Engineering Meets Entrepreneurialism.
When Chris Crozier walks into the office he’s faced with a company full of employees who think and act like business owners.
To other CEOs, this might be a terrifying prospect—a recipe for disaster, even. Too many captains and not enough sailors can cause shipwrecks, they would argue.
But Crozier, principal of Collingwood engineering firm C.F. Crozier and Associates Inc., wouldn’t have it any other way. His is a culture built by design, where it’s clearly understood that the knowledge-based workplaces of today and tomorrow—where success is largely dictated by the quality of talent firms can attract, retain and engage—require something vastly different than the work environments of yesteryear.
“All of the initiatives that our people are spearheading are unbelievable,” he adds, surveying his workplace. “As an owner, you can’t ask for more rewarding than this.”
A cursory glance at the firm’s financial and operational performance adds to that sense of accomplishment. Since 2012, Crozier and Associates has logged topline annual revenue growth of about 30 per cent. In the last two years alone, the company opened offices in Toronto and Bradford, in addition to its Collingwood headquarters and Milton office.
The firm maintains research partnerships with Western University and Wilfrid Laurier University in areas such as bio-retention and stormwater management, and in 2017 was recognized with the Award of Excellence from the University of Guelph’s School of Engineering. A particular point of pride for the firm: Crozier and Associates employees are deeply involved in helping community causes across Collingwood, donating their collective time and money to a wide range of local non-profit organizations and initiatives.
From the day Crozier and partner Kevin Morris founded the company in 2004, with a total of three employees (founders included), they shared a very clear vision for the kind of culture they endeavoured to build. Specifically, the partners would deliberately eschew the traditional, staid and hierarchical approach characteristic of many firms in the industry. From an operational perspective, that would mean embracing a client-first approach to project delivery, overcoming obstacles to success while paying strict adherence to deadlines and delivering value through innovative engineering.
This became especially important when Crozier and Associates made the decision early on to specialize in complex private-sector projects in areas such as land development, water resource management, transportation, structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering.
“Ninety-nine per cent of our clients are private sector, so we’re trying to get our people to think like entrepreneurs, to think like our customers who may have different motivations than people in the public sector,” Crozier stresses. “I want our people to think more like business men and women than engineers and technicians.”
Understanding clients’ business objectives and challenges, while remaining nimble enough to adjust project timelines and deliverables to suit their fast-shifting requirements would be a key component of producing the kind of smart engineering that would differentiate the firm’s work. So, too, would providing peer mentoring and career-development opportunities to its mostly Millennial-aged professionals, helping them gain the critical experience and expertise to be successful.
“You can really take ownership of projects and experience the engineering process from beginning to end,” Sarah O’Neill, Crozier and Associates’ Operations Manager, says of her experience working at the firm. “You feel like you have accountability to yourself and it drives you to pursue more.”
The 29-year-old points to a team approach where work silos are taboo and collaboration is the watch word on any given day. Project responsibilities are shared across teams to ensure that clients are served to the firm’s exacting standards.
“There’s an understanding about business and relationship-building that’s a part of our culture here,” explains marketing manager Shannon Harvey. “Our team members understand the ownership they need to take over their work. You have a job to get done.”
Nor was creating an internal ecosystem to help retain top performers through the employment lifecycle. The firm opened an office in downtown Toronto in 2016 to attract Millennial talent, while its Milton and Bradford locations are designed to serve clients in outlying areas, as well as providing a home for employees eager for a move to suburbia. Employees who want to enjoy the balance of lifestyle and career development opportunities in Collingwood can take advantage of that relocation option, as well.
“We’re trying to set a lifestyle with the company geographically, as well as from a business perspective, where people can relocate according to their time of life, and that was very intentional,” Crozier says.
Of course, having a home base in one of Ontario’s most dynamic, entrepreneurial communities, one that boasts recreational opportunities that suit the company’s ethos of promoting work-life balance, has only been a boon for business.
“Technology-focused companies are becoming more prevalent in Collingwood,” Crozier notes. “Their highway isn’t made of asphalt, it’s made of glass or fibre, so they can communicate from anywhere around the world. I think Collingwood is attracting high-tech companies that rely on this type of infrastructure because they also tend to attract individuals who appreciate the community’s four-season recreational amenities.”
With a fast-growing stable of partners—the firm recently tripled the size of its ownership group from 6 to 18 partners, many of whom are aged 32 or younger—and a reputation for doing excellent engineering, Crozier and his management team are clearly proud to have built the kind of company where they would want to work.
“It’s been an incredible journey to start in Collingwood as a three-person operation and build the company to what it is today,” says Crozier. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the Collingwood community, our team, and our clients.”