One of Canada’s brightest aboriginal business successes
By Rajitha Sivakumaran
From the Vikings and Basque whalers to English and French explorers, Canada has been the destination for various visitors across history. One heterogeneous group of people, however, has remained deeply rooted to the Great White North: the Aboriginal communities of Canada. Despite a long post-colonial history of marginalization and discrimination, the descendants of Canada’s first Indigenous people are taking a stand and exhibiting prowess, particularly in the world of commerce.
The Wood Buffalo region of Alberta is home to the Bouchier Group, one of Canada’s leading Aboriginal businesses. Specializing in construction, the company is owned by David Bouchier of the Fort McKay First Nations and his wife, Nicole Bourque-Bouchier, of the Mikisew Cree First Nations. Though the company emerged from humble beginnings, the Bouchier Group has become a sensational story of inspiration and success.
The company began simply as a side venture in 1998. When Bouchier and Bourque-Bouchier left their corporate-level jobs a few years later to invest more time in the startup, the Bouchier Group was still a modest establishment, comprised of used equipment and 15 employees. Nearly two decades later, the company has a hardworking base of 850 employees and operates over 250 pieces of machinery.
Bourque-Bouchier, the CEO of the company, described it as a “one-stop shop”. Since the Bouchier Group specializes in three streams of business, it has the capability to design, engineer, execute and maintain a project. Such specializations allow for custom-built solutions at competitive prices for local enterprises.
“We’ve always had a growth every year on year. We’ve never had a non-growth year financially or manpower-wise or equipment-wise,” Bourque-Bouchier said.
Tough times and strategic partnerships
Like all businesses, however, the Bouchier Group is no stranger to the ups and downs of the industry, but partnership with other businesses has gone a long way towards ensuring continual growth. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why the company is so successful.
“It’s that valued partnership that you start to build with certain clients and once you’re in and you’ve got that communication flowing and that relationship built at all levels, you both have an interest to hang on to that,” Bourque-Bouchier said.
In 2011, a trend emerged that made it difficult for small contractors to thrive. Large construction projects were allocated to engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms instead. The Bouchier Group responded accordingly by forming a partnership with Carillion, a support services company, whose influence extends beyond Canada to the United Kingdom, the Middle East and the Caribbean. The partnership was one of the largest changes the company has been through, but this integration allowed it to expand its capabilities and compete against the EPC firms, Bourque-Bouchier said.
Although managed by a board, Bouchier and Bourque-Bouchier run the day-to-day operations.
“We said from the onset of the partnership that it wouldn’t be a push-down approach, but a pull-down — so as we identify things within the global Carillion group that we could use, we’ll pull them down into Bouchier and implement them,” Bourque-Bouchier said.
Counteracting the industry with strategic moves is one way to ensure survival in the business world and that is what the Bouchier Group continues to do in the midst of declining oil prices, a crisis which has impacted all types of businesses. It has affected growth, Bourque-Bouchier admitted, but she described the situation as a “good and bad news story”.
The primary concern is the amount of cost reductions needed to maintain strong business relationships with clients. The company is taking an innovative approach to resolving this problem by working on ways to combine multiple services for an overall better price. It is easier to incorporate cost reduction when offering clients several services rather than one, Bourque-Bouchier said. The company is now expanding to the Calgary area and further growth is anticipated, despite the declining oil prices.
Challenges of being an Aboriginal woman in business
Despite the entrepreneurial success, Bourque-Bouchier faced a social challenge as she found herself, an Aboriginal female, working in a male-dominated field.
“That was the largest challenge, just being able to establish myself in the industry and being able to build a level of respect and trust up with the clientele,” Bourque-Bouchier said.
In spite of this, Bourque-Bouchier’s persistence over the years has prevailed, earning her recognition as a prominent businesswoman and leader. Her success has been celebrated through prestigious awards, like the Celebration of Achievement Award, and illustrious titles, such as Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People. Recently, she was named among the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada. This year, MacEwan University awarded her with the notable title of Allard Chair in Business, a moment of pride for the entire First Nations community as it was the first time the recognition was received by an Aboriginal person.
Giving back to the community
In addition to her roles as mother, wife and entrepreneur, Bourque-Bouchier is a committed philanthropist, dedicated to inspiring and supporting Aboriginal women in business and the cultural values of the Wood Buffalo region.
“It’s all about building the local community we’re from … I look for ways to bring awareness to the Wood-Buffalo region,” Bourque-Bouchier said.
The Bouchier Group is giving back to the community in a number of ways. For example, Bourque-Bouchier and her husband are enormous enthusiasts of youth involvement in sports. Seeing the positive influence sports have had on their own children, they avidly support the minor hockey associations of Fort McKay and Fort McMurray.
According to Statistics Canada, the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are predicted to account for 4.0 to 5.3 per cent of the population by 2031, making it one of the fastest growing groups in the country. With exemplary role models like Bourque-Bouchier around, the future of First Nations groups around the country looks discernibly bright.
“I think the way that business in Canada is moving is changing tremendously and it’s really nice to be able to shed positive light on Aboriginal people in Canada and what the future holds for them,” Bourque-Bouchier said.
For more information on the Bouchier Group, visit www.bouchier.ca.