The owners of Tulloch Engineering have laid out a simple strategy for themselves.
“We’ve set a goal for ourselves to be the leading provider of surveying and geomatic services in Ontario,” said Mark Tulloch, CEO of the Huntsville-based consulting engineering company.
Beginning with a modest sevenemployee consulting survey practice in Thessalon in 1991, the 25-year-old firm has expanded to more than 275 employees in 10 offices across the province, including eight in Northern Ontario, with another acquisition in the offing this fall.
In the mid-2000s, the Tulloch family witnessed consolidation taking place within the engineering-design sector, but no such activity on the survey side.
With some 200 small firms across Ontario, “we saw that as an opportunity to grow,” said Tulloch of their plan to gain key expertise and enter into new sectors.
Their first acquisition of George Bell Land Surveying in 2000 was less a strategic move than a means of establishing a Huntsville presence to be closer to their Ministry of Transportation highway work.
But starting in 2005, the company made a slew of acquisitions of firms in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Ottawa, Hamilton and Thunder Bay, while opening offices in Elliot Lake and Espanola.
“A key part of our strategy when I came on board in 2006 was diversification,” said Tulloch, who rejoined the family business after receiving his engineering and survey designation.
Back then, 85 per cent of the company’s work was in transportation, a sector that company founder and patriarch Mike Tulloch exclusively dedicated himself to before retiring last spring.
But Mark and his brother David – now the company’s operations manager – wanted a more diversified and risk-averse client mix.
At the same time Mark returned from school, the company was in the midst of overseeing Ontario’s first wind farm in Prince Township, west of Sault Ste. Marie.
“That was the project that catapulted us into the renewable energy space, which continues to be one of our main markets today,” said Tulloch of their involvement in 25 per cent of all the wind and solar farms in Ontario, and some of the largest wind farms in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.
Until an industry downturn last year, renewables represented 15 per cent of their work.
Transportation work still remains their specialty and has taken off for them exponentially over the last four years.
In an innovative use of technology, the company employs mobile LiDAR, traditionally used an as aerial reconnaissance tool for forest inventories, and has adapted it for a land-based package affixed to the back of an SUV.
“We drive highway corridors at road speeds and we’ll collect 6,000 survey shots a second, accurate to two centimetres,” said Tulloch. “We got into that more so from a health and safety perspective to keep our staff off the pavement.”
Employees and community mean everything to the Tullochs, who give back part of the company profits to staff and local charities.
“That’s probably part of our Christian faith showing through,” said Tulloch. “As a family, we’re a strong proponent of tithing 10 per cent of profits to local organizations. That’s where that trait comes through.”
Twenty-five per cent of profits come back to employees through organized weekend getaways, all-expenses paid family vacations, bonuses, employee development and converting unused sick time into vacation days.
Despite rocky times in Ontario’s economy, the company’s balance sheet has remained relatively healthy, growing at a rate of 15 per cent per year with gross revenues for 2015-16 projected to reach $49.4 million.
We’re very entrepreneurial by nature,” said Tulloch. “As a company, we’re always looking for that next market. Even when some of our core markets are soft, we’ve got a team approach to diversification that has allowed us to grow in other areas.”