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The transformation of Driftwood Communications: Firsthand insights on the necessities of sustainable business growth

Driftwood Communications’ Don Sinclar has overseen the telecom contractor’s evolution from regional player to national upstart.

The telecom business wasn’t finished with Don Sinclair. Or, more accurately, Don Sinclair wasn’t finished with it. Stepping out of his retirement almost as fast as he had entered it, the 37-year industry veteran has found himself at the head of the swelling ranks of Vancouver Island’s Driftwood Communications. With sustainable growth sitting near the top of most business owners’ minds, Driftwood’s transformation from an established local contractor into a turnkey solution for Canada’s telecom giants contains invaluable insights for anyone looking to take their business to the next level.

Dial-in on a vision

Though only joining the team last year, Don’s trajectory to Driftwood has been close to 30 years in the making. Working alongside Driftwood’s original founder in the early 1980s, Don eventually struck out for a successful career in management with some of the country’s telecom leaders. And by 2016, he thought he was done with it all. But opportunity beckoned when Don was presented with the chance to purchase Driftwood Communications, and orchestrate his vision of evolving the organization from a local player into a full service contractor with a national presence.

“When I first came on board, they were just an outside plant contractor, which means that they only worked in the field,” Don explains.
“But when I came on board, they knew that part of my mission was to turn this into a turnkey telecom contractor because that’s what our clients were looking for.”
With major telecommunications companies strategically moving away from certain business areas, and looking for outside help, Don knew there was an opportunity to expand Driftwood’s footprint and become a one-stop-shop for telecommunications solutions. Don and his partner, Tyrone who is his son, had a vision that they are now putting into place together.

Know where to grow

For almost every business, growth lies in four possible venues: acquiring more customers, lowering costs, increasing sales or expansion. For Driftwood, growth has been realized by looking beyond their well-plied areas of business to new partnerships, new areas of expertise and new markets. Headquartered on Vancouver Island, Driftwood now has offices across BC, Alberta and Manitoba.

“We’ve really been focusing on building the relationships and strengthening the ones that we previously had to be able to be called a turnkey contractor, especially in Alberta and Winnipeg,” says Don. “The expansion started probably a year ago, last August, but it’s been the focus since January of this year to really grow the business and push it and add the various amounts of resources we need.”

New markets call for new customers and partnerships, and Don and his team have been hard at work nurturing fresh relationships while tending to old friends. In their backyard on the west coast, Don prides himself on their recent efforts connecting rural coastal communities. “We’ve built a relationship with the Strathcona Regional District, and we’re working on a connected coast fibre initiative. We’ve participated in the bid process and we’re designing an infrastructure project to tie their fibre into existing communities that don’t have high-speed internet.”

Further afield, Don speaks optimistically about their prospects in the prairies. “When talking about Winnipeg and trying to get out there, it looks so far away, but we have great leadership there. We’re trying to grow that business from the ground up and grow the whole company organically, which is something that we believe in and it’s starting to pay off.”

Manage change

A crucial piece in the growth of any business comes in the effective subduing of potentially harmful growing pains. From strong internal communication to robust contingency planning, an organization needs to be prepared to guide its staff and processes through the upcoming change. For Driftwood, an unrelenting focus on the success of its people has been paramount to the ultimate success of its newfound identity.

“We’ve gone from 19 employees to the mid-40s in a very short period of time,” Don notes.
“We’re creating opportunities for employees within the company where maybe someone gets tired of a position, but they can look within the company to see where they can advance or make that career change.” 
Regarding training and safety, Don emphasizes the need to stay on top of the fast-paced telecom industry or risk falling behind. “This industry changes really quickly, and we make sure our team is fully trained, skilled and cross-trained so that we can run efficiently rather than having a certain individual skillset across each team member. We have multiple skillsets within each member of the team.”

Find the right partners

To realize their vision of bringing Driftwood to the forefront of the telecom contracting space in Canada, Don and Tyrone have required partners that appreciate the business and his ultimate goal. He’s found one in CWB. “Right from the get-go, they came out to understand what our business was because we are so different from a lot of the other businesses that they’ve partnered with,” he recalls.

Looking at how his business has grown over the past year, Don understands that it’s relationships underpinning everything he and his team do that has enabled that growth to be realized. And he takes comfort knowing the relationship with his bank is helping him get where he wants to go. “CWB really seems to hear you and understand you — they really want to get to the bottom of what it is you do and help you.”

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