoming events, news, and even self-care and wellness tips. “My dad was going to go up to Fort McMurray for a job, but a friend said, ‘hey, build me a house.’ He saw an opportunity to chart his own course, and he took it.”

You’d be forgiven if you think of Jen-Col as a small family business in Stony Plain. After all, that’s where the roots of the company are, and those roots run deep. Ron and Yvonne started the company right on their acreage, but they soon expanded to a shop on Stony Plain’s Boulder Boulevard.

“The company had grown, gotten into commercial work, and started Meridian Millwork,” says Cory. “Part of moving was because we wanted the family table to be a family table again, not the ‘office’!”

Cory gets his out-of-the-box thinking from his father. When interest rates soared in the 1980s, most construction companies pulled their punches. Not Ron. He committed to build when rates came down to 13 per cent. It was an odd but winning strategy. The company blossomed and expanded into another building in 1996.

In the early 2000s, Cory joined as a partner and brought with him a streamlined focus and long-range plan. The millwork company was sold, and the focus shifted purely to Jen-Col. In 2012, he bought his father’s shares and turned to designing Jen-Col’s stunning Acheson headquarters.

“Build a better future,” says Cory. “That’s the only reason we exist. It’s the filter through which we evaluate everything we do. When I say, ‘build a better future,’ it’s not just about Jen-Col; it’s also about the client, the trades, the architects, our people, the engineers – everyone that is involved. It’s not a singular lens.

“Construction is about people. People build buildings. We have a culture where we really want to see others succeed. Not too many people look at building a building and say, ‘you are going to enjoy the process,’ but I know construction can be a positive experience. Our focus is on managing the process and this allows our clients to enjoy it and focus their attention on continuing to make their business successful.”

Jen-Col has never tooted its own horn. It just does what it does and does it well. A lot of the schools throughout Northern Alberta have that Jen-Col touch, but so do many high-profile projects, like Jubilee Park’s new spray park, the $35 million East Edmonton Primary Health Centre, Borden Park Pavilion (which was recently awarded with the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture), and currently, Main Street Law’s towering new office.

Behind these forward-thinking projects is a team of nearly 90, and the company is still growing; as Cory puts it, “in the way we want to grow.”

“I would say we are set more on improving than growing. We want to have solid processes, innovation, and we want to improve the way construction is done in the industry. We grow internally and externally. It’s easy to grow revenue when you focus first on growing people that add value to our client’s projects.

“I’m all about culture. That’s one of the four pillars that I focus on. I firmly believe that you must have fun at work. Do you have to work hard? Absolutely. But it has to be fun and meaningful, and people have to know that you care about them and that you are engaged in doing better things.”

That engagement extends beyond the project portfolio.

Cory points out, “We have a social committee that organizes and plans events that the staff want. We engage in outside activities that benefit others, like Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. We are very community minded, and not just financially. It’s doing a walk with someone to support their cause; it’s engaging in the charitable opportunities that mean something to our staff.” Jen-Col is a major contributor to Parkland Food Bank, and Cory sits on the board of Compete to Contribute, an initiative that inspires youth to be actively engaged in charitable projects.

The president leans on four pillars to guide Jen-Col: culture, strategy, external partnerships, and financial stability. It’s not lost on him that every decision Jen-Col makes affects the staff, clients, and their families; but he’s happy to accept that responsibility.

“Pressure is earned, and pressure is a privilege,” he smiles. “You’ll only grow to the level that you are able to handle the pressure. That is what will cap your success. For me, it’s about the team. If we have the most talented people, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. Construction is all about teamwork; it is the ultimate team sport.

“We have a clear vison, solid values that we live every day, and we know exactly where we are going and how we are going to get there. We know what behaviour is expected. We know how we want to operate. We are a company where people really align and know if it’s for them or know if it’s not.

“We do what we say and we say what we mean. You see living proof of this every day. Our people believe it. They know it. They nurture it. They protect it. They want to stay in a work environment where it’s positive and they can accomplish things as a team.”

Despite the new and exciting direction of the company, Cory is proud of Jen-Col’s past, and he keeps it alive by naming two of the meeting rooms with slogans from the company’s founding members.

“I’m very proud of where we came from and I’m very proud of how we are executing our succession,” he says. “We started off as a family business, and although we are not a family business anymore, we are company with family values. We still have the tradition of the past, but I’m really excited about where we are now.”

The focus is now on continuing to build an enduring company that extends beyond the family generations, and leaving a lasting legacy of expertly executed projects built by a team that passionately cares about every facet of the job.

For clients, knowing how much effort goes into Jen-Col’s corporate culture, and how that results in the creativity and productivity their projects need, is one of the reasons they are so drawn to Jen-Col; and, as Cory explains, having a team that actively listens to what is needed is also part of the attraction.

“I like to truly understand what a client’s challenges are, and then solve them. I like to see them grow their business. I like teaching clients that there are different ways of doing construction. There can be procurement methods where they are way more involved and they feel like they are part of the experience. We bring [clients] in as part of the team and truly, deeply get to know the touch points, such as challenges they had in the past and what doesn’t work for them. The table stakes are quality, schedule, and budget, but their past experiences really matter, too. Every construction company has to deliver on time and on budget, so we aim to do more than that. We want to fulfill – exceed – client expectations and give each one an unrivaled experience – and we want to see them have fun along the way.”

The fact that Jen-Col has many awards and recognitions also keeps the company top-of-mind when clients are selecting a builder to trust with their high-profile, multi-million dollar projects.

In 2011, Jen-Col won the Edmonton Construction Association contractor of the year award; it’s an honour very dear to Cory’s heart. “At that time, my father was still engaged in the company, and we won the award organically. We didn’t submit for it. It was nice to see Jen-Col validated for doing good things.”

Jen-Col turns 40 in October, and Cory reflects on where the company came from, where it is now, and its future potential.

“I want to thank the people who work for the company and all the people that supported us along the way. It’s never one person. You never know who is going to give you a nugget or one meaningful conversation or an ‘aha’ moment when you move forward with something. I thank everyone we had the opportunity to work with and who has made us who we are.”

What comes next for Jen-Col?

“Growing and giving other clients the opportunity to appreciate working with our company. Moving forward on the path we are on. I want to continue to build a company that has a profound impact on everyone that it touches. That’s what motivates me, and that’s where we are going.”

And with that, Jen-Col continues to build a better future for us all.