A Power Line Construction Company Focused on Community
Forbes Bros is Canada’s largest privately-owned power line construction company. Aside from large-scale power line construction, it also provides underground services such as directional horizontal drilling, boring, and hydro excavation. Forbes also has a telecommunications division that installs and maintains wireless and fibre optic systems as well as other national telecommunications services.
In addition to building power infrastructure, Forbes maintains distribution contracts with power services providers and performs substation work. The company provides its services to both the public and the private sectors of the North American market.
Forbes was established forty-one years ago in Saskatchewan by brothers Rob, Earl, and Mark Forbes. The brothers began with small-scale power line projects in Saskatchewan and expanded from there into larger projects in Alberta.
Today, the company’s services reach across the entire country, and it has recently expanded into the United States. It has offices in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Utah. Over the last ten years, the company has grown aggressively and currently most of its growth is focused on the United States.
Forbes currently employs approximately eight hundred people in the U.S. and Canada. A challenge for Forbes is maintaining the high level of quality and safety in the workplace as it hires new employees who are new to Forbes’ culture. The entire industry has experienced labour shortage problems, particularly during times of significant growth in power line infrastructure construction. Forbes helped to solve this by promoting from within and putting its team through training and subsidizing apprenticeships.
Recently, the company participated in an exercise to help define Forbes’ culture. It established its organizational identity by setting four primary company values: We Work Hard; We Deliver Practical Solutions; We Work Safe; and We Collaborate.
People and the community are important considerations for Forbes when building projects. It strives to build environmentally conscious projects that improve the quality of life for the local communities, its employees, and society as a whole. The company is charitable and generous, and it has a budget that is designated specifically for community investment and donations. A part of the culture at Forbes surrounds participating in community events where its facilities are located and encouraging volunteerism and charity.
An example of the company’s charitable work is when it was working in northern Manitoba in a very remote First Nations’ community called Cormorant and realized that during the summer months, the children of Cormorant do not have any structured activities. Forbes funded a full-time recreation coordinator for July and August to allow the students of Cormorant an opportunity to participate in structured learning and activity.
Defining the values of the company has enabled the leadership and the employees to pinpoint distinct details of exactly what it means to work for Forbes and be a Forbes employee. “We have had an employee engagement survey and some perception surveys, and we are developing innovation and engagement teams within our organization to try to drive positive continuous and sustainable change throughout the organization,” says Brenda Madley, senior manager.
Forbes recently acquired two new companies in the United States. “Last year we acquired Timberline Construction in South Dakota, and this year, we acquired Titan Electric in Wyoming. It increased our employee numbers and our geographic service area,” says Madley.
The company is currently going through a rebranding process to unify all of its service groups, acquisitions, and divisions. It recognizes the importance of a shared visual identity to represent the values, characteristics and attributes that are fundamental to Forbes and uniquely descriptive of the organization. “We feel like we need to have a consistent company identity, because our divisions and acquisitions are so dispersed geographically,” says Madley.
Despite being the largest privately owned power line construction company in Canada and growing in the United States, Forbes can move more quickly and adapt to changes with more flexibility than its competition. “Our operations group and field leadership are very practical, very efficient, and we pride ourselves on being able to anticipate problems with our clients and look for opportunities to deliver efficiencies for them,” says Madley.
Forbes recently began work on a project in Beattyville, Kentucky for the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) in April 2018, on track for completion in October 2018. The Kentucky project will involve the installation of forty kilometres of new steel H-frame and single poles and entails right-of-way preparation, rock backfill for foundations, and both conventional crane and helicopter erection. The primary project challenges are remote access and mountainous terrain, combined with either the rainy and muddy winter conditions, or the high heat and humidity in the summer.
Forbes has completed projects for the Eastern Alberta Transmission Line and the Western Alberta Transmission Line. The Western Alberta Transmission Line was erected between April 2013 and December 2014, which involved the construction of a two-hundred-kilometer bipole transmission line in the Genesee area. A bipole transmission line is a power line with two opposite polarity direct current conductors. The structure assembly and erection required the use of both helicopter and conventional crane erection.
Another significant project is Manitoba Hydro’s ‘Bipole III’ project that was completed in April 2018 when Forbes finished the construction of seven hundred kilometres of steel lattice tower bipole transmission line. During this project, Forbes hired and trained First Nations’ citizens in the area and invested directly in the communities. It took approximately two and a half years to complete the project which included clearing, road construction, environmental and construction matting, fence and gate installation, structure assembly and erection, and stringing power lines.
Forbes employees were required to travel on ice roads for Bipole projects. “Most of the project was in northern Manitoba, where we have to wait until winter so we can build ice roads in the muskeg to access the power line right-of-way,” says Madley.
Forbes understands the importance of safety, and it has learned to focus on safe work rather than focusing on zero percent loss. “We want to focus on one hundred percent safe work every day, and we value employee safety. In meeting our goals for quality, cost, and schedule, we don’t ever compromise employee or project safety,” says Madley.
The company has established a comprehensive environmental management plan that demonstrates its respect for the environment and strong sustainability efforts. For example, it outlines how to address any wildlife, plant material, and ecologically sensitive areas.
Forbes streamlines its processes to make them more efficient and maintain profit margins. In effect, it charges customers less while remaining competitive in the market. Forbes has successfully maintained its market share amidst competition, and it continues to grow via acquisitions, which is a strategic manoeuvre to diversify its services.
The company is currently focusing on its expansion into the United States, and considering further expansion into Latin America.