November 24, 2011

2011 Leaders

Growth through diversity

Canadians refer to them as PRO-jects, while Americans call them PRAW-jects, but to Bruce Grewcock, President & CEO, Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc., they’re all part of the successful track record of a construction company that has cracked the Fortune 250 and become one of the largest privately held, employee-owned companies in North America.

While Kiewit maintains a cross-Canada presence, some of its largest projects are based in Western Canada where a construction boom is being fueled by an expanding resource sector.

Kiewit was founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1884 as a masonry contracting firm and prospered through the coming century by embracing road building and infrastructure contracts, defense contracts and resource projects.

Bird Construction president and CEO Tim Talbott


The Stawamus Chief Pedestriam Overpass was just one element in Kiewit’s extensive work on British Columbia’s Sea-to-Sky Highway during the third segment of the project.

The company continues to grow and diversify, providing construction and engineering services to markets that include transportation, building, water resources, power, underground, oil and gas, electrical, mining and marine sectors.

Kiewit first set up offices in Western Canada during the Great Depression, taking on government-sponsored infrastructure contracts. The company expanded its presence as a heavy construction contractor through the early 1940s, accepting such challenges as building the Alaska Highway, linking Alaska to the U.S. Through the years, Canada has continued to become more important to Kiewit’s overall portfolio, with Western Canada providing the company with some of its largest contracts.

“Currently, Canada represents about one-quarter of our business and we don’t see this construction market diminishing in importance,” says Grewcock.

Kiewit operates through more than 30 specialty business units spanning the continent.

Working in every Canadian province and territory, the company maintains offices and fabrication facilities across the country in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Alta., Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Milton, Ont., Montreal, Trois-Rivieres, Que., Miramichi, N.B., and St. John’s, N.L.

Bird Construction president and CEO Tim Talbott


Bruce Grewcock, President & CEO, Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc.

Kiewit’s Canadian project resumé includes highways, bridges, mass transit systems, mine site development, open pit operations, hydroelectric powerhouses, wind-power plants, dams and industrial facilities.

Through western-based Kiewit Energy Canada Corp., the company provides a wide range of engineering, procurement and construction services to the oil, gas, chemical, ethanol and related process industries.

When specialized expertise is required across the country or across the Canada-U.S. border, the company’s units benefit from each other’s talent and resources, sending their best where they’re most needed.

Grewcock attributes some of the company’s success to the ability of its units to independently pursue a broad spectrum of opportunities.

“Between me and the business units, there are maybe two levels of management and our unit managers are fully empowered, in a decentralized framework, to operate as local regional contractors and do what’s required to pursue success in their markets,” he says. “We push decision-making down to the lowest levels possible. We realized long ago that we couldn’t effectively control what’s happening in our Canadian units — it’s not even desirable. Knowing the best way to approach business in Vancouver, having ready access to the key-subcontractors in Edmonton, or understanding the nuances and dynamics of each labour market is best handled on the regional level. The units not only operate better independently, they operate faster.”

The independence of regional contractors also allows the company to pursue smaller as well as larger contracts.

“The $10-billion mega-jobs can keep you busy for 10 to 25 years, but you can also make money at smaller jobs,” he says. “Smaller contracts help us to sharpen our pencils and retain our edge, providing wonderful training for our employees, and the skills required to succeed at them translate perfectly to the billion-dollar portfolio. We never want to be seen as so big that we only pursue the larger jobs where there are fewer competitors.”


Kiewit has partnered with Parsons to extend the A-25 highway, including construction of a six-lane cable-stayed bridge across Riviere des Prairies, in Quebec.

Kiewit is an employee-owned company with shares owned by 2,600 employees, 600 of them Canadians.

“You are offered an opportunity to buy a piece of the company when you reach a certain level of responsibility within the company,” says Grewcock. “Employees need to buy the stock — it isn’t given to them — and that’s what really gives them skin in the game. It’s been a wonderful program for Kiewit and is part of the reason for our growth and expansion.”

The program not only helps to build loyalty, it also builds stability through employee retention. Grewcock himself has been with the company since 1982 and took on the position of president and CEO in 2000. He is only the seventh president in the company’s long history.

Employee ownership also helps to underline the company’s safety policy: “Nobody gets hurt.”

“Employee-owners assume a sense of personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others,” says Grewcock.

In Western Canada, Kiewit has worked on such recent high-profile projects as the Sea-to-Sky Highway Improvement Project, between Vancouver and Whistler B.C., B.C.’s East Toba and Montrose hydroelectric projects, and Vancouver’s SkyTrain light rail system. In Alberta, the company completed the five-span Suncor Athabasca River Bridge, south of Fort McMurray, Alta.

