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50 Years of Staying Power

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Ask any business leader about the greatest challenges they face, and they’ll likely talk about the difficulties staying competitive in a continually shifting global market. A recent McKinsey study estimated the average lifespan of a company to be around 18 years, and many estimate that figure to be even shorter for companies in the construction business. All of which makes Van Horne Construction Ltd.’s 50 years of continued success so remarkable.

Like many parts of the world, the construction industry in Ontario has seen its share of changes over the last half century. Technological advancements, evolving regulations, and shifts in environmental priorities have been the leading drivers in this regard. Throughout these changes, Van Horne has managed not only to endure, but to thrive. The company has experienced unprecedented growth in recent years, solidifying its position as a key player in Ontario’s construction industry.

In his role as President and CEO of the company, Zeki Mert’s focus is on leading and managing the company to achieve its strategic goals. “Our growth has been marked by strategic initiatives, innovative projects, and a continued commitment to excellence.” As Van Horne celebrates half a century in the construction business, Mert can look back on the last five decades from a position of extraordinary success. In the past five years alone, the company has experienced a staggering 900% growth.

Things were not always this way. Operating out of its headquarters in Concord, Ontario, Van Horne Construction Ltd began trading in 1973, and initially the company started working on smaller commercial/retail projects. However, an attention to details and strong work ethic ensured that the company expanded quickly. “As the company grew, we began to take on larger and more sophisticated projects including institutional and multi-level residential buildings.”

Central to Van Horne’s early success can be attributed to both its extensive knowledge of the industry landscape and the key players within it that could be relied upon to guarantee results. “We’re in a unique position having established relationships with many trades, and that provides us with an advantage in securing the most competitive pricing,” says Mert. “We’ve amassed a large database of dependable and qualified sub-trades and suppliers that we’ve vetted and worked with over the last five decades.”

Van Horne’s dedication to craftsmanship, excellence, and client satisfaction quickly allowed the company to develop a stellar reputation among its peers in Ontario’s construction industry. Before long, it had a host of clients and suppliers eager to work with a company that was clearly on the rise. “Van Horne has strategically aligned with industry partners including architects, engineers, and subcontractors fostering collaborative relationships that have contributed to the success of countless projects.”

As Van Horne expanded, so too did the company’s project portfolio which now encompasses a diverse range of construction endeavors. For Mert and those at the company, this is the result of strategic and focused investment in the latest technology. “We’ve invested heavily in digital tools and software, and we’ve embraced sustainable building practices to position ourselves as a leader in green construction. We’ve also focused on workforce development, nurturing talent, and promoting continuous learning.” This investment has also led to a key strength, and one that has played a key role in the company’s longevity. In having an ability to anticipate and adapt to change in the face of intensifying market competition, the company is an industry outlier. Mert points to the rapid pace of technological advancements as an example of this. “Over the last five decades, we’ve seen the introduction to computer aided design (CAD) software, Building Information Modelling (BIM), digital tools and mobile apps, as well as things like prefabrication and modular construction coming to the fore.”

In more recent times, environmental concerns have risen in prominence and have fundamentally changed the way in which businesses operate in the industry. “Ontario has seen a growing emphasis on sustainable and environmentally friendly construction practices driven by stricter regulations and an increased awareness of climate change. Green building certifications like LEED have become more common, for instance.” Alongside this, the industry has undergone a significant shift towards prioritizing the safety of the workforce in construction as well. “Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) regulations have evolved to enforce safety measures, greatly reducing workplace accidents.”

Elsewhere, Mert points to demographic changes in the makeup of the workforce as one of the most positive developments in recent years. “Our industry has made significant strides in promoting diversity and inclusion with initiatives aimed at increasing the participation of women, minorities, and indigenous people in the workforce. We’ve always embraced inclusion wholeheartedly and we’ll continue to do so in the future.”

“Even though we have standard processes, we’re always prepared to modify them to align with our client’s specific needs.”

Over the years, Van Horne has adapted to working across a diverse range of construction projects, instilling a tailored approach to suit different clients and project types. It’s this philosophy of adaptability that has allowed the company to work seamlessly with clients across sectors, delivering consistent results no matter the brief. “We begin by recognizing that each project is unique. Each has its own challenges, objectives, and client expectations. We embrace flexibility in our project management. Even though we have standard processes, we’re always prepared to modify them to align with our client’s specific needs.”

Van Horne prides itself on its client-centric mindset, and when asked about this aspect of its approach, Mert is quick to stress the importance of communication. “We customize our communication style and frequency to match our client’s preferences. Some clients prefer regular detailed updates while others prefer periodic summaries.” For Mert and the team at Van Horne, this doesn’t end with the project’s completion either. “With each completed project we conduct a post-project evaluation with the client to understand what went well and what could be improved and to apply these insights on future projects.”

Zeki Merk, president and CEO of Van Horne
Zeki Mert – President and CEO

This approach has allowed Van Horne to be proactive rather than reactive, building for the future with confidence. “We focus on creating long-term relationships with clients and partners rather than solely pursuing short-term gains.” But while the company’s clients will always be a priority, Mert also recognizes the importance of looking after its workforce for the long-term as well. “Investing in the training and development of our employees means we can retain a skilled and motivated team while we look ahead to what’s next.”

In an industry that can be tumultuous and difficult to navigate, it is refreshing to find a company that has had the skill and foresight to anticipate change. For Van Horne, this skill, and the success it has delivered, can be attributed to several underlying principles that have guided the company through 50 years in the industry. “We believe in consistency, integrity, and honesty in everything from project bidding and completion. Being able to build trust allows us to retain satisfied clients and have them recommend our services to others.”

While these principles can contribute to the competitiveness of a construction company, Mert and his team recognize that sometimes that simply isn’t enough. Unfortunately, the construction industry can be influenced by factors outside the company’s control. “Regional issues, economic conditions, market dynamics… They all require additional strategies that evolve over time.” However, he sees this ability to pivot as a vital element of its ongoing growth. “The ability to adapt to changing industry trends, regulations, and client needs is crucial for long-term success. Prudent financial management and a strong financial position helps us to weather economic downturns and to seize growth opportunities as and when they arise.”

As Van Horne looks to the future, the company has plans to maintain the rapid growth it has experienced recently. “We’re expanding our operations overseas as we continue to monitor the changing landscape in the Ontario construction market.” Asked about these changes, Mert highlights two key areas. “We have an aging population and a growing demand for affordable housing, so those are two high demand sectors that we’ll continue to focus our attention on.” Mert confirmed that Van Horne is already hard at work on several projects that answer the province’s construction needs. “We’ve secured a number of long-term care facility builds in eastern and western Ontario and we’re looking forward to collaborating with partners on some exciting projects in the coming months and years.”

Backed by strong relationships in the industry, an engaged and motivated workforce, and a growing reputation as a market leader in Ontario, the future looks bright for Van Horne Construction Ltd. Whatever the next 50 years have in store, it’s not hard to imagine Van Horne being able to adapt to any changes that comes its way.

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