October 29, 2012
SICA's new kingpin pivots into action
The new boss at the Southern Interior Construction Association (SICA) has enjoyed many successes during his 53 years, and now, lured out of retirement, he’s keen to add one more notch to his belt.
In mid-July, Summerland resident Bill Everitt became SICA’s fourth chief operating officer since the organization launched in 1969.
“I’d been looking for a year before this opportunity came up,” Everitt said from SICA’s Kelowna office.
“I retired in 2010, but found retirement to be less than fully satisfying. But, my tennis game got better!”
Everitt said so much of his “soul” was about making a dollar.
When the SICA position came up, he wanted to experience working at a not-for-profit organization.
According to SICA’s new board chair, Gary McEwan, Everitt is rising to the challenge.
“Change in not-for-profits takes a long time, it’s like government,” said McEwan, a special projects manager with PCL Constructors WestCoast.
“Bill has jumped into the situation and run with it.
“Already, we’ve become almost the poster child of a well-run organization. It’s been a quick turnaround,” said McEwan, a SICA member for nine years.
The B.C. Construction Association’s president and CEO has met with Everitt several times, noting that Everitt has a good grasp of members’ needs.
“He has a business background and ran a construction company,” said Manley McLachlan.
“He’ll be able to focus on how we create and demonstrate value for members.”
Born and raised in Montreal, the bilingual Everitt studied accounting at Montreal’s Concordia University in the early eighties.
He worked as an accountant for Domtar’s chemical arm, the Montreal-headquartered company that perfected a process to protect wood from decay.
In 1983, Domtar sent Everitt to Cochrane, Alta. to manage Alberta operations, which also included Edmonton and Camrose facilities.
“I went from a three-piece suit to steel-toed boots,” Everitt recalled.
“I made the mistake of presuming people who only wore suits knew what they were talking about.”
But he quickly learned the ways of the West.
By 1990, Everitt, married and the father of two children, had landed in Vancouver where Domtar tasked him with developing Asian, as well as South and Central American contracts.
Over two years, he travelled to countries such as Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Pakistan.
During his Mexican forays, he discovered that the country would need 300,000 telephone poles each year to deliver communication infrastructure beyond Mexico’s major cities.
Domtar secured a contract for 80,000 poles annually, but Domtar only produced large diameter poles. In Mexico, smaller poles were the standard.
Following a saying he’s fond of, “Chance favours a prepared mind,” Everitt left Domtar and bought Princeton Wood Preservers in 1993.
The company would go on to supply the needed poles. To secure smaller diameter wood, which is usually discarded by forest companies in slash heaps, Everitt successfully lobbied government and was able to obtain a forest licence.
He also secured a timber agreement with Weyerhaeuser, thus ensuring a steady wood supply.
Everitt branched into fence post sales and business thrived.
“This was when viticulture took off in B.C.,” he said.
By 2006, Everitt had sold the profitable company.
Before the sale was finalized, Everitt, and his girlfriend spent 2004 sailing along the Pacific Coast, departing from Victoria and heading as far south as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in a 40-foot boat.
Back on land, Everitt settled in Penticton where he put his plumbing, drywall and electrical skills to use.
“All my adult life, I’ve bought fixer-uppers,” he said.
In Alberta, he bought his first house for $24,000 and sold it for about $50,000.
Soon he launched Everitt Contracting Group, finding a niche in interior commercial finishing, primarily in the redesign of commercial mall spaces.
Business was great until the 2008 economic downturn, but Everitt was able to sell his business to a larger company and retired in 2010.
Aware of how 2008’s far-ranging financial collapse has impacted SICA’s membership, which fluctuates from 600-625, Everitt said the members’ biggest concern is finding enough work to stay profitable.
One issue that impacts work is bundling, a recognized procurement concept, but one that Everitt wants to raise with government.
McLachlan agreed that bundling is a challenge for small B.C. companies.
A bundled project for three $30-million schools means that smaller companies have a hard time competing for work that could keep them afloat, McLachlan noted.
Fair contract language, which is related to procurement, is the second challenge that Everitt said he must tackle.
If contract language is too onerous, it can financially hurt companies, he said. Keen to refocus attention on existing members, Everitt wants to “bring value to them” so they stay with SICA. To do that, he’ll focus on marketing.
“How big is the market? Of that, what do we represent?” he asks.
Another issue is the labour shortage.
“Over 40 per cent of projects have been north of Prince George,” he said.
“Skilled labourers are not around and we have to pay through the nose to make them stay. People will leave you mid-project for a couple of bucks more.”
McEwan, who has worked in construction for 32 years in England, Scotland and across Western Canada, said optimism has surged with Everitt at the helm.
“We’d been chasing our tails around. Now, SICA is what I believe I signed up for,” he said.
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