Kiewit’s current slate of Western Canadian construction contracts provides an enviable list of projects that will keep the company occupied for years. In many cases, Kiewit has partnered with like-minded companies on these large projects.

One of the company’s biggest Western Canadian projects is also one of the largest it has ever undertaken: the Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project in support of British Columbia’s Gateway Program. This work, undertaken with Flatiron Constructors Canada Limited, includes Vancouver’s new 10-lane Port Mann Bridge, and the widening and associated upgrades of 37 kilometres of Highway 1.

Kiewit has also completed the Pitt River Crossing, a component of the North Fraser Perimeter Road Project at Port Coquitlam, B.C. with MMM Group. The project consisted of an eight-lane bridge and a new interchange at the Mary Hill Bypass.


The second segment in Kiewit’s Sea-to-Sky Highway project was a geographically difficult project. The entire 16-kilometre segment was built along the cliff’s edge above Canadian National Railway lines.

In Alberta, Kiewit is currently partnering with Black & Veatch Canada Company to build the Shepard Energy Centre, an 800 MW natural gas-fired generation facility in southeast Calgary.

Canadian contracts such as these have helped Kiewit to develop expertise in handling the logistics of remote projects, promoting stewardship of the environment and developing strong, long-term partnerships with First Nations residents.

In Ontario, Kiewit is partnering with Aecon Group Inc. on a $1.7 billion design-build contract awarded by Ontario Power Generation for construction of the Lower Mattagami hydropower complex.

In Quebec, Kiewit is partnering with Parsons to extend the A-25 highway, including construction of a six-lane cable-stayed bridge crossing the Riviere des Prairies.

In Newfoundland, Kiewit has partnered with Norwegian-based Kvaerner in a joint venture to design the Hebron gravity base structure for ExxonMobil’s offshore oil project.

Grewcock says he takes a personal interest in Kiewit’s undertakings. Over the past decade he’s toured projects in virtually every province and territory. His project visits range from the massive Diavik Diamond Mine contract in the Northwest Territories to the Alberta oil sands and to smaller contracts, such as a bus station construction project for Ontario’s York Region Transit/Viva system.

Grewcock is bullish on Canadian construction in the coming decade.

“The world is going to need more commodities — oil and gas, precious metals, copper, lead, zinc, phosphates and liquefied natural gas — and Canada is well-positioned and ideally suited to provide those resources to the world market,” he says. “The country will require a massive amount of construction to supply the natural resource markets, not only in extraction, but processing and transportation. I also see a lot of construction related to supplying clean water. With most of the country’s infrastructure having been built in the 1960s, I believe we’ll also see a lot of infrastructure activity. The country will see significant investment in roads, bridges and mass transit.”

As Kiewit continues to adapt to new market opportunities, the company continues to focus on its core skill set.

“In the construction business, we can only build what people want us to build,” says Grewcock. “That isn’t what defines us. It’s our project management expertise that carries us from project to project. We can take a massive job and break it down into bite-sized portions and then apply our understanding of costs, labour, equipment and technical expertise. We’re simply very good project people.”

High-profile projects

Since the early 1940s, Peter Kiewit Infrastructure Co. has been contributing to Western Canada as a leading heavy construction contractor, building projects from British Columbia to Manitoba to the Northwest Territories. Their work includes the following noteworthy projects:

■ Kwalsa and Upper Stave Hydroelectric Project — Kwalsa and Upper Stave, B.C.

The $392 million engineer-procure-construct contract consists of six separate run-of the-river hydroelectric projects. Each project is comprised of an intake structure, a penstock, a powerhouse and a tailrace channel.

■ Sea-to-Sky Highway — Vancouver to Whistler, B.C.

This finance-design-build-operate project is one of the first public-private partnerships to reach financial close within the North American transportation market. Work involves upgrades to over 130 km of the highway between Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

■ Athabasca River Bridge — Tar Island, Alta.

Using a 1,270-mm-thick ice bridge for access during construction, the $3.2 million, 280-metre-long by 11-metre-wide four-span steel girder bridge provides a link from a newly constructed pulp mill to vital timber reserves in northern Alberta.

■ Suncor Athabasca River Bridge — Ft. McMurray, Alta.

This fast-track $25 million project involved design and construction of a bridge to provide access to the Fort McMurray tar sands operations in Northern Alberta. An innovative design allowed the 391-metre, five-span bridge to be completed 14 months sooner than anticipated.

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