Lessons Earned: Stay Nimble and Recalibrate for Success

Helping member companies navigate economic realities, Malcolm Kirkland and Merit Contractors Association work to create value from adversity.

Currently in their fourth decade, Merit Contractors Association is a non-profit organization based in Edmonton, Alberta providing much needed benefits, training and human resource services to the construction industry. Since they started, their membership base has grown to over 1,350 companies employing more than 40,000 people across Alberta. Merit Contractors Association also boasts a training college — Merit College of Construction — where they provide educational programs to all members on after-market construction. In addition, they have an advocacy branch and offer the Mercon benefit program via their affinity program. 

Taking the helm close to five years ago, Malcolm Kirkland, President, attributes the association’s continued success in part to its foundation in sound philosophies and beliefs. “What’s important to me are the principles of transparency and fairness,” he emphasizes. “We believe that any contract that’s provided or any work that’s to be sent out to tender or contract must be done in a fair and transparent way. No one party should be advantaged or disadvantaged in any tender, especially when you’re using taxpayers' money.”

Buffeting turbulent economic conditions and successive change

The biggest challenge the organization has faced, along with many of its members, is the economy. “Personally, when I first came, quite honestly, we were at one of our lowest points ever,” says Malcolm. “The economy had given us a significant kick and things were not looking good.” Compounding this issue has been a swath of new legislation and regulations at the provincial level that has created additional challenges for smaller companies in particular. 

Malcolm notes that approximately 55 per cent of their member companies have 10 or less employees and don’t have internal human resource or safety specialists. “They just want to make payroll,” Malcolm further adds. “And now they find themselves over the last two to three years facing ever-changing legislation and regulation. That has put a different twist on where they can focus their energies.”

However, from Malcolm’s perspective, the opportunity for success has been taking that challenge and turning it into a learning opportunity and really providing value-added services for Merit Contractors Association’s members.

“It took some considerable inward thinking and continually reminding myself that if we believed in what we were doing and we believed in our board’s plan we would eventually claw our way out back to significant growth,” says Malcolm.

“And we are just starting to see that now. I’m very proud of our board and the people who I work with because I had nothing but 100% support and for that I’m appreciative.”

Keeping nimble while remaining focused

The organization’s strong working relationship with their board has been pivotal. Every two years, Merit Contractors Association holds strategy sessions with their board, which help determine where they’ll focus their actions for the next two years.

“Our board is extremely astute and recognizes the fact that we may have to change our path,” emphasizes Malcolm.

“For that, administration has been very grateful. They’ve been excellent to work with.”

Approximately two years ago, the organization identified where they believed they should focus their energies, given that they knew there was a lot of significant change coming on the horizon. “We knew that advocacy had to be done in a different sort of way. So I credit the vision of our board and the strategy of our board,” says Malcolm. “The two-day session where we plan our next two years is where our success lies.” This has helped enable Merit Contractors to be nimble enough to change direction very quickly to ride the storms of change and a rocky economic landscape. As a result, Malcolm notes, “We’re forever strategizing and assessing our course of action. The plans are made every two years but are reported on every three months so we can adapt most effectively.”

Having a valued banking partner in CWB Financial Group

Merit Contractors Association has been a long-standing client of CWB Wealth Management, working with vice president, Linnea McKercher, MBA, CFA. 

When it comes to working with CWB, Malcolm values the fact that his organization has been able to focus on a single point of contact who can provide him with quick, accurate answers. “If we have an issue, we can contact someone within five minutes who’s responsible for our account and you can’t ask for much better than that,” notes Malcolm. “CWB are extremely attentive to our needs. They know what we need and they don't hesitate to provide it and it’s a priority with them.”

Malcolm also appreciates CWB’s educational programs where they bring in guest speakers on important topics of interest for business owners. “They strive on providing us with continuous education and that’s very important,” says Malcolm. “We don’t have to go looking for them; they come to us.”

CWB is here to support companies throughout every stage of their business. Speak to a CWB advisor today to see how we can help your business grow.