VRCA's CEO and president hits the ground running

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by Shannon Moneo last update:Jul 17, 2014

When the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) needed to hire a new president/CEO they used a headhunter who tracked down 25 candidates, with the eventual choice, Fiona Famulak, the only female in a narrowed group of five.
VRCA president and CEO Fiona Famulak poses during one of her worksite visits.
VRCA president and CEO Fiona Famulak poses during one of her worksite visits. - Photo: VANCOUVER REGIONAL CONSTRUCTION ASSOCIATION

Almost one year into her position, the high-energy 50-year-old, who doesn't "clock-in or clock-out" wants to leave her mark on the 700-member VRCA.

"I want to take the organization to the next level," Famulak said.

"I'm here to ensure the programs and services of the VRCA are aligned with the members' needs and that they deliver value.

"Since the global economic crash in 2008, we're all looking to get the most value from every dollar <0x000a>we spend."

Famulak assumed her role in September, replacing Keith Sashaw.

Her first big change at the VRCA, and what she considers the highlight to date, was the start in January of weekly Friday visits to sites to get a firsthand look at the work being done by member contractors, tradespeople, suppliers or manufacturers.

Having researched the project beforehand and wearing her blue hard hat and steel-toe boots, Famulak said she's not shy to ask questions.

It's a chance for members to let her know about problems or successes.

"Members want to share how they work and they're very proud of what they do," she said.

To get a broader feel of members' wants, in March 2014, a members' survey was done in preparation for VRCA's April 2014 strategic planning sessions, which are carried out biannually.

"It's important for us to get the temperature of the membership." Famulak said.

Several concerns came through loud and clear.

The biggest challenge is the skills shortage, which is affecting many VRCA members, Famulak said.

Finding methods to improve productivity and keeps costs down was another priority.

Filling the gaps in education to meet members' evolving needs was also a significant concern.

A final priority is addressing the sizeable lines of credit that some members carry because B.C. lacks prompt payment legislation.

Famulak said she'll be doing a lot of lobbying to address those concerns.

She'll also ramp-up relationships with local governments in the Lower Mainland to ensure opportunities and procurement practices benefit members, who are united under the VRCA banner.

"That's the beauty of our association, we're the voice of 700 members," she said.

The VRCA's 2014 chair said that the four months spent looking for a new president were worth it.

"Fiona's very personable, good with people, very detail-oriented," said Clark Campbell, chief estimator and partner at Smith Bros. and Wilson, a Vancouver-based general contractor.

He said that Famulak, a chartered accountant, has significant knowledge, not related to construction, but of governance and finance.

Her expertise will serve the VRCA well given the organization's mandate to "keep the house in order and ensure that members are well-served," Campbell said.

A key area is standards and practices, as they relate to how members interact with owner groups, Campbell added.

VRCA board member Gerry Enns, who represents the VRCA's general contractors (trade contractors and manufacturers/suppliers are the other divisions), said that Famulak is exceeding expectations.

"She's pulled the whole team together by bringing the trade contractors and general contractors together to discuss issues. We're working like a well-oiled machine," said Enns, owner of Gerry Enns Contracting in Chilliwack.

"It was getting a little stagnant," he said.

"(She has) a lot on her plate that she seems to be working through it," added Enns, who noted that the VRCA's operational side is fully-staffed by females.

Famulak was born in the small Scottish village of Strichen. She later attended university in Aberdeen and graduated in 1986 with a degree in economic science and accounting.

By 1989, she qualified as a chartered accountant and was employed by the company that later became KPMG.

Famulak worked in London, Paris and Hong Kong, where she met her former husband.

In 1999, she began working for Deloitte in Bangkok and Hong Kong.

After separating from her husband, Famulak came to Whistler where she had a few things to straighten out. "I never left," she said.

Famulak took a season to ski and then became a consultant and managed a construction company that built high-end homes.

"That springboarded to being a small business owner," she said,

She created a strata management company. Five years later, she sold the company to a local competitor.

An active Whistler Chamber of Commerce board member, Famulak next became CEO of the busy not-for-profit organization.

It was a post she held for five years, including during the Winter Olympics.

"The Whistler experience was really rich and valuable," she said.

"It helped me in the position I am today."

When she's not fully clocked-in, Famulak likes to golf, ski and take in arts and cultural events, which she considers, a good counterpart to her daily work.

Famulak also sings and plans to start ballroom dancing.

last update:Jul 17, 2014

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