Todd, Scott + Jason Jacob, Principals, Jacob Bros. Construction Inc.
Adam Blasberg on location at Prohibition Bar in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia
For the Jacob brothers, born and raised in Sidney, B.C., construction runs in the family. Sons of a carpenter, each was well into his own career—Scott, 52, a general contractor; Todd, 48, a developer; and Jason, 47, a general contractor specializing in road repairs—when the opportunity to join forces presented itself. Over a six-pack of Heineken the evening after an industry event in Victoria, Jason lobbed the idea of merging their individual expertise into a family business. As one six-pack turned into three, the brothers reached agreement.
Nine years later, and Jacob Bros. is one of the 40 largest construction companies in Canada by revenue, with $96 million in revenue in 2015 and 300 employees. The firm is a multidisciplinary general contractor—a unique hybrid that does both civil work, roads and tarmacs for public entities, and highrises and other buildings for private clients. On the civil side they’ve built microdams and substations for BC Hydro, parts of the Evergreen Line, highways for Parks Canada and staging grounds for BC Ferries. On the private side, they’ve built tarmacs at the Edmonton and Victoria airports, built the 21-storey Hotel Blu in downtown Vancouver and done terminal and tarmac work for the Vancouver Airport Authority (worth over $100 million).
That diversity of projects—general contractors often specialize in one type of structure—is the result of the individual expertise that each brother brought to the business. “While we’re cut from the same cloth, each of us has a different approach to the same problem,” says Scott. “I think that’s part of what makes us work.”
Not that such a family affair was inevitable. Scott, for his part, never contemplated anything other than construction, stating that he “always knew that this would be it.” Todd, meanwhile, meandered from architecture into engineering before going on to complete an MBA and work in residential development. As for Jason: “I contemplated everything other than construction but it kept finding a spot in my life,” he says.
Jason’s roadworks business eventually became the foundation upon which the company was built. It’s perhaps appropriate, then, that it was his pitch that brought the brothers together. Or as Scott puts it, “Jason must have made a pretty impressive case.”
Ken Mayhew, Owner and President, Penfolds Roofing and Solar Inc.
When Ken Mayhew immigrated to Canada in 1991, he knew he wanted to run his own company–and he quickly saw an opportunity in Penfolds Roofing, a one-crew business founded in Vancouver in 1937. “The business had a good track record and it had been around a long time,” says Mayhew. But at the time, he says, “roofing companies had zero credibility”: salespeople were often unemployed roofers and the industry had a particularly poor reputation. Mayhew—who grew up in Johannesburg, and prior to emigrating owned a hotel in the coastal city of Durban—knew that building a brand customers could trust, with good service, would be key. So he recruited professional salespeople from outside the sector and created a custom software system to standardize the time and quality of their installations. Business has since grown from 100 annual installations to 1,500 today, with revenues now topping $20 million a year. Penfolds has also added solar panel installation to its service mix.
William (Bill) Downing, President, Structurlam Products Inc.
Bill Downing, on a tour of Switzerland, saw a four-storey building made entirely of cross-laminated timber and immediately knew he’d seen the future. The Nelson-born operator and minority owner of Structurlam, a manufacturer of heavy timber products (columns and beams used in multi-storey construction as opposed to two-by-fours), had experience manufacturing glulam—a similar substance with less construction potential. So Structurlam set about studying the market, and by 2011 opened a plant to manufacture CLT in Penticton. Today Structurlam has revenues approaching $100 million, while its products have been used to build structures at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Olympic Speed Skating Oval in Richmond and the 18-storey UBC Brock Commons Student Residence—which, upon completion, will be the tallest wood building in the world. “In a previous era it would be unthinkable to construct this out of wood,” says Downing.