Building on People

Phoenix Truck & Crane

When a bright young man began his career in the trucking industry of the 80s in British Columbia, Canada, he found that drivers on the whole were neither appreciated nor well treated. But Bill Dick had more insight than most, and he set out to turn that way of business on its head. He succeeded.

In 1990 Bill Dick started his own business – Phoenix Truck & Crane – initially in his basement before moving to an office the following year. “Before starting Phoenix I worked in trucking for around ten years as an owner-operator,” said Dick. “I was always shocked and unhappy with the way owners treated their owner-operators and told my wife that we were going to be different, and that our owner-operators were going to be respected.”

His original plan was to build a small company of around 50 people, and to focus on doing what he did well, without any particular long-term vision of building a business that would grow as successfully and rapidly as this one.

“I loved driving trucks and operating the crane but I knew I didn’t want to drive into my sixties,” Dick said. “But we grew quickly because both drivers and customers were unhappy with the companies already established in our industry.”

The people principle
Within seven years the company had grown to around 100 owner-operators and office staff. Today, after 29 years in business, the company has over 200 staff members, and is still growing. Some members of the team have been with the company for more than 25 years, partly because of the opportunities that they have been given to grow within the company, and mainly because it is has been a great environment where employees are truly appreciated and looked after.

For instance, staff are encouraged to take time with their kids and go on field trips and attend school events. Tellingly, the company supplies a fully stocked kitchen on site where lunches and snacks are provided free of charge.

Bringing family members into the Phoenix fold is also encouraged practice. Not only is Dick’s son Trevor the vice president of the company, but many of the staff have other family members in various capacities in the business, all of whom have had opportunities to train in areas that are of interest to them.

Bottom to top
One employee spoke of being given numerous opportunities to grow with Phoenix during her career, opportunities she seized with gratitude.

“I started with the company in 2002 as an accounts receivable clerk,” said Lora Covinha, President and General Manager of Phoenix. “In 2014 I became the administration manager, and then in 2015 I was promoted to general manager and so I did that along with being office manager and payables, and in 2017 I was promoted to president. When I talk to people about my journey and my path in the company people are amazed.”

Covinha in turn has made it a priority to reciprocate the opportunities she has been given.

“I always look within the staff to see who I can move up to new positions,” she explained. “When a new opening become available at Phoenix, I evaluate everyone’s potential in hopes of promoting internally and giving the chance to someone who is already committed – someone who is well aware of our practices and values our company – to take on new responsibilities and challenge themselves.”

Interestingly enough, 50 percent of the company’s staff is female. “It’s not something I’ve tried to do,” explained Covinha. “It just happened that way because we just try to hire the best person for the position, whoever they are – short, tall, male, female. We have every walk of life here including female crane operators and female drivers.”

800 jobs a day
The company has over 150 trucks and cranes of various sizes and capabilities, ranging from pick-up trucks and vans to a 165-ton all-terrain crane, and offers both freight and crane services. The team also provides courier services and storage on an 11-acre property. Customers are mostly involved in the construction industry, but they also perform work on infrastructure and in the film and television industry, supporting in place the sizable lights used in filming.

Most of the work Phoenix Truck & Crane performs is in the Vancouver Lower Mainland region, extending to a 160-kilometre radius that spans from Hope to Whistler, British Columbia, and its owner-operators complete nearly 800 jobs a day on a regular basis.

The jobs the company takes on have been quite diverse, ranging from setting up cell towers and installing windows and glazing in skyscrapers in downtown Vancouver, to operating cranes for film sets on top of Whistler Mountain, and doing crane work at both the 2008 Beijing and 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“There are so many big projects where you have multiple contractors, on sites like the Royal Columbian Hospital, where you have all these different cranes doing different jobs, and we find that fascinating,” said Covinha. “We just held up the big screen in New Westminster for the Remembrance Day service, and we do a lot of in-kind work with organizations like Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, where we put in a new ventilation unit.”

A crowded sector
If the scope of Phoenix’s work makes it sound like the company might be alone in this industry, the truth is that the market is very competitive. However – to put it mildly – Phoenix Truck & Crane has always managed to stand out in a crowded sector.

“We have a lot of competition, because of course there’s always somebody out there that is willing to cut their rates,” said Covinha. “We are one of the higher-end companies in the industry, but we have a lot to uphold including a strong safety program and an experienced team which provides outstanding customer service.”

Setting the safety bar
The company’s culture of safety has been the foundation for all aspects of the business. All of the 140 owner-operators have their certificate of recognition (COR) from WorkSafeBC, a partnership program that, according to the worksafebc.com website, “recognizes employers that are proactive about improving workplace safety, and are dedicated to continual improvement.”

“Getting our COR Certification was a big project,” said Covinha. “I think it makes a difference at the end of the day as more and more companies are now prioritizing safety. We’re setting the bar high to ensure safety of our employees and customers.”

Phoenix has been recognized on multiple occasions by the business community. It was awarded Best Business, Best Owner, and Best Business Person from the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, which encompasses Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody. The company has also received a community service award for the numerous charitable activities that have become fundamental to its corporate culture as well.

Giving back
“We’re active in communities as far as contributing and supporting programs go, not just in the Tri-Cities. For example, we donate our time and services for the Lights of Hope that happens at St. Paul’s Hospital,” said Covinha. “We supply the crane and do all of the transportation work they need for the event so that the funds they raise throughout the initiative go back straight to the hospital foundation. We also support Maple Ridge Access Youth and seniors programs, and we have supported the Royal Columbian Hospital for the last two years.”

There is in fact a laundry list of organizations that Phoenix has helped, and continues to help in both monetary and in-kind service.

“It’s very important to give back to the community and when Bill founded the company he believed that, and has been doing it from the very beginning,” explained Covinha. “Philanthropy is something that Bill Dick is passionate about and his positivity has filtered its way through the company culture throughout the years. Employees take part in initiatives and they see that the company they work for gives back which makes them proud and even more involved.”

A culture worth keeping
The management team understands how very fortunate they have been to have accomplished what they have, all the while enjoying the game-changing long-term support of employees in the company.

“Bill is an amazing businessman who’s provided leadership and mentoring and takes very good care of his staff. This is probably one of the telltale reasons for the longevity of the company,” said Covinha.

The challenge now is maintaining that culture for the future. “Our senior management team is the glue that holds us all together,” said Covinha, “but unfortunately they are coming toward retirement age. Now we are in the middle of a few succession plans, and hiring youth to bring some more longevity into the company to push it through for those next 20 years.”

At the end of the day though, one thing is certain: Bill Dick has never taken for granted how fortunate he has been and how proud he can be of his business.

“I think I had the right idea at the right time when it was needed in our fledgling industry,” said Dick. “Our people have made us the company we are today.”

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May 29, 2020, 6:01 AM EDT