When Ryan Engel took over as president of Crestview Group in 2017 he had big shoes to fill. His father, Tim, had grown the electrical services company from a two-man operation launched in his basement in 1988 into a leading electrical commercial contractor in Calgary, with over 150 employees operating out of a two-storey design-built building in Eastlake Industrial. While Engel already had 20 years of experience at the company, the last few years of which were in a leadership role, with the sudden and tragic passing of his father he found himself in the driver’s seat.
“Over the years my dad was able to teach me a lot, so it’s not like I was going into it cold,” he reflects, “but it was definitely an eye opener. Just trying to maintain everything: the staff, the business, revenues, the banks and bonding companies. It was a lot of pressure.”
Add to this a slowdown in the economy and Engel had his work cut out for him. He was undaunted. “When you’re uncomfortable with something, if you put yourself in it and try to find a way through, you usually come out ahead, and a little bit educated from the experience,” he observes. “There was a lot of that happening for me, and it’s when I started to think maybe we need to change things up a little bit.”
The effort to diversify from solely commercial electrical was on. Engel had his sights set on new lines of business, the first of which was controls (for example, building management and advanced lighting controls technologies). This business was eventually amalgamated into the Building Technologies group, one of the three divisions Crestview operates today. The other two are Crestview Electric (which remains the bread and butter of the business) and CVE Solar.
“It’s still a young division, but our Building Technologies group is taking on major projects,” Engel says proudly. “They just finished a complete retrofit of the John J. Bowlen building downtown for Alberta Infrastructure. They rated us on our efforts afterwards and we received a really great rating from them.”
It’s these new businesses – Building Technologies and CVE Solar – that have helped sustain Crestview through the COVID pandemic and economic downturn.
“We started our national accounts in the Building Technologies division,” Engel says, “we have some major retail companies and huge big-box stores. We’re doing their telecommunication cabling across Western Canada.”
It has facilitated a push into Vancouver and other areas west. “We’ve been able to spin that into data and cabling for these stores, a direct-to-owner business,” he continues. “It’s been really good and one of the areas that, throughout all of this, has really been sustainable and proven. We’re really happy with that.”
CVE Solar has also seen great success, winning some major contracts. The CVE Solar team is currently working with Borea Construction, the leading Canadian renewable energy construction contractor, on a large megawatt solar facility in Hays, Alberta. Slated to be completed by the end of August, it’s the first megawatt install that CVE Solar has completed. “So far things have been going really well on site,” Engel says. “I think Borea is impressed with our team and what we have to offer.”
That team includes many electricians from Crestview Electric, who have developed a unique, well-rounded skill set which includes commercial, light industrial and solar. “That’s why we always say that we produce the best electricians,” Engel says with a smile.
CVE Solar has also been pricing out other projects, including for the city of Calgary and construction giant PCL Construction. “We’re pricing for the Travers Solar Project in Vulcan County,” he says. “It’s over 3,330 acres of land and will be 465 megawatts (MW) in size. Over a million solar panels!” The company quoted on a portion of the project and Engel is optimistic they will be successful.
Another foray into the renewable world has been with Blue Solarwind Canada. Crestview is helping in the development of a unique turbine, one of which is installed at Crestview’s office at the front of the driveway. The vertical-axis wind turbine has solar panels built into it to maximize energy production using both the wind and the sun. It is designed for urban and suburban onsite power generation.
Engel became involved as an investor and eventually took over a large portion of the business. “It’s kind of my pet project with Crestview,” he explains, “and everybody gets to see it work, because it’s at the top of our driveway. A big, beautiful wind turbine that everybody gets to see.”
Recently, the turbine achieved 30 days of consecutive data, vital for further development. “It needs a little bit more fine tuning, but we’re hoping over the next year to actually get this thing CSA approved and built to a point where it’s ready for commercialization so people can purchase them and install them all over the place.”
Each turbine is expected to power the equivalent of just over one household per year, or approximately six to eight megawatt hours per year.
The longterm outlook for solar, Engel believes, is very good: “It’s a sustainable and viable source of energy, whether residentially or commercially. It will save you money over the years.”
And while the uptake of residential and commercial solar and other renewables has declined since the Kenney government cancelled the Energy Efficiency Alberta’s rebate programs in the fall of 2019, the technology has improved immensely. “Just a few years ago you could get a 250-watt panel, and today you can get over 400 watts,” Engel marvels. “And every time the technology improves the payback also increases. Especially on the commercial side, we see a lot of the savings because when a building uses renewable energy it doesn’t pay the tariffs for incoming power. If you can reduce your consumption while you use it, you save even more money.”
He points out that Alberta is well set up for consumers and producers to export and import energy and believes that this province will be the leader in Canada for solar in the next five years.
Crestview Electric – focused primarily on commercial developments – comprises the bulk of the company, and continues to expand. While the last downturn saw business slow down, things had started to pick up, and then COVID hit. Though some jobs were put on hold many continued as Crestview was deemed an essential service.
Engel credits the teams for pulling together despite very difficult times. “A lot of our subcontracts require us to complete our contracts regardless of COVID, so there’s a lot of pressure on the team to ensure that we’re still watching the costs of the job while not putting extra money for COVID expenses. Our team is well put together and most of the guys that work for us have been here for 20 to 25 years.”
Many projects that were paused last year have been reactivated this year, which, so far, has been increasingly steady.
“There’s been a lot of new starts and a lot of big projects in Calgary and Southern Alberta,” Engel says. The company is invited to bid on most of the large projects within the city, including the BMO Centre expansion (Crestview is one of a handful of contractors that are pre-qualified to quote for PCL Construction). Over the years Crestview has completed several large jobs with PCL, including the Stoney Transit Facility in 2018.
The company has also worked with major construction and development companies including EllisDon, PBA Land Developments, Graham Construction and Elan on various projects: the Dorian Hotel in downtown Calgary, Cityscape Developments, Minto Developments, Renert School, a large facility for Komatsu Mining Corp. in Sparwood B.C., the Buffalo Run commercial development and the Seven Chiefs Arena and Sportsplex.
“Another great project we are working on is with the City of Calgary and its 20 Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Stations being installed at eight locations around the city,” he says. “This really speaks to the environmental changes and the growth in EVs around the world.”
Recently, Crestview expanded its technical service department, which looks after a lot of critical infrastructure requiring highly skilled technicians to be available all over Western Canada. “We help create life cycle replacement and preventative maintenance programs for some of this critical infrastructure,” Engel explains. “This has furthered us to be trained in thermal imaging, UPS, battery storage and VFD commissioning. We are really excited to add Danfoss VFDs to the equipment that Crestview is certified to commission.”
With his easy-going manner, Engel’s leadership has earned him much praise. “I’m often the guy with a smile on my face at the meeting,” he offers, “I enjoy meetings to be light. There’s usually no reason why anything should ever get escalated. I try to be a glass half full kind of guy – though there is a realist side to me that I often hide, especially during these downturns and during COVID. People don’t need to see negativity, there’s enough of that going around.”
He started helping his dad in the business at the age of 14 and takes great pride in the fact that his own son, now also 14 years old, is starting to help out too. “It’s kind of fun to think about,” he says, “to reminisce and I go: ‘That was me several years ago!’”
Engel has continued the tradition of giving back that his father began. Crestview is a big supporter of Light Up the World, which provides solar technologies to off-grid communities around the world. It also regularly contributes to the Calgary Food Bank.
With a diversified business and strong, focused leadership, Crestview is poised to continue its path of success for generations to come. When power is needed, it will provide.