Canada’s Construction Trailblazer
Steed and Evans Limited
With a growing demand for infrastructure, Ontario-based contractor Steed and Evans Limited sets the bar for quality construction, reconstruction, and repair of local public works and private projects.
As COVID-19 rocks economies, prices are rising, and in times like these, it helps to have companies that know how to leverage their access to resources. Self-performing everything from extracting raw materials to grading and paving, year-round road maintenance, and concrete flatwork, Steed and Evans Limited is one company that knows how to handle the market throughout all of its seasons. Founded in 1953, the proudly management-owned, fully-Canadian firm is headquartered in St. Jacobs, Ontario.
The company is best known by Ontario provincial, municipal, and private sector clients as a provider of turnkey infrastructure construction services from roads to sewers and sometimes bridges. The firm is equipped with all the professionals and resources it takes to construct and reconstruct entire projects with minimal third-party contracting.
Being vertically integrated means the company “can drive the schedule without relying too much on subcontractors. We do over two hundred contracts a year. Our clients are all important to us: from the big [projects] to the small jobs.” says Jim Hurst, the company’s recently appointed President.
Limiting points of contact to one contractor naturally means better communication between the project owner and the project manager, saving significant amounts of time and money on large jobs. Project owners “may think that if they shop around they can get a slightly cheaper price but they’ll likely get a delayed project at maybe not a cheaper price at the end of the day,” Hurst adds. While low-bidding tends to win public contracts, the company’s competitive pricing and value are so good that private clients regularly approach it for negotiated work.
Achieving the golden combination of great price and quality is not as easy as it may sound, but Steed and Evans Limited has developed a finely-tuned formula. It appreciates the power of state-of-the-art equipment combined with knowledge. Apart from updating its fleet of heavy-duty machinery annually, education has played a pivotal role in its success, contributing to preventing errors and wasting time.
As such, the company supports its staff’s growth and training, relying on the professional expertise of its longstanding supervisors to ensure the smooth passage and delivery of its projects. But its drive for quality and value-for-money goes even further. Steed and Evans further drives down costs by extracting, processing, and delivering raw materials like aggregates which it then further processes into concrete and asphalt products, making it one of few contractors to attempt this gargantuan task.
Another move in its bid to deliver every project on time and within budget is its cost tracking system. Both expenditure and revenue are calculated per project per division across all five of its divisions to ensure clarity and transparency at all times. “Our type of construction is very capital-heavy. [This method allows us] to see at a glance which jobs are doing better or if there are any problem jobs. We’re very good at tracking our costs. I think you have to be in construction. At the end of the day, we work as a whole, and resources are shared [amongst divisions] to make the team as efficient as possible,” Hurst says.
As an essential service, the company worked throughout all levels of the shelter-in-place protocols resulting from the pandemic with all necessary steps taken to protect both its clients and its staff. It quickly realized that clear communication would be the only way to keep around 350 staff members updated. The solution was to use bulletins and its webpage, where regular, detailed reports were posted for the benefit of everyone who was involved with the company.
The company moved into a new head office extension just before the news of the pandemic broke, setting them up with enough workspace and distance between people to function comfortably. “Through all of that, our employees were very cooperative. They adapted to the rules that the company put in place and also the public health rules that were mandated by our province. We even had some employees come up with better ideas to contribute to the solution,” Hurst says proudly.
Safety is a large part of the Steed and Evans legacy. As the first president of the Construction Safety Association of Ontario, Roy Steed left an indelible mark on Ontario’s construction safety scene as he was responsible for having hard hats declared mandatory across the province.
“[Today] we take it for granted when we see guys in vests and hard hats. We win safety awards to this day, and every year, everyone gets a hard hat in honour of Steed starting it,” Hurst says.
Steed and Evans Limited received its Certificate of Recognition (COR), one of Canada’s most recent safety standards, over three years ago. It is independently audited annually and works hard to maintain its safety tradition.
