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Specialty Contracting

Growth with a Group Mentality

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Growth is a key aspect of any business. At a moment’s notice, costs can rise and local and global markets are always liable to fluctuations beyond their control. It is vital, therefore, that a business has the stability needed to weather any potential storm. As we have all realized in the past eighteen months, nothing can be taken for granted in any industry. The pandemic has impacted how every industry, including construction, operates. Companies need to protect themselves while simultaneously be able to adapt to change, exploit strengths and address ongoing challenges. Growth and success can come in many forms; for Sterling Ridge Group, it came through incremental acquisitions which paved the way for a more collaborative and cohesive vision for the future. While the timing of this period of growth and change has not been ideal, the group has risen to the challenge.

Sterling Ridge Group has a rich and varied history. It began life more than forty years ago with a series of acquisitions. The company founders built their reputation and knowledge through hard work, dedication and leadership. This led to a point where, according to Alawi Altahhan, Director of Project Management, Quality Assurance & Document Control with Sterling Ridge Group, ‘’They owned one of the biggest construction companies in Essex County.’’ Erie Sand and Gravel Limited began making acquisitions, building its reach across the construction industry until it held a massive portfolio that could provide a start to finish service for its clients, from design and planning, right through to project completion. Alawi explains that, while this growth was incremental, the end results were impressive. ‘’They bought a small company and then they bought another small company, one company to do trucking, other companies to do aggregates, general contracting, civil or infrastructure projects. While this growth has strategically been incremental, it has stimulated ongoing expansion and has allowed work to develop across multiple industries, providing associated services to clients.’’

While these interlinked companies allowed a complete knowledge and range of services available to clients, outwardly, they were independent of each other. The decision was made to pull these composite parts together and form a bespoke entity that could serve the total needs of its clients in-house. “A couple of years ago, we said, why can’t we rebrand all these different companies with different names? Why not put them under one name with multiple divisions? In less than a year, we rebranded all those small companies into one big company named Sterling Ridge Group.’’ This rebranding and rehousing now allows the Sterling Ridge Group to work across multiple industries, providing a multidisciplinary service to clients. It is not an exaggeration to say that, between the various divisions of the group, a project can be completed from start to finish without needing to find additional contractors. ‘’Right now, we give our clients a wide range of services. One of our main divisions is civil infrastructure, another one is power infrastructure and energy; wind turbines, solar panels, electric. Then we have general contracting, the ICI division, which is institutional commercial and industrial building. We work with Chrysler, Ford, the University of Windsor. All these big names and we give them an A to Z experience.’’

This reorganizing and tying of various divisions together occurred just in time to take advantage of various large scale projects, namely the high profile Gordie Howe International Bridge. Sterling Ridge Group was awarded the Surcharge Project at the Canadian Point of Entry. This was the first large scale project performed by multiple divisions and allowed the group to showcase its myriad of in-house talents. According to Alawi, ‘’by coordinating the supply of aggregate, trucking and infrastructure work, the group achieved numerous milestones well ahead of schedule.’’

“It is not an exaggeration to say that, between the various divisions of the group, a project can be completed from start to finish without needed to find additional contractors.”

While the benefits of combining the group are obvious, such a move also presents logistical considerations. Running alongside the services these divisions provide are potential clashes of culture, differing values and company ethos. Alawi acknowledges that this was an aspect of the amalgamation that needed to be addressed. However, he feels that the company got things right in this regard. ‘’Those companies used to have small shops or headquarters in different locations. So, one of the first things we did was put all of those people under one roof. We renovated and redesigned our building, then our people started working with each other. Then we modified our administration work and document control. We put a department for document control in and now, we all follow the same procedures, the same document control, the same letterhead.’’ Any minor resistance to change that did surface was dealt with through directed mentoring and support for all staff members. This is a long term approach and Alawi speaks of the steady and cautious approach the company took to guide its staff through any initial turbulence. ‘’We take them step by step and we show them what we need. They work on changes. Now when they master these changes, they oversee others and they help them to adapt too. Even today, day by day, step by step, we are moving forward. We are still in the process.’’

Such a large scale rebranding and reorganization exercise can be distracting. The challenge of staying on track, maintaining focus and continuing the high levels of service that clients had become accustomed to during a period of change is enormous. Alawi believes that, rather than slipping from a position of industry leader, the Sterling Ridge Group is even better placed to achieve its growth targets. Identifying two markets that the group seeks to solidify and expand into. ‘’Our target right now is to be the number one company, providing the largest variety of construction services in South Ontario. Whatever you need, you can come to the same company, all the time. Now in addition to that, we are trying to target expansion within the GTA area.’’ These targets will require the continued excellence that the group has provided until now. One aspect of this continued success and growth that is vital is the staff. Alawi is quick to point out that the group feels that the skilled staff it has on board is both the reason for its current strength and also the key to any future development. ‘’We have been adding a lot of talented people to our group in the last three years. Those people played a big part of the changes that we have made and they will continue this into the future. These workers are both the core and the future of the company.’’

While it is clear that the pandemic has affected industries around the globe, construction being no different, the Sterling Ridge Group have tried to use the lessons it has learned to its advantage. By putting ‘’very comprehensive protocols in place’’ almost immediately, the company has been able to run its operations as smoothly as ever. ‘’We provide all the measures that they need to keep to maintain standards in house, on the site and in the office. We provide all the IT support. So for people working from home, they have access to the server, access to the drawings, access to space, work, communicate. So as of now, we have already adapted, we know what we are doing. It’s adding to the cost of running the project or running the company, but overall, it’s not a struggle anymore.’’ While the additional burden of pandemic related protocols may have been too much for another company, Sterling Ridge Group used these challenges as leverage to show what they could do as a collective force. Alawi sees the experience as a huge benefit to the group. ‘’We worked collectively to address issues, provide the necessary tools to our workforce and ensured worker safety and project completion. In those most difficult times, the strength, experience, dedication and loyalty of all of our people working together in a safe way helped us to weather the storm but also to achieve and succeed.’’

“By adapting to an online global industry, the group now uses an interconnected world to cast the net wider than it may have done in the past.”

This remote way of working has provided an opportunity to turn current restrictions into advantages. The ever present challenge of attracting the best quality staff is one that the Sterling Ridge Group is not immune from. By adapting to an online global industry, the group now uses an interconnected world to cast the net wider than it may have done in the past. ‘’The world is very small. It’s not like back in the day. Now you can bring people from anywhere in the world to work in your area. So when we hire people, for example, we go to our LinkedIn page. And we post there, and we start talking to people. There are certain types of questions that we ask to see the ability of the person, are they open minded, can they think outside the box. At the end of the day, if we find the most talented person for this position, and they are asking for a little bit more than the person in Windsor. We don’t mind bringing them over.’’

The Sterling Ridge Group has, in some shape or form, been a growing business for almost forty years. The company has developed through expansion, experience, knowledge and outside acquisitions. This growth and these changes are testament to a key driving force within the group. It would seem that the reputation of the work and the workers continues to provide assurance to the people of Ontario and further afield is every bit as important as the company logo. Regardless of the name and office location, this divisions within this group all have a commitment to work of the highest quality with the customer’s needs a priority. Alawi is considered and confident when discussing the reason why so many clients of the group continue to seek out their services. ‘’At the end of the day, the people that ran those companies are the same people. They are well known in South Ontario to the subcontractors, to the suppliers and to the manufacturers. The individuals who used to run the company and the senior management, they are well known within the industry here and have been for a long time. Our customers already have a great relationship with us and they are happy to continuing working together.’’

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