Turnkey Solution For Electrical and Civil Construction
By Rajitha Sivakumaran
Toronto’s winter storm of 2013 wreaked havoc across the city, leaving thousands of people without power just days before Christmas. While Torontonians remained immobilized and stunned by the icy weather, Powerline Plus, the province’s largest privately owned company specializing in utilities, was rapidly deploying teams to get the city running again.
The ice storm occurred on the day the company was hosting their annual Christmas party. As employees left the party slipping and sliding, they had no idea what a stir the storm would cause. Powerline’s CEO and founder, Ben Matin, had returned home from the party late that night. It was 2 a.m. when he received the call from Toronto Hydro, advising him about the power outages caused by the ice storm. Matin spent the following five hours putting together teams for repair work, and the week that followed was devoted to lending a hand to Toronto Hydro and monitoring the situation.
“We were available in a worst-case scenario for the city of Toronto, Toronto Hydro and Torontonians,” Matin said, adding that the company’s convenient location within the city allows it to respond to emergencies faster than other companies providing similar services.
Recently recognized by Deloitte as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies and Best Small and Medium Employers, Powerline Plus has grown from humble origins into a company with an expansive list of specializations in electrical and civil construction, including power generation, water and sewer, sanitation, natural gas and telecommunications. Although it began as a civil construction firm, its services now include design and engineering, electrical overhead, underground and street lighting, among others. The company also has a concrete plant, which produces the concrete used in its projects. Clients include public utilities, municipalities, developers and manufacturing companies.
Just as it lent a hand during Toronto’s ice storm, Powerline Plus has become a go-to stop, especially for Toronto Hydro.
Toronto Hydro awarded the Atlantic Packaging project to Powerline Plus, which happens to be the single largest project undertaken by any municipal utility in Canada. It involved the installation of two feeders to the Scarborough-area packaging plant. A steel-encased tunnel was drilled 16 feet into the ground and stretched for nearly seven kilometres beneath 24 road intersections, a railway line and 20 lanes of Highway 401.
It took approximately 96,500 hours of work, 500,000 feet of pipe, 132,000 feet of primary high voltage aluminum cable and 20,700 cubic feet of concrete to get the job done. Typically, a project of this size would take 18 months, but Powerline Plus completed it in one-third of that time. And it was done with expert workmanship and commitment to safety. In fact, the company has a number of certifications at the international level, including ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.
Tough beginnings, unparalleled progress
The story behind Powerline Plus is an inspirational one. Matin’s love for construction since an early age compelled him to start the company in 1990, but it was a time of sinking economies and skyrocketing interest rates. Construction in particular was an uncertain industry to be in since the bustle of projects seen in present-day Toronto was non-existent 26 years ago. However, the concept of recession was foreign to Matin, who had just newly arrived in Canada. The hope was that business would pick up soon but soon didn’t come for many, many years.
In the beginning, Matin was essentially running a one-man show, although he did have some help from a hired operator and his seven-year-old daughter, Giselle, who served as secretary, executive assistant and HR personnel. Giselle Matin, now a lawyer, continues to serve the company as the in-house counsel.
Matin’s determination to be an employer rather than an employee kept his vision for the future burning bright, and his aspirations did not remain unfulfilled. In early 1994, things started to pick up. Powerline Plus now employs 350 people and Matin cites all of them as drivers behind the success of the company.
“No company can be successful without their employees. A great team delivers great results,” Matin said. “My employees play a big role and I am a very proud employer. I know them by first name and last name, I know them by the number of children they have, where they live and what they do.” In fact, he often looks at his employees as though they were his employer, saying, “Essentially, they are paying my wages. They help me grow my business.”
But the leader steering the masses deserves some attention too. In this case, Matin himself is one of the drivers behind the company’s success. He is normally one of the very first people in the office and is usually the very last person to leave, putting in at least 13 to 14 hours daily. He is well-versed in all of the company’s operations. All in all, Ben Matin is not your average CEO.
“He really does treat Powerline as an extension of his own family,” added his daughter, Giselle. “You’re not just a number or just an employee at Powerline and our employees all know that. Our open door policy adds to their morale. We invest in them and they invest in us and our business.”
Furthermore, the company has a horizontal management structure, although many companies tend to be more vertical. “With one phone call, our clients are on the phone with the president of the company, who will execute what needs to be done and have his employees ready to go,” Giselle said.
The ability to offer turnkey solutions to clients is another driver behind the company’s success. Relying only on its own teams and not subcontracting tasks give Powerline complete control of its projects from start to finish. For the client, this means deadlines are met, costs are affordable, and workmanship will not vary across various contractors. According to Giselle, this one-stop-shop approach pushes Powerline Plus to the forefront of the industry.
Intensive involvement in market research is another contributing factor. Staying aware and ahead of technological or industrial changes constitutes a large portion of this research. “Because we are always proactively engaging in what is to come, we’re always prepared for the changing market,” Giselle said.
As the company reaches greater heights, it continues to spread its prosperity to everyone around. Powerline takes corporate social responsibility very seriously and generously contributes to the wellbeing of the community, especially the Scarborough area. Every year, the company participates in various fundraisers, charitable events and sponsorships. From the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital to Habitat for Humanity and the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, Powerline Plus is invested in the community.