Few companies in Canada have a history as long as Smith Brothers & Wilson. SBW began “Building the West” way back in 1897 and has since delved into nearly every type of construction project there is.
That history has been invaluable in educating the company’s current leaders. According to Rick Murray, director of construction at SBW, lessons passed down between generations of longtime employees allow the company to avoid repeating errors. “A lot of good mentors have worked with me over the years,” he says.
Learning From the Past, Looking Toward the Future
Learning from the past doesn’t equate to living in it. SBW has been thriving by having a company culture that embraces new knowledge and cutting edge technology. Instead of shutting out new ideas, SBW gives the team the chance to give it all a try.
“I think our culture is our secret sauce,” says Jeff Musialek, president and co-CEO of SBW. “If we have the right people and we prepare them in the right way so they get proper mentorship, we can produce a strong group of leaders because the commitment runs both ways.”
These two factors—SBW’s wealth of experience, coupled with an eagerness to explore new ways of doing things—has helped the company thrive for over a century. And SBW shows no signs of slowing down. In 2019, SBW received two silver and one gold Award of Excellence at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association. With a team of around 150 people in the office and the field, SBW manages to tackle up to $160 million in projects in the Lower Mainland BC each year.
Adaptability to Handle New Challenges
The key to success hasn’t been to follow the same old script year in and year out.
“The history of the company is about resiliency, diversification and adaptability to the different influences in the marketplace,” said Musialek. “They moved resources to meet needs in that market.”
The company proved its willingness to take a chance on the new tech came more than once. For instance, at the turn of the 20th century, when rebar was considered the next big thing, SBW adopted rebar early. Instead of heel-dragging and resting on laurels, it was well-positioned for the future for having done so, proving the SBW has “that ability to be nimble and to move with resources and to move with technology.”
“Another big part of the company’s history has always been its willingness to take a risk, take on new technology to manage it, and move forward into new things,” Musialek said.
Meeting Challenges Head-On
With all the challenges construction is currently facing and with tech poised on the forefront to help the industry cope, Murray believes adaptability to be crucial.
“We’re doing more with less now, so we have to adapt to either do more work or to do it differently. The general superintendent and I, we’re not afraid of exploring new equipment, devices, methods, and technologies.
“It’s all about doing things safely, more efficiently, more productively, and retaining people. If you want to be at the forefront of technology or operations, you have to support your people. We let them try new technologies; we don’t hold them back,” Murray says.
When SBW started working with Procore, they did so because they believed it was something beneficial. It seemed like something the team could implement and would use daily.
“It’s comprehensive,” Musialek explained. “It manages the entire package, from financials to the commitments, to the contracts, drawing tool, all of this. That comprehensiveness means that you don’t have to have multiple software in order to put it all together.”
Now Procore is used on each of their projects, and they try to use all of its capabilities to improve their work. “We’ve adopted it onto every single one of our projects now, it’s not really a choice”. Murray noted that on past projects, clients began jumping on the Procore bandwagon, too. “The clients even adopted it, worked with us on it, and then their own consultants adopted it as well.”
Murray said the transparency Procore offers is a big advantage for their clients. “It’s got the ball in court; it’s easy to follow,” he says. “Clients like accountability.”