A Vision Realized

mform Construction Group

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mform Construction Group is a Toronto-based construction management firm specializing in commercial interiors. With a strong leadership team, an impressive portfolio and a modern approach, mform has carved out a significant portion of the construction management landscape in the GTA.
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mform’s success is built on the synthesis of industry knowledge, experience and an innovative approach that is supported by an emphasis on progressive corporate culture and cutting-edge technology. Known for its meticulous attention to detail and extraordinary client care, mform’s growth and portfolio are both expanding at an impressive pace.

Construction in Focus spoke with the firm’s founders: Jason Shapiro, Director of Business Development, Angelo Zita, Director of Project Management, and David Allen, Director of Site Management, to learn more about mform’s inspiring projects and its unique approach to client care that sets the company apart from other firms.

mform was created because of Shapiro’s, Zita’s and Allen’s collective entrepreneurial spirit. All three partners worked together in one of Canada’s largest construction firms but felt they could take their experiences and leverage that into a new and more innovative company.

“The three of us were colleagues for many years, building out some of Toronto’s most prominent spaces,” explains Shapiro. “Sharing an entrepreneurial spirit and certain philosophies about the industry helped us create mform. Leveraging our strong relationships, we set out to pick the minds of industry professionals ranging from designers to project management firms to landlords—because of our personal reputations, it was easy getting a foot in the door.”

Though all three partners had a wealth of experience in the business, for their new company, Shapiro, Zita, and Allen took a principled stand about truly starting from scratch. They saw this as a unique opportunity to improve the approach for the construction management process, to build a firm that could better address some of the most pressing problems and concerns that were coursing through the industry.

“When we decided to move onto our next adventure, one of our methods was to learn about the challenges that clients faced by holding roundtable sessions. We spoke with project stakeholders from about 30 different firms, from boutique to large, positioning ourselves as a fresh piece of clay. Having worked one way for so long, we wanted to step back and ask questions like, ‘What are the common anxieties in construction management? What phases give you the most stress? How can the process be improved?’ It was interesting because we started to get very similar responses from many of the different firms. It allowed us to better tackle these problems and find ways to better the process and to differentiate ourselves right out of the gate. We had very strong portfolios and résumés, but mform was a new entity in town. We weren’t naïve, we knew we had to figure out a way reconnect with the industry and say, ‘We might be wearing a different logo but you know us and this is how we can help you,’” said Shapiro.

mform was built with problem solving in mind. The most consistent piece of insight they received from their roundtable discussions was that the last five percent of a project contains the most challenges and can sour the entire experience. mform saw an opportunity to design an approach that met this challenge head on. They wanted to be a construction partner, one that clients come to for every project, and knew that this was one area they could outshine their competitors.

The partners addressed this anxiety by creating a client care department that enters a project during that last five percent to ensure that all details and processes are efficiently settled through to close-out. After close-out they make sure that the space is maintained and operating as promised.

“Once we heard the feedback, we took all that information and refined our approach, process and documents. We sat down and figured out how to navigate the last stage of a project to avoid the pitfalls that our consultations revealed. Our client care department augments the project team’s role and provides critical resources to the client once the project team begins to demobilize. We provide a level of service that is consistent and seamless and extends beyond closeout,” explains Allen.

Another unique feature of mform is revealed in one of its values: “We build culture.” mform works with a lot of clients that have strong legacies in their respective industries but are seeking to build more modern and progressive office spaces. mform has worked with many of the great technology titans – for example, Facebook and Microsoft – but the firm has also completed projects for Bay Street firms who want to attract and retain their industry’s best people. Today, that means having an office that acts as both a functional space and a muse.

“The workplace has shifted incredibly over the last ten years. The notion behind mform’s statement that ‘We build culture’ is that we help to define, and in some cases, redefine, a company’s legacy and help them adapt to a new and more progressive environment. Culture is no longer an afterthought – it drives talent through your doors. Clients are investing more into their workspaces to keep their employees engaged and happy while also attracting new waves of talent,” says Shapiro.

