Alberta is known for its huge mining and contracting companies. In order to survive, a small business has to think on its feet and do whatever it takes to compete. The Bouchier Group is one example; the company may have started small, but it is now a leader in providing integrated site services to the Athabasca Oil Sands region.
How did the company accomplish this? Part of its success is the Group’s focus on providing progressive solutions tailored to the communities in which it operates. Indeed, the Bouchier Group is an Aboriginal-owned company with a conscience. We spoke with CEO Nicole Bourque Bouchier.
Based out of Fort Mackay, Bouchier can trace its origins back to 2004. It started with a small project, valued at $330,000, as part of the Canadian Natural Resources project at the Horizon Oil Sands. The first job used fifteen operators and a handful of rented equipment. Fast forward to the present, and the First Nations-run company is bringing in $155 million with 847 employees and over 200 pieces of heavy equipment.
Bouchier has three work streams: civil works and road maintenance; construction; and site services. It is predominantly known for its civil works and road maintenance since this is what the team has been doing since day one.
“We did a Shell Albion Village kitchen remediation project that was worth a few million dollars,” explains Nicole. “We also recently completed the CNR (Canadian Natural Resources) McKay Lodge roof repair project. Under the site services work stream, we do some security services as well as facility maintenance. We were just awarded, in May, a new facilities maintenance contract that has us bringing on about 125 tradespeople. We are also do some medical, fire and janitorial work.”
Bouchier has a community guidelines policy that has the company giving back to the communities in which it lives and works with a priority put on Fort McKay. The team believes strongly in giving financially to the community and also in volunteering to serve on different boards. Nicole believes that it leads the way in this respect and is setting the bar high.
Its community efforts are built into its core values as a company: it cares, inspires, and delivers. It has given to its recreation programs and funding for various youth programs. A Zamboni was bought for the arena, and a mezzanine floor will be built soon.
In the Wood Buffalo region, Bouchier is supporting the Girls Inc. program which supports girls and women in non-traditional roles. “Education is big, so we give heavily and are involved in Keyano College. I have recently signed on as the co-chair of the Pace Setting and Leadership Committee on the Northern Lights Foundation for a new initiative they have that’s called Operation Health in which case I am in charge of reaching out and opening the doors for the foundation to secure funding for key projects.”
The company also supports Aboriginal communities. Last year, as part of that belief, Bouchier created a Paving the Pathways to Success program to recognize Aboriginal women in business. The eight women profiled were recognized at the end of the year at a dinner in their honour. “It is something we wanted to do to raise awareness.”
On December 11, 2012, Carillion Canada Inc. made a minority investment in Bouchier Group. The process began in 2010 with the realization of how companies operated in the region. Opportunities were not given to the smaller contractors as much as the larger engineering firms. Bouchier very much felt like it had to reinvent itself to grow in the area.
“It felt like day one again where you have to convince people as to why they should be working with you. We really saw the need to grow our business to keep up to the EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) firms and maybe even to compete with them or perhaps to get out. We actually looked at selling or getting a partner.”
Bouchier had a couple of companies in mind and Carillion was one. Carillion wanted to break into the oil sands and sent its vice president of site services who had some history in the region and familiarity with Aboriginal companies.
“We hit it off famously and very quickly realized that we shared the same ethics and values as well as future growth initiatives. One thing led to another, and every meeting that we had felt good. We were aligned in our goals. We met their Global Chief Executive, who came in from the UK.” Bouchier went through a year of negotiations in order to ensure that it stayed in control of its own company. Eventually, an agreement was put in place to manage the company jointly.
The company set the strategic direction and agreed on the budget and profit margins. If there is a bigger bid and help is needed, a few people can be pulled from Carillion to help with the bid or to join the team. In many cases, this has led to employees permanently joining Bouchier. It insists that people within Carillion who want to be a part of the team, move families to the region because its strengths come from operating locally.
Integrated site services takes care of the client’s general site service needs, whether those are medical, security, fire, road maintenance, facilities maintenance or janitorial. The capability to serve clients has been greatly enhanced by the partnership which allows Bouchier to compete with the bigger engineering firms. Carillion operates all over the world, so it is familiar with integrated support services in a number of areas.
“In Ontario, they are huge with hospitals. When we were in the negotiation phase, we went over and visited some of the hospitals, and it was very similar to an oil sands site (except that the oil sands site was very spread out and the hospital is in one or two buildings) but the services that they were delivering were identical to what is needed on an oil sands site. So they bring that to the table.”
Nicole believes that the partnership is a good attempt to do things in the right way. “A lot of times you see small businesses wanting to grow, but they so quickly jump on the joint venture bandwagon and lose that control. It’s about the encouragement of small businesses and especially small Aboriginal businesses to know that there is a better way to do things and to believe in themselves. To know that, with time, commitment and opportunity, they will get there.”
Bouchier Group credits the internal culture that it created as a big reason for success. “People want to work within a family structure and feel like they are a part of something big. We think we have done that, but, of course, the faster you grow, the more difficult it is to hang on to that culture. It is a challenge that we are very much aware of and have action plans in place to address it.” The group focuses on making its people feel like part of a team.
“We have a saying: ‘It doesn’t matter what role you play, everyone is the same, treated in the same way and valued in the same way.’ Without every single person in this company, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Long-term goals have to include growth. The mainstay has been civil works and road maintenance, but it is trying to expand the site services side along with construction and project management and wants those to be on par with the civil works aspect of the business. The goal is to double the size of the company over the next three to five years and thereby double the number of people in its employ. It will be imperative to handle the changes that come with growth while still serving the community of Wood Buffalo in a responsible way.