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Tatham Engineering – Of ownership, community and the outdoors.

Years ago Charlie Tatham, founder of C.C. Tatham & Associates Ltd., told his staff: “Mark my words: every time you leave Collingwood and come back, a little light will go off in your head and you’ll know why you’re here.”

That prediction hit home with Dan Hurley, the company’s President and Manager of Water Resources Engineering. “This is definitely a special place for me,” says the spry 40-something. The sentiment is obviously shared by others as well, since the Collingwood-based firm now boasts 125 staff spread over five offices. “We’ve been in a steady state of growth for 10 years,” notes Hurley. “Working in Collingwood, Bracebridge, Orillia and other smaller communities is our sweet spot.

Hurley says it’s the company’s culture more than anything that suits their work in smaller communities. “We take care of the places we live. We strongly encourage employee community involvement from all staff. And our people like the outdoors, they’re engineers, it works. Whether it’s hunting, fishing and ATVing or biking and skiing, just about everybody is engaged outside.”
Hurley also sees a link between the kind of people that the company attracts and the diversity of work that it does. “In massive companies they have specialists who do one thing. All our engineers get to work on a great variety of projects. It’s something we encourage and talk about, and something that the kind of people we employ like very much.”

Tatham Engineering consults on land development projects, but that’s just part of the mix. They design pump stations, roads and bridges for municipalities, and specialize in working with aggregate operators and resorts—often concerning water taking, distribution and wastewater management.

“The Niagara Escarpment is a World Biosphere Reserve, so we consult with the Niagara Escarpment Commission, Conservation Authorities, in addition to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks on development approvals such as permits to take and store water for snowmaking, and water management strategies for pits and quarries and  the like,” explains Hurley. “With our work in water resources, roads, subdivisions, buildings and bridges, we cover the diversity of the civil engineering spectrum.”

 

Hurley attributes part of Tatham Engineerings’s success to its ownership model. “If you’ve been here long enough and show drive and loyalty, you have an opportunity to buy shares,” explains Hurley. “Whether you’re an engineer or an administrator, there’s an opportunity for profit-sharing, for shaping the company’s growth.”

Communal ownership—at time of writing the company is entirely owned by 37 staff—inspires the core team to stick with the company for the long haul and motivates them to do a great job. But engagement is cultivated in its own right. “We’re big on personal growth,” says Hurley. “If we have the right person, we like to get them involved in a variety of challenging projects, but also encourage them to get involved in the community. Managers also make a point of  exposing young engineers and co-op students to different areas of engineering. “It may not be the most efficient thing for us to do,” admits Hurley, “but it lets them grow and learn and hopefully fall in love with us.”

Tatham Engineering has hired quite a few co-op students and new graduates over the years. “We’ve had great success in attracting young engineers fresh out of school,” notes Hurley. “What’s more difficult is attracting people with greater experience who may be married and have children settled in school—it’s symptomatic of hiring in a community of this size.”

In the same way that co-op students get to sample different areas of engineering, qualified engineers’ personal interests are indulged. “ We encourage staff to explore niches that may not form part of our core work. For example, coastal engineering expertise has turned into a thriving part of our business,” explains Hurley.

 

That’s what happened with Envision-Tatham, the firm’s landscape architecture/urban design partner company. “When I started, one of our big projects was the Intrawest Blue Mountain Village development,” says Hurley. “We partnered with a landscape architecture firm called Envision. Our engineers got pretty enthused about the urban design and landscaping aspect. There was enough work with that project and others that we established a joint venture with Envision that has since become its own company, Envision-Tatham.”

Envision-Tatham is now in the process of divesting ownership to its staff, proof that the model has worked. “It certainly worked for me,” affirms Hurley. “It’s just another reason to stay here in Collingwood. There’s really nowhere I would rather be.”