SASKATOON – Saskatchewan is growing and someone’s got to build it. After spending nearly nine decades building the province from the ground up, Graham Construction is being recognized for all its work in the industry.
In September, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce announced that Graham would be the 29th inductee into the ABEX business hall of fame.
“When they actually announced it, it was actually quite emotional for me,” said Grant Beck, president and CEO of Graham Construction.
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“The thing that’s so special about it is that the company goes back about 90 years and the province is not much more than 100 years old, so from that perspective, we’ve actually grown up with the province.”
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Although its headquarters is now located in Alberta, the company began with the Graham family in Saskatchewan. Back in 1926, P. W. Graham & Sons got their start building railway stations for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Moose Jaw.
“Into the 30s and of course with the Great Depression, they had to adjust and it was in the 30s where they started working on government social infrastructure, that being schools, hospitals those sorts of things, so that’s where they kind of got their grounding for doing buildings,” said Beck.
Graham was able to evolve and reach another milestone in the 50s when it received the contract to build the Boundary Dam power generating station near Estevan. At the time, it was considered the largest infrastructure project in Saskatchewan’s history.
“After the 50s and later on, we started transitioning into a lot of civil infrastructure, like roads, and it started with irrigation and then into the potash mines, which got us into industrial through the 60s and we just continued to grow from there,” said Beck.
The company diversified over the decades, providing construction services to every sector of the Saskatchewan economy.
“In the 80s was probably the most significant change because in 1984 the employees purchased the assets of the company from the Graham family and that’s when everything started to change for us and our whole growth curve really moved,” said Beck.
“Today, [Graham’s] one of the largest construction companies in Canada and in North America, born right here out of Saskatchewan, that’s pretty impressive,” said Mark Cooper, president and CEO of the Saskatchewan Construction Association.
“We have revenues in excess of $2 billion per year and they’ll float up from two to two-and-a-half billion a year,” said Beck.
Anywhere from 200 to 300 projects are being run by Graham at any given time.
“There’s hardly a major centre in [Saskatchewan] that we haven’t done work, bid work or had people come from that worked for us or something, so there’s hardly any part of the province that we haven’t touched in some way or another,” said Beck.
Graham is now primarily Western Canada-based but has an office as far east as Mississauga, Ont. It’s also established a presence in the United States with work going on in Washington, Texas and even New York state.
“We cover pretty much right across the continent,” said Beck.
The company still continues to make its mark back at home with such landmark awards as Saskatchewan’s largest infrastructure project to-date, the Regina Bypass. It’s four other major projects include Saskatchewan’s children’s hospital, the new psychiatric hospital in North Battleford, Saskatoon’s North Commuter Parkway and a water treatment plant in Regina.
“You look at some of those projects and you say ‘these are buildings that a whole generation of people growing up in Saskatchewan are going to be looking to’ and I’m very proud that Graham is going to be helping build those and going to be leading those projects, it’s pretty exciting,” said Cooper.
Beck says the size of those five major projects ranges from about $200 million to $1.2 billion.
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“We’re building out to be able to do complex, integrated projects so it’s exciting to come back home, sort of speak, and show what we’ve learned over the last decade when things were a little slower,” said Beck.
The five projects are especially important to Graham due to the current industry climate.
“Because, obviously with the economic headwinds that we’re feeling the pressure from, the downturn in resources and particularly in Western Canada, they provide us with the volumes to be able to keep our people busy and keep the company intact and moving forward even in a declining economy,” said Beck.
“[Also], it’s going to allow many of our people, that in the past have been working through many of our other locations to come back home, because a lot of our grounding of our company is [Saskatchewan].”
However, Beck says there are some hard decisions to be made in the short-term to control overheads but Graham will take advantage of its strategy and prosper by it.
“We’ve been careful to maintain a diversified portfolio that allows us to adjust resources back-and-forth from sector to sector or from region to region in the country and so we’re just simply going to take advantage of that … in this particular case, to Saskatchewan,” said Beck.
“Even though it looks tough, I’m pretty confident in this company. It’s a resilient company and the people kind of mirror the resilience of the province of Saskatchewan so they just won’t survive, they’ll prosper through this.”
There are over 9,000 companies in Saskatchewan that operate in various areas of construction. Ninety-four per cent have less than 20 employees. Meanwhile, Graham has grown to around 1,350 salaried staff.
“There is a pride within the company of having been born and raised in the province of Saskatchewan. There’s a special connection there and when I think back, virtually every leader in this company as far as I know was born and raised in Saskatchewan,” said Beck, who hails from Central Butte, Sask.
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Cooper says all construction companies will face a handful of consistent challenges and one of those is managing relationships.
“You’ve got relationships with the owners, the people who are buying your services. You’ve got relationships with architects, the folks who are designing the projects that you’re working on and you got your relationships with your sub-contractors and your suppliers,” said Cooper.
“As a general contractor, which is what Graham is, they have to manage all of those relationships and try and deliver a quality product on-time, safely, and part of the reason why they’re being recognized with this induction into the hall of fame is because they’ve got a very good track record of doing just that.”
The Achievement in Business Excellence (ABEX) Awards were held Oct. 24 at TCU Place in Saskatoon to celebrate Graham’s accomplishments.
“To be inducted into the hall of fame is not just a reflection of the company the way it sits but rather it’s a reflection of the leaders of this company and their vision that really preceded us,” said Beck.
“We’ve had some outstanding leaders over the decades and one in mind that sticks out to me is Tom Baxter, who transitioned us from 1984 to well into the mid-2000s through all the sustained growth.”
According to Beck, former president and CEO Tom Baxter was pivotal for the company in bringing Graham from around $30 million in revenue to $1.5 billion annually in a little over two decades.
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“To have the industry … actually recognize what we’ve accomplished in helping build the province is truly honouring, particularly when it’s your peers and your business partners that are making that choice,” said Beck.
“You look back at the history of Saskatchewan and you see that Graham’s been involved in some of the signature projects in this province and they’re going to be involved … in some of the signature projects for the next generation of construction,” said Cooper.
“Still lots more work that needs to be done across [Saskatchewan] and as the province continues to grow, somebody’s got to build it.”