Its safety considerations even extend to the environment, landing the company the Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association’s Trillium Award for effectively running an asphalt plant to minimize its impact on the natural environment. The company also rehabilitates aggregate pits to avoid defacing the landscape – in fact, its rehabilitation of a pit for Peninsula Lakes Golf Course was worthy of OSSGA’s Bronze Plaque award, the highest award given. The team also manages the amount of salt used to melt ice on roads, and engine emission controls are closely monitored. “We are proud that we follow all the [environmental] regulations. Our guys are good at keeping up with and adapting to all the regulatory changes,” says Hurst.
Its dedication to precision has also received much praise over the years. This year, it received the Ontario Good Road’s Association’s ‘Paver of the Year’ award, as well as the Conestoga Heavy Construction Association’s ‘Safest Contractor of the Year’ award several times over. In fact, this is the company that has held the honour the most times in the forty-year history of the award. Its fleet safety management has also been recognized as being exceptional.
The company really saw what it was made of when the pandemic hit. Despite having to implement more cleaning measures and closing lunchrooms, Steed and Evans’ employees have worked together and worn their masks, even in the sweltering heat. “We have a strong team. They’re all loyal and faithful. I have two solid, trustworthy partners: Malcolm Matheson and Paul Sousa. The three of us are third-generation owners, and together with other managers, our management team [consists] of fourteen individuals,” says Hurst. This month, the trio celebrates its tenth year of ownership.
The median tenure of around two decades makes it clear that people love working for the company. This achievement would not be possible without relationships being highly valued and nurtured. “We have seventy-six members in the twenty-five-year club and a guy reaching fifty-five years [at the company] this year. We also awarded a fellow this year for [being] accident-free for thirty years. This is incredible on a lot of fronts [as] they work in a very dangerous environment. It’s quite an accomplishment,” Hurst says.
Other traditions include an annual picnic for all employees and their families, and Hurst says that the company loves hosting it. There is also an annual steak fry to which many customers and senior staff members are invited and have an opportunity to get to know each other better while discussing life in general over a decent steak and a beer or two. Considering the size of the firm, keeping such a company culture alive is nothing short of impressive.
The company was started in the early fifties by Roy Steed and Denis Evans, freshly qualified engineers, just after WWII when the need for infrastructure caused a massive boom in the construction industry. Over time, the duo became expert bridge builders, slowly growing into their market and its needs and expanding the company’s capabilities accordingly.
Roy and Denis viewed the world differently, insisting on doing what was right by their workers. Apart from producing much of its own construction materials from the beginning, the company took on maintenance work during winter to give their staff better job security instead of laying them off during the snowy months as many others did, and this gave the company a growing edge over its competitors.
Later, the partners agreed to sell the firm to some of their employees when they stepped down. The next owners followed suit and today, Jim Hurst is a third-generation owner after joining the company in 2001.
Forever ahead of its peers, Steed and Evans Limited was an early adopter in offering employee security and benefits with a transparent profit-sharing concept known as deferred profit sharing that paid part of the company’s profit into employee retirement funds, long before it became commonplace. The two founders also implemented a pension plan that matched employees’ contributions.
“They were one of the first to offer a defined-contribution plan. In retrospect, it was the way to go because a lot of defined-benefit plans are underfunded now. In the fifties, I don’t think many construction companies had pension plans or were profit sharing to all employees for that matter,” adds Hurst. One cannot help but admire the two founders for the integrity and vision they brought to the industry and for taking care of the well-being of their workforce in such an innovative, proactive way, and this legacy lives on today.
Generosity is clearly in the company’s genes and, as a result, several groups benefit from it every year. As everyone needs medical care at some point in their lives, the largest share of its donations goes to local hospitals. It also contributes financially to food banks, mental health facilities, and fundraisers. In addition, it gives hampers to children’s charities at Christmas and supports the Ride for Dad campaign that raises awareness around prostate cancer.
And, as the issue hits close to home in a large construction company like this, the company helps open up the conversation by displaying Ride for Dad decals on its vehicles. Then there are the scholarships it provides to local colleges to give back to the institutions that provide it with people who give the company their best.
Moving ahead, Steed and Evans Limited will still focus on building quality infrastructure that lasts. The company will achieve this by continuing what it does best: working together. “We like to say ‘buy from your local contractor who lives here, works here, plays here, donates here,’” Hurst tells us.