Allied Projects Ltd.

Some managers keep their employees at arms’ length, but Allied Projects Ltd. maintains a culture of closeness and transparency, President Michael Brunner says. “We try to keep people engaged and involved in what’s going on,” he declares.

“That pays off in dividends,” he continues. “I think everyone enjoys knowing what the business is about. It makes it easier to ride out the economic ups-and-downs.”

Based in Calgary, Alberta, Allied provides electrical contracting services for construction projects and service work for building maintenance programs. Brunner co-founded the company with two partners in 1996.

He bought out his partners four years later and converted the company to employee ownership in 2008. Today, Brunner owns more than half of Allied’s shares, and his longtime employees own the remainder.

“I’ve got a good core of people that have been with me,” he says, noting the company will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year.

Allied’s portfolio includes some of Calgary and southern Alberta’s largest and most interesting construction projects, including work on a $5 million control tower at Calgary International Airport. At approximately 300 feet, “[It’s] the tallest free-standing control tower in Canada,” Brunner says.

It also was the first time Allied worked on a control tower. “It was quite an interesting job, working in a vertical tower with very little space,” he says.

The company also completed $10 million worth of work on Grey Eagle Resort & Casino, located on First Nations’ land in Calgary. “They have a dining room, gaming halls, a theatre, a multistory hotel and a casino/banquet facility,” Brunner says.

Allied has worked on some award-winning projects with designers like Lighting Design Innovations. A couple of the projects include one called Trees in the City, which won the 2014 IES Illumination Award and the 2013 City of Calgary Downtown Vitality Award. Another award-winning project was the Lions Awaken: Relighting Centre Street Bridge which won the 2013 Mawson Urban Design Award.

Building Relationships

Allied has a varied customer base, but largely serves general contractors. “We often work as a prime contractor for clients like the city of Calgary, Alberta Infrastructure, as well as several city hospitals and the universities,” Brunner says. “We don’t typically bid into the marketplace. We try to build relationships, so we’re the reliable subtrade of choice [that keeps projects] on schedule and on budget.”

Allied maintains these relationships by staying in continuous contact with clients. “We’re making sure we’re aware of what they’re doing,” Brunner says. “[We try] to get in on the beginning of a project so we can assist with the design of the project ensuring cost and scheduling efficiencies for the client.”

Allied’s approach has worked well for the company, as it has nurtured a repeat business rate of 90 percent. However, “We’re always looking for new clients and new opportunities,” he asserts. 

Allied also works hard to maintain relationships with its suppliers. “We view our suppliers as partners in the project,” Brunner claims, and many of Allied’s suppliers have been with them since the beginning.

Internal Structure

An internal “triangulation” system has been a big factor in its success, he states. “If we know a general contractor is starting on something, we’ll assign a project manager, an estimator and a site superintendent to that project,” Brunner says. 

“They’ll continue to work through the entire project to give it continuity rather than a department hand-off,” he continues. “We’ve got people with years of experience that can take conceptual drawings from architects and engineers and apply their expertise to them so we want that field expertise along with the estimating expertise working together on the project.”

Allied regularly researches and implements new technology to improve its efficiency. “For example, in the last year, we’ve moved to tablets for our service technicians, which is quite an interesting thing in this business,” Brunner says.

“It takes away a lot of paperwork,” he notes. “It’s good communication to have all the clients’ past maintenance and service information available electronically – saves time on site.” 

Allied also pays for employee training to keep them on top of industry changes and technology improvements. “There’s different ways of doing things and new technologies are being introduced all the time,” Brunner says.

Additionally, “We send our sub-foremen who want to become foremen to supervisor training to give them the skills to move up in the company. Then when they want to become project managers, we send them to the electrical project manager course in Banff to learn the skills they need to manage projects,” he says, “and then we send them on training for Microsoft Project so they’re using the technological tools that can make them efficient.”

Allied maintains a friendly and cooperative working environment, Brunner says. “I believe in managing by walking around [the office],” he states. “[That way], you’ve got an idea of what’s going on and not just sitting and getting reports.”

He praises staff including Vice President of Construction Dan Ellingson and Construction Manager Jason Lane, who have been with the company since its start. Both have the “experience, dedication and understanding” that have made them essential, Brunner says.

Its workers also are willing to give the local community a hand. When the city of Calgary suffered massive flooding in 2013, “I had 30 employees that volunteered to help out with the city electric crews to go around to buildings and to make sure they were safe,” he says.

“They offered to do this without no expectation of pay,” Brunner notes. “That made me very, very proud. They were out working 18 hours a day for nothing.”

Adapting to Change

Allied’s market is subject to changes, Brunner says. “For the last couple of years, we’ve been paying more attention to utility-type projects,” he says. “The big things right now are wastewater and clean water management.”

This is nothing new for Allied, though. Back in 2002, when the Calgary economic climate slowed down, it started up its civil department and began working with contractors putting up streetlights and traffic signals on roadways and bridges. That expertise allowed it to be the electrical contractor on all three phases of the Calgary Ring Road project. Brunner notes, “That’s another secret of success – being flexible.”

Brunner sees slow, steady growth for Allied as new, young staff members rise up through the ranks. However, “It’s nothing dramatic,” he asserts.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to double our sales over the next few years,” Brunner states. “That’s not my way; my way is slow and steady growth.” 

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