Honouring the Past by Embracing Change

By: TEC Canada

May 21, 2013

Celebrating a century in business is a huge accomplishment for any company, but for a family business, the achievement becomes even more meaningful. What does it take to survive – and thrive - for 100 years and counting?

Established by Theodore Bockstael in the small town of St. Boniface, Manitoba in 1912, Bockstael Construction has been led by three generations of family members. Although much has changed in the past 100 years, Theodore’s values of integrity, honesty and hard work remain a cornerstone of the company he founded. His family would have it no other way.

From the King George V School (1916), to the iconic Precious Blood Church built by Robert Bockstael in St. Boniface (1969), and more recently, the Cardiac Surgery Centre in the Asper Clinical Institute at St. Boniface Hospital, the company has strategically grown with the needs of their clients.

We wanted to grow with them and remain relevant to their needs.
- John Bockstael

John Bockstael, the company’s recently appointed CEO, knows how important that growth is to their future success. Clients for whom they once completed $200K renovations now require a contractor who can complete $25 million projects. Long-term client relationships are a huge part of Bockstael Construction’s business, so adapting to this new scope is of critical importance: “In order to stay relevant for these clients, we didn’t want to continue to just be their $200K renovation contractor. We wanted to grow with them and remain relevant to their needs.” To do so the Bockstaels knew they needed to invest heavily in talent, staff, and proficiency. “The true strength of Bockstael lies in our employees and the level of commitment and expertise they bring to the job every day.”

Embracing change and new technology has also been essential to remaining relevant. “The biggest challenge going forward is in how construction work is procured,” Bockstael says. Competition has increased and securing contracts has become more challenging, even for companies with long-established relationships in the marketplace. This attitude of embracing change is something that does not always come easily to companies with a storied history, but Bockstael knows how important it is to remain open to new ideas and ways of doing things: “The game is changing. We have to make sure we still get our chance at the work.”

In times of change, knowing where to begin can be a challenge in and of itself. As TEC members, John and his brother Larry have seen the benefit that TEC mentorship can have for business owners who wish to rise above the status quo. “We’ve come away with lots of questions to ask and challenge ourselves. It’s been great having an advisor who sits on your shoulder and asks, ‘Have you thought of this?’, ‘Have you thought of that?’,” Bockstael says. “When you’re on the inside, you’re not always looking at the right things. You’ve been focusing too much attention on the wrong things for too long. We’ve felt that effect. There are so many questions we’ve come away with that would cause us to rethink, rehash and gain a different perspective.”

So what does the future hold? The building industry in Manitoba is expected to be a driving force of economic growth, and the company would like to keep pace. They’ve also begun planning to pass the business along to the fourth generation of Bockstaels.

After 100 years in business, Bockstael Construction is a company that seems simultaneously poised for the future and deeply rooted in the values with which Theodore first began his general contracting business. Rather than resting on past successes, they look to the future and imagine what will come next. “We don’t want to become stagnant; we have to keep pace with the industry out there,” Bockstael says. “I don’t see many limits to our growth right now. We’re only limited by our own efforts”.

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