To find one thriving century-old construction services company in Canada is incredible. To find two that have combined 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.
“This is two equivalent-sized firms that are coming together, and it really cements us as a leading coast-to-coast general contractor,” says Jeremy Boldt, assistant district manager for Bird and Stuart Olson. “With the merger we’ve diversified the portfolio of what our two firms can do.”
What the new firm can do is expand its footprint and further grow 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 expanded to Alberta to service 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 districts as it secured new clients. To accommodate growth, Bird acquired its first company in 2007 to facilitate the push into the Maritimes, 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 fifty 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 about what this relationship means for the industry and for the new Bird.
Making Two Companies One
Early in the merger, an Integration Committee was assembled consisting of representatives from both companies’ operation groups and co-chaired by Sandra MacDougall, project director from Bird, and Beau Brown, project director from Stuart Olson. The goal was to keep employees informed about what was happening and offer points of contact should anyone have questions or concerns. By integrating the processes and communications of both companies, they started building relationships to maintain the focus on team inherent in both legacy companies.
It was important to have a smooth transition and that was made easier by the similar cultures of the two companies.
“The Integration Committee has been beneficial to date and easy to implement given that we are aligned on our ideas, values and vision,” MacDougall says.
What Bird and Stuart Olson
Can Do Together
While the businesses were similar in culture, they offered some different services delivered in a different way. The merger further 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.
“We hope to take all of this and move towards increasing that value for clients to the point where one plus one is more than two, and we can multiply with some of the complementary things that we can deliver to clients,” says Boldt.
While Stuart Olson historically applied 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, 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 potential and existing clients. Clients now have an expanded menu of capabilities, allowing them to use Bird and Stuart Olson as a one-stop shop that can check off most boxes in a client’s wish list. And with more than 5,000 employees operating in 18 districts across the country, Bird Stuart Olson can cover greater territory and create specialized teams.
“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.”
The company has expertise in a wide range of industrial, infrastructure and agricultural/food projects. It can offer clients financing options to kickstart projects that otherwise would be grounded. It also has a strong buildings division 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 plans 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 Calgary, Edmonton 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, long-term care, and multi-unit residential projects. Bird is also currently involved in a large resource project in Kitimat, BC incorporating 400 units.
“On the modular side, we’re starting to look at leveraging in different commercial environments as well,” says Boldt.
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 and renewables side – reclamation of old sites, environmental cleanup, waste water infrastructure, 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.
A Green Tower
The company is excited to help the University of Calgary campus reach carbon neutrality through the MacKimmie Tower project. The project’s success lies in a combination of sustainable design and modern technology and building analytics.
“The University of Calgary decided to take a leadership position with regard to sustainability and pursue net zero for that structure. We’re proud to be part of that and for our teams to see and explore some of the paths to get there,” says Boldt.
Net zero paths are many: double-skin façade to decrease energy consumption, photovoltaic roof panels, wastewater energy capture and using less carbon-intense building materials. The Centre also provides realtime analytics to help the University of Calgary improve ongoing system performance for maximum energy efficiency. The MacKimmie Tower will be one of the most energy-efficient buildings on a Canadian post-secondary campus.
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 have a really strong Indigenous Relations program,” says Boldt, and the company continues to engage and consult with Indigenous people on projects and to encourage them to participate in the workforce of those projects.
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 Bird enters its second century in business, it is focused on optimizing 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