FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Norm Landry
August 8, 2017
Two engineers walk into a bar …
Two military officers walk into a bar …
Gives you a sense of someone stiff (the correct posture kind), single-minded focus that all engineers seem to have – add a sense of humour (the dry kind). OK, there isn’t a joke here – but add some funny stories involving umbrella drinks on a beach. Let’s try that again – one guy (think two personas rolled into one), add a chuckle or two, start and stop precisely on time – sets stage for my recent interview with Normand (Norm) Landry – project manager, and Managing Director at Lawson Projects – and they recently joined us as a sponsor at FACILITYCalgary.
The interview challenge – I want to dig into ‘who Norm is’, while he wants me to learn more about Lawson Projects and their projects, so I came away with lots of material – and their website has lots of information on their credentials – so this piece focuses on leader Norm …
“I like to plan and analyze. I was planning to be an architect, but I didn’t get in. I applied also for aeronautical engineering – and then got into civil engineering.”
This story begins in Ottawa. Norm was born there. Both parents of old-stock Acadian ancestry dating back to the 1750’s, mom was a nurse, dad was a Master Warrant Officer in the Air Force. Norm and his sister were military brats. The family moved around with dad’s career. His pharmacist older sister operates a tourist home (translation – B&B) in Caraquet (NE New Brunswick) in the property Norm’s grandfather and great-grandfather (army engineer and architect) built. His languages: French at home, English in school grades one to eight, French for grades nine-12. Stationed in Germany – he spoke English and German; then the family moved to Cold Lake, AB, then Petawawa, ON then to New Brunswick – living off-base in Caraquet. As a side-bar, he’s spent 13 years in the Army reserves as a Lieutenant and Military Engineer … or just call him Captain Norm.
After high school – a year off, then University of Toronto to study Civil Engineering; BASc (Civil Engineering), P.Eng, MBA (from the Richard Ivey School). Married, divorced, remarried (Patti Bradshaw – paralegal/office manager; they met on a beach in Antigua in 2002), no kids. Norm’s career involved the Toronto Skydome site/infrastructure, a hitch at Home Depot as construction manager (51 stores in seven years), a move to Calgary in 2005. His resume then reads like a who’s who client list: IBI Group, CANA, Riddell Kurczaba, Giffels and then Lawson Projects in 2008. In 2016, President & Managing Director. Along the way, time in St. Kitts and Nevis – he says it was on projects but I suspect there were umbrella drinks and some fun times on the beach too. Lawson Projects was originally six owners/partners (two have retired), now four – and a staff of 14. Business is good he tells me, equal to 2016 and better than planned so far this year … with a lot of growth coming from flood and fire restoration work, something they got lots of experience with in the 2013 flood and cleanup.
Why are you successful? “Some of it is luck – right place, right time. Identifying opportunities, and being quick to act. I trust others. I don’t rely only on my thoughts because I know I’m not usually the smartest guy in the room. For me success involves and includes work/life balance – and I know how to deal with stress.”
What has held you back? “Not being proactive enough about some things earlier in my career. I know that I’ve gotten bored by routine – but I’ve learned how to keep myself motivated.”
How do you see your business – contract project management – going forward over the next quarter?
… it’s stable. In our work, every project ‘finishes’ – then we need the next one, and the next. We are in a great period ‘yet’ but we see so much fresh opportunity. July and August are typically slow times but we are very busy. People are planning now, so momentum is building. And we are busy with our Customized Energy Savings Retrofit Solutions – we are working on that with Williams Engineering and AEnergy Capital.
And over the next five years?
… I believe in the abundance theory – there is lots of business out there for everyone. I see fewer mid-sized project management firms. Larger firms are consolidating, engineering firms are expanding their suite of services here and internationally. Today is the ‘new normal’ in Alberta – we’ll be less driven by oil exploration – but still be a great place …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… it’s all about maximizing value. It’s not about price – it’s about value and leveraging situations. [he has a great procurement story from his Home Depot days]. On the personal side, for example, we are planning a trip to Scotland. Patti tends to focus on minimizing costs – whereas I am focused on maximizing value, and then going with the flow. Leaving on a trip is an adventure!
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Norm Landry, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I operate on the principal of allowing project managers to focus on their projects and their relationships with clients, as I do on my projects; personality, fit, communication skills. I’m not a technical expert – we work with and coordinate design, architecture, construction etc. – we bring the expertise of project management.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… we just do what we need to do to get the job done. I would say ‘fair, firm, friendly’. I believe in getting buy-in from my team – so they can do the best they can do.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… client expectations.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… I’ve had a life without trauma, without sharp turns. I’ve had so much good luck.
… camping, downhill skiing, hiking, canoeing.
What do you read?
… books, not devices. I ‘make time to read’. Live by Night (Lehane), Preston & Child books – and I love non-fiction.
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