Becki Iverson: Hi Sarah, thank you for sitting down with me today.
My pleasure. It's an exciting time in the construction industry, in Canada, with the country's rising profile and the shift in public funding priorities and I’m excited to discuss what we’ve been working on, specifically in the public sector.
BI: Tell me about your current role with Faithful+Gould. How long have you been with the company?
I am a principal project manager, focusing primarily on higher education. I came to Faithful+Gould more than 10 years ago and initially worked out of our London office, before joining the Calgary office a little more than two years ago.
BI: I didn’t realize you were initially in the UK. What drove you to make the move?
It came about quite quickly. I worked with Steve Tubby, who currently oversees our Canadian operations, on a couple of education projects when we were both based in London. He moved to Calgary about six years ago to work on a large Energy client headquarters project and developed a sizeable delivery team. Then, while visiting Vancouver in the summer of 2014 with my family, I managed to touch base with Steve and discuss opportunities for me to relocate to Canada. Due to the ages of my two boys, with their education in mind, it was a timely decision so my husband and I agreed to make the leap and immigrate to Canada by the end of 2014. I’ve been with the Calgary office ever since.
I really found my niche working in the public sector, specifically in education.
BI: Upon relocating, what were your goals when you came to Calgary?
When I arrived, I was tasked with broadening our service delivery and expanding our work in western Canada in a wider range of industries. At the time, the office was primarily focused on the Energy Sector and we were looking to expand our presence.
BI: What drove this need to diversify?
At that point the Calgary office was almost exclusively focused on Energy projects. When the market took a turn and we were faced with falling oil prices and other challenges in the industry, it was crucial that we diversify and look to target other industries included in our strategy.
BI: Where did you look to expand? What led you to Education?
Well, I’ve been working in the construction industry for more than 25 years and during that time I have worked on projects in the education, residential, retail, energy, health care and public sectors. I really found my niche working in the public sector, specifically in education. For me, that was the most obvious area of focus, where my most recent skill-set was employed.
It also helped that Faithful+Gould has an impressive portfolio of Education Sector experience – both within the U.S. and across its worldwide regions. In the U.S., we have worked on projects for such prestigious institutions including Massachusetts Institute, Duke University and every Ivy League university. We have been able to capitalize on the expertise of our staff across the business to break into the sector in Canada with great results.
BI: How did you go about demonstrating what we offer?
My process was simple. Having compiled a target list of public sector clients in the area, I proactively attempted to form relationships with these prospective clients face-to-face. I wanted them to know me personally and feel comfortable before we began to bid on projects. Gaining new clients is a two-way interview; trust and satisfaction must be felt on both sides in order for a working relationship to prosper. This process involved a lot of trial and error; some clients were more receptive than others. A few had open minds and our progress with them has shown what benefits an owner can reap by taking a different look at their service providers.
Gaining new clients is a two-way interview; trust and satisfaction must be felt on both sides in order for a working relationship to prosper.
A key element of our plan as we’ve broken into the sector is understanding that even when the sizes of the projects aren’t enormous, they allow us to develop credibility with our clients and build from there. Recognizing these projects as opportunities to build relationships with reliable clients we enjoy working with has been invaluable to our overall strategy.
BI: What are you working on right now?
My current success story is the University of Calgary. We were selected by the university to deliver project management services to oversee a couple of minor valve replacement projects. Piggy-backing from the success of these projects, the university has gradually introduced our team to a wider range of facilities, where we have been able to provide project management services. Working with operational personnel on an ever expanding range of projects, we’ve grown with the university and continued to provide excellent services, delivering the value we promised in our initial meeting and developing a trusted relationship.
At this point, we’ve had about 30 different projects and have gradually seen the fees and size grow over time. Due to our positive attitude and hard work, those smaller end projects have grown into a larger portfolio and we are able to support the university toward streamlining its project process.
BI: That’s great you’ve managed to do so well. Breaking into a new sector for any office can be difficult.
Of course, working in the public sector in Canada has proven to be a tough nut to crack but we’re getting there. The main issue is that many establishments already have tried and trusted providers they have worked with for years. Owners are often reluctant to try new services and consultants for fear of failure as well as never having the capacity for sufficient lead-in times to allow for learning curves.
To combat this, our strategy has been to reiterate the benefits of why taking a fresh look can invigorate the process. Fresh eyes often mean more energy and enthusiasm to the approach, with other project experiences that can be shared between the client and consultant. The client can gradually evolve, develop and mature just by gaining that knowledge and expertise from you. This can lead to significant cost and efficiency savings for any owner.
BI: How do you feel this strategy has progressed since you came on board?
With the help of my team, hard work and dedication has paid off as Faithful+Gould is now called on a regular basis to support both the Infrastructure Maintenance and Capital Projects teams at the university. Over the past eight months, I have managed a large portfolio of projects and in the past couple of weeks I have been allocated additional projects. As a result of the university broadening its list of service providers, we are helping raise delivery standards and providing support to its Project Management Office (PMO). We are now recognized as one of the university’s “go-to” PMs.
The trusted client relationship model we have built with our clients in the public sector is a testament to the value of starting small...
Furthermore, this same strategy has extended outside of education, throughout the public sector. As a result of a similar model, we were recently selected to be on the City of Calgary Cost Consultant framework for two out of three of its categories and are currently delivering a large cost validation exercise for its major water treatment plant expansion.
BI: What’s been your greatest takeaway from your time in the public sector in Canada?
The trusted client relationship model we have built with our clients in the public sector is a testament to the value of starting small; listening to your clients’ needs; innovatively bringing further value to a project; and consistently providing the highest level of service regardless of the size of the project. This goes for Canada, and all around the world. Understanding that no project is too small is an effective strategy for earning your stripes in the world of the public sector.