Exemplifying mform’s ability to build culture is their recent project with Scotiabank’s Digital Factory. Located in the old Toronto Sun offices at 333 King St. East, and profiled in an extensive, glossy spread in Toronto Life, Scotiabank’s Digital Factory exudes “cool” and “innovation”. Designed as the headquarters for Scotiabank’s digital banking teams, the office space is a breathtaking homage to the most modern spaces that successful fintech and commercial tech companies are popularizing. The 70,000 square foot space embraces openness and transparency and uses cutting edge advances, such as biometric scanners for employee access. Some of its more striking features include a cafeteria, a gym, a speak-easy bar and even a bowling alley.

“This was a very daring and progressive project for one of Canada’s oldest institutions. Their goal was to be spoken about in the same way as the Googles and Facebooks. They wanted to build a space that would attract top talent to their firm,” observes Shapiro. “It was a one-of-a-kind project: an older building, lots of intricacies and a mixture of classical finishes and modern touches that pushed an old school company to a new frontier. The scope was complicated but with good planning and execution, move-in occurred on the day we promised the client. We are really proud of this accomplishment.”

mform’s other recent and influential projects include managing the construction for multiple workspaces for Grant Thornton. Originally, mform was hired to build Grant Thornton’s Mississauga office space. Following that successful completion, mform was contracted to build Grant Thornton’s flagship location – their 40,000 square foot Toronto office. This strong relationship has continued as mform is currently managing the construction of their Markham office. Building client loyalty through responsiveness, flexibility, transparency and client care is part of mform’s values.

mform is all about its people, emphasizing that hiring and maintaining the right staff is integral to their continued success. This is the foundation upon which their standard for client service excellence is built.

“Mentorship is very important at mform. We weigh talent, drive and personality as heavily as experience. We have summer school employees, some who work for us every year. We hire George Brown and Ryerson students to give them a taste of what it’s like working in our firm, and a lot of them have come back for a second and third year; in some cases we have hired them permanently once they have finished their schooling. We also pair our newer personnel with seasoned veterans to expedite their development and give them an opportunity to learn their crafts from industry professionals. In addition, we don’t pair them with the same mentor on every project; we switch it up, allowing them to learn different approaches. Mentorship is an important part of our company – this is a family and we want people with a voice who are excited to contribute,” says Zita.

Shapiro, Zita, and Allen also stress the importance of building “healthy projects,” which start at the onset of preconstruction. Being involved in the early conceptual discussions helps create clear, realistic timelines and feasibility budgets. From there, mform can best utilize its talents for redlining the drawing packages for constructability audits and value engineering. All of this helps set a project up for success in the implementation phase. mform’s talents in these areas are why companies like MLSE and Torys LLP have sought them as a construction partner to guide them through the preconstruction phases for their own projects.

mform embraces technology in every area of their business including on-site. These technologies help streamline processes, allowing the team to provide a more seamless process for clients. “We’re building spaces faster than ever, and to do that you need to have a firm and staff that not only understands technology but is excited by its potential. We have implemented tools and software that decrease inefficiencies and increase communicating in real-time. We’ve empowered our people to use tablets on site and to use software that allows them to share and collaborate remotely throughout the lifecycle of a project. We’re constantly looking for new tools to further streamline the process and make the experience even more collaborative and cohesive. We have an old school service approach in terms of hard work and mesh that with the latest and best technology,” explains Zita.

So where is mform going in the future?

“We’ve had a lot of great successes and the firm has experienced steady growth. Specializing in commercial interiors affords us the opportunity to work on projects that span retail, restaurants, institutional and hospitality. We want to continue to grow our relationships and for our clients and partners to experience the breadth of our strategic national alliances, which allows us to service all the needs of their projects and offices through Canada. Regardless of geography, it’s always a seamless experience.”

For mform, it comes down to experience. Not just their industry or personal experience but the experience they offer their clients. From the friendly, knowledgeable staff, to the technology employed to the thoughtful process, the experience is their signature and has led to their growth and success. Their holistic approach to construction management and the way all the different elements are integrated make the experience one that is unique to mform. It is why they are the choice of many to build their culture.

mform is excited and ready for what the future holds.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

While all of us are familiar with the old saying ‘you get what you pay for,’ when it comes to construction projects, the words of legendary American business magnate and philanthropist Warren Buffett ring especially true: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

November 17, 2017, 11:37 PM EST