Turner builds self-perform operations from the ground up

Turner Construction takes you behind the scenes of developing an SPO department from scratch.

Key Takeaways:

  • Started in 2021 with two people, the SPO unit has grown to more than 20
  • Officials say the “business within a business” requires an entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to adapt to the local market needs.
  • The unit does carpentry, demolition, concrete, equipment rentals and more.

The Whole Story:

After seven years of growth in Canada, Turner’s business unit in Vancouver decided it wanted to look at creating its own self-performing operations (SPO) unit like other large general contractors.

Essentially, this entailed developing a business within a business led by someone with a passion for entrepreneurship. When they put out a call to current employees, Yasir Ali leapt at the opportunity. 

Starting small

“The reason I put my name in the hat to start SPO was because it was the perfect blend of entrepreneurship, creativity and being able to build a business from the ground up that has allowed me to positively impact the Vancouver construction community,” said Ali. 

In 2021, Ali partnered with Preston Boomars, a veteran superintendent at Turner, to shape what the new SPO department would look like. 

“Part of this is looking at it from an intrapreneurial lens in terms of how we set it up with processes and systems and policies, and how we set something up that is not just profitable one year, but sustainable year after year with that trajectory in mind,” said Ali.  

They decided to start by focusing on rough carpentry and site protection. Ali says this work got the business up and running, generated data and allowed the team to go into 2022 with a refined strategy. 

“2021 was a very good formative year. It kind of also changed the change culture,” said Ali. “When you’re starting something new, you are having to train up both internally and externally.” 

Based on their experiences in 2021 and feedback, in 2022 the SPO took off running. Rough carpentry got more established, the team got a truck, warehouse space was leased, Turner assets were used to start an equipment rental business and more staff were added.

Workforce development

These staff included an experienced Red Seal carpenter which triggered a whole new opportunity: workforce development. 

“We realized if we have this experienced carpenter, we should also tap into high schools and look at what carpentry apprenticeship looks like,” said Ali. 

Working with Turner’s Vancouver Business Unit, they connected with several schools and have now created two active partnerships with schools. Every quarter, there are week-long job shadow opportunities for students to get basic construction training and experience on a variety of job sites. 

“If it is something they are interested in, we will bring them on board and then we support their entire journey through their technical acumen as well as setting them up in the industry to eventually be a carpenter Journeyman,” said Ali. 

Adding new kinds of work

In 2022 another opportunity arose. One of Turner’s trade partners was no longer interested in performing demolition work. Turner brought on some of their key folks and added demolition to its SPO services. 

“We kick started last year going out doing demolition, purely clean demolition, anything that doesn’t contain hazardous materials,” said Ali. “One of the other things we started doing on the back end of both 2022 and 2023 was we started tapping into external projects. These were key strategic projects that made sense for us, either they were too small for a special projects division or they were opportunities for us to Maybe do 50% of the work in-house by self-performing. So it just made more sense for us to tackle and that also created a benefit on the back end where we had a more Streamlined course of events.” 

The SPO aslo looked at partnering with Turner’s virtual design and construction department. A robotic total station allowed them to tap into laser scanning and registration. This meant they could get in on an early construction capacity and help clients figure out what the existing conditions look like to avoid change order.

Towards the tail end of 2023 the SPO realized their team was doing a great deal of rock carpentry and decided to expand into drywal. They kick started their very first small drywall project and are looking at adding that as part of their regular services. 

What started out as a two-person department had grown into 22 employees. Amit Patel, vice president & general manager at Turner Construction’s Vancouver business unit, explained that this growth has been directed to the Lower Mainland business’s specific needs. 

“Trade partners are our lifeblood so we don’t want to undercut our trade partners at all,” he said. “We want to work with them. We’re trying to do scopes that trades don’t generally want to pick up or the size and scope is generally not available to them, so that we can still do that for our clients.”

Sustainable growth

As for the future growth of Turner’s SPO department, Ali said the team is trying to be very targeted and mindful about how they grow. One thing they are looking into is cross-training so SPO workers can do multiple kinds of jobs. 

When it comes to starting business inside a business, Patel stressed that it takes a great deal of passion to develop it. 

“It’s about that entrepreneurial Spirit,” said Patel. “To start a business, it’s not just being operational minded. There’s a lot of thankless hours and a lot of long hours. You gotta want to do it for just the love of growing a business and Yasir had that so he was perfect for it.”

Turner’s SPO team now has more than 20 employees. – Turner Construction


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