Golder Associates

A World of Capabilities, Delivered Locally

Golder Associates is a made-in-Canada success story. Starting with just a handful of employees in Toronto in 1960, it has grown over the past 48 years into a true multinational organization, with some 7,000 employees in 30 countries. Golder is one of the largest privately held companies to provide ground engineering and environmental services globally.

Employee ownership a big success factor

Being part of a company that is entirely owned by its employees is important to many of Golder’s people. A frequently quoted adage around the company comes from one of the company’s founders, Victor Milligan: “In the history of the world, nobody has ever washed a rental car. You take care of what you own.”

Employee ownership gives the company the freedom to make long-term investments in people and to support the technical and geographic growth of the company without pressure from outside owners.

All full-time employees are encouraged to become shareholders, and currently about half of them own shares, many of them using Golder’s voluntary payroll-deduction plan. Financing available through employee contributions and retained earnings has fuelled steady growth without long-term debt. This has helped build the long-term sustainability of the company.

Other aspects of business sustainability important to Golder lie in leadership development and succession. Some of this comes through a mentoring process and some through the in-house training and development program, called Golder U.

Employees who demonstrate a high level of technical skill, peer acceptance and leadership skills are invited to join the ranks of the “Associates,” or at a higher level, “Principals,” both roles including a significant level of share ownership. These “P’s and A’s,” as they are often called, form the strategic leadership core of the company.

The patient, step-by-step growth in numbers has been matched by a careful growth in the range of the company’s services as it evolves to meet the needs of its clients. Starting in 1960 in what was then the relatively new science of soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering, the company expanded into environmental sciences as public concern about the environment was translated into legislation that organizations needed to meet. Currently, Golder places its emphasis on eight sectors: land development, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, power, transportation, waste and FIRL (finance, insurance and real estate). The company takes care to maintain its reputation for technical excellence and for being able to deal with particularly challenging situations.

At the same time as the company encourages engineering excellence, it strives to do so in a way that helps maintain the earth’s integrity.

The overall success of Golder Associates is recognized outside the company in part through the Canadian entity within the global company being named one of the 50 Best Managed Companies in Canada each year since 2000 and one of the 50 Best Employers in Canada in 2008 and for the previous six years. Golder was also named one of Canada’s Most Earth-Friendly Employers for 2008.

One of the aspects many Golder employees like about the company is its community involvement. This ranges from small steps such as supporting litter pick-up programs in local parks and donations to local food banks, through to the Golder Trust for Orphans, which uses corporate and individual donations to financially support several grass-roots organizations in Africa that meet the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Golder grows to meets its clients’ needs. A good example of this can be seen in the Calgary office. Due largely to the growth and positive outlook for Canada’s oil and gas sector, the Calgary office has increased its numbers to the point where it outgrew its downtown location and relocated to a new building just outside the downtown core.

As with growth in Canada, Golder’s international growth is driven by client needs. While the Canadian company is still the largest within the Golder group, about two-thirds of the company’s employees work outside of Canada on projects. Recent expansions have been into Russia, India, Mozambique and Ghana.
In considering future directions, Golder looks to the current issues facing society and the rest of the planet – including climate change, greenhouse gas management, energy management, sustainable development, transportation infrastru-cture and the sustainable management of waste.

Directions for the future

Responsibility for setting the strategic direction of Golder’s Canadian operating company, Golder Associates Ltd., lies with President Brian Conlin. A professional engineer, Conlin first began work with Golder in 1977 and has stayed with the company most of his career.

Conlin has kept a close eye on the Canadian economic situation. “As a professional services firm, we anticipate that the recent economic downturn is going to affect us,” he says. “We have several clients who have already been affected. Most of our clients include those solid blue-chip companies, with operations generating a good cash flow that you wouldn’t normally think could be in trouble. But even some of these companies have been forced to cut back; and when companies cut back, our involvement is reduced. There is another smaller group of clients we service, smaller start-up clients who may go out of business and won’t be able to survive without financing. Projects and financing might not be available to smaller enterprises, especially during a credit crisis.”

However, he says, there are also many potential upsides. “There is another group of clients we have, larger companies who will carry on but will do a little less on the development side. Those companies will focus more on the operational efficiency side and require more services to help them optimize current resources and manage costs. We will see a bit of growth in that area. However, overall, we’ll likely see a much slower growth in 2009 over 2008. We have to be cautious about expenditures and wary about taking on too many people ahead of secured revenue.”

Conlin is concerned about opportunities for employees. “There will be stresses at two ends of the scale. On the one side, there may not be enough work for people involved in certain sectors, like urban land development, where developers have had to halt development. At the other end will be major capital works projects. Those clients will continue to press on, because their projects have longer-term strategies and life cycles. Either way, some areas of our work will slow, and others will continue to progress.”
Although there is a certain level of uncertainty in the professional services industry, as work directly results from the activity levels of clients, Golder will continue to be involved in client projects from the ground level up, says Conlin.

“We help our clients at the ground level with development recommendations and design and in the area of environmental consulting – especially permitting and design. Golder does a lot of work with clients where contaminated-site assessment and cleanup is needed. We look at all areas of environmental impact.”

One of Golder’s areas of emphasis for the future lies in helping meet the need for power, particularly from sources that have minimal environmental impacts. This includes energy management and support for wind and solar power developments, as well as other “green” sources. Helping meet these needs will mean new opportunities for Golder in Canada and worldwide.

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