t WalterFedy the question 60 years in the making was, “What’s next?” How does a company with such a rich contribution to the industry it serves, and the community it supports “step it up”? The question was proposed in 2012, by WalterFedy’s newly appointed Chair of the Board Jim Harper, just shortly after the Kitchener based architecture, engineering and construction firm celebrated their 60th anniversary.
(Exchange October 2011).
WalterFedy had just re-branded and undergone a consolidation of its two offices. They introduced the “Triple Bottom Line,” a company-wide initiative that guides management decisions in three key areas: financial stability, community building and environmental responsibility.
With markets changing, this Kitchener-Waterloo “best kept secret” stepped up their strategy planning and, like the buildings they design, continued to leverage their solid foundation.
“Change is constant in our industry and we don’t want to be playing catch up, we want to thrive; we are always anticipating where the market is going so we can keep pace and exceed the rate of change,” remarked Al Hayes, who recently transitioned out of his five year term as CEO stating “the timing is right”.
Hayes, who has been a partner since 1997, handed over the reins to WalterFedy’s new CEO Brad Marks in August of this year. Marks, a young, bright, and aggressive leader is the first person from outside the company to be named CEO. “That’s a significant step for us,” remarks Hayes.
WalterFedy is growth focused. They had reached a point where the size of the company and the complexity of the world they work in was changing quickly. They realized that although the talent in-house has served them well, they needed additional experience at the top to take the firm to the next level. They decided to look more broadly at the business world to find someone who would bring new ideas and skills to the table.
Harper, who was also part of the recruitment team, adds, “we had to look at how we were going to grow and prosper in the market. We needed someone with expertise in growing a company, in change management and strategic planning.” That led the recruitment team to Marks, who is looking forward to the challenge.
Marks is a mechanical engineer who began his career as a design engineer working in the construction industry for a company similar to WalterFedy. At General Electric Digital Energy Canada Division and Schneider Electric, he worked with contractors and the consulting engineering community, and has had a successful career building collaborative teams while accomplishing strategic goals.
Marks believes the firm has a good, strong base and sees areas for development and growth. “I think there comes a time in a company’s evolution where being a ‘best kept secret’ can be detrimental to the growth,” he says. “Most of my career has been working for American companies like GE and Schneider Electric. When it comes to marketing, these two companies are very aggressive. I want to bring some of that to WalterFedy.”
Marks has found that WalterFedy has a very strong sense of community. One reason he cites is the “passionate people”, praising the interactions and communications between WalterFedy teams and throughout the organizational structure as a whole. “What truly differentiates WalterFedy in the market is the people,” he says. “The people here are passionate and motivated. They want to see this business grow; they want to be a part of that. They are excited about changes and willing to embrace them.”
Over the last five years, Canadian markets have been adapting to global economies of scale, and all Ontario companies have had to do the same; they’ve made adjustments, opened new markets and focused on internal efficiencies. “We’re coming out of a recession, which is when new opportunities present themselves ... we want to position WalterFedy as well as possible to take full advantage of this market change.”
Since 2011, WalterFedy has added two new revenue streams; the first is a design build company named AEC Developments, and the second is a new energy management division that works in tandem with all aspects of the business.
Hayes cites the two new additions as examples of WalterFedy adapting in the face of change. “Business is always changing. We did very well providing construction management under the umbrella of WalterFedy, but we also found the area was becoming more competitive and that there were other models out there we needed to explore. That’s the change that led us to create the AEC Developments model to provide flexibility and deliver better construction solutions... something we couldn’t do within the corporate structure of WalterFedy.”
Evolving in energy management is the future. It not only addresses the environmental component of their Triple Bottom Line, but it’s their first step in developing a recurring service division. Energy management is a growing after-market service. “We’re no longer just designing the building, shaking hands and walking away,” says Hayes. “We’re now saying we can continue to work with you, make your building more efficient, upgrade it from an energy management perspective and create longer lasting relationships.” This is a significant step for WalterFedy, and reflective of what is happening out in the industry.
As for the future, the firm continues to think ahead. Part of Marks’ overall vision and strategy is to ensure the WalterFedy brand continues its strength in the local region, but he also plans to extend into other major cities, inside and outside Ontario. “It’s going to be very critical that we reach out beyond our borders and really drive the awareness of who WalterFedy is, while keeping the reputation and legacy intact.” By being proactive, and focused on driving the WalterFedy brand beyond Kitchener-Waterloo, Marks has “no doubt that we’ll be successful.”
Currently, WalterFedy sees immediate opportunity in Southern Ontario and Toronto and will continue to build their sphere of influence in those communities. “Our first step is to look at the markets we currently serve and how we can serve them better, and then expand from there.”
History is always an indicator of the future. When you examine WalterFedy’s past growth, you see they are excellent at identifying new trends and developing new markets, not just in business, but in the communities they work and play.
“We can develop new services that are adjacent to our core,” says Marks. “We will find a way to offer the customer more value and greater service. Whether it’s with AEC Developments, or energy management services, we will continue to aim to be at the front of the pack.”