Paul Dunstan, President, Plenary Group (Canada) Ltd.
It was at a friend’s wedding in Australia just over a decade ago that investment banker Paul Dunstan and some colleagues came up with the idea to start their own public infrastructure development and investment company, which would help to plan, finance and erect buildings and bridges across North America.
Vancouver-based Plenary Group was founded three months later, in July 2005, with its six employees holding their first meeting at a Caffè Artigiano in downtown Vancouver. The company’s first big project was a building to house government archives in Ontario; that was followed by hospitals in places like North Bay, Ont., Prince George and Kelowna, and roads and bridges south of the border.
The company was picking up projects at a steady clip until the 2008 global financial crisis hit. Plenary Group nearly went bankrupt when financing dried up for a multimillion-dollar hospital project in Ontario’s Niagara region. Dunstan and his team worked days, evenings and weekends for 18 months trying to find a solution to raise the money to proceed with the project. At the 11th hour, Dunstan made one last call to the Ontario government to pitch a final funding solution. It worked.
While Plenary Group was back on track, it took a huge financial hit from the global crisis, which left business partners wary for a while. Dunstan led the team through the rough waters. The experience, he says, taught them that “with resilience and hard work… you can find solutions.”
Over the course of 11 years, Plenary Group has developed dozens of public-private partnership projects valued at more than $15 billion. It has grown to more than 90 employees in offices across Canada and the U.S. (Plenary Group Canada is the holding company for all activities in the Americas, while Plenary Australia is the holding company for all activities in Australia and Asia; the two companies have different shareholders, but Plenary Australia has a minority stake in Plenary Canada.) Business has doubled in the past three years, and Dunstan’s goal is to double it again, to about $30 billion in project values, in the next four or five years—driven largely by growth in the U.S. where public-private partnership models are gaining more acceptance. “There is definitely an upswing in the desire of governments to use that model for construction,” he notes.
Jonathan Whitworth + Kyle Washington, CEO + Executive Chairman, Seaspan ULC
Since it was founded in Vancouver 130 years ago, Seaspan has become an iconic brand in marine transportation and manufacturing. Its future was in jeopardy during the 2008-09 global financial crisis, when business dried up and the company had to lay off 50 per cent of its shipyard workers, 30 per cent of its mariners and a quarter of its salaried staff. “The economic downturn was devastating for us,” says Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth. He and Seaspan executive chairman Kyle Washington decided to chart a new course for the company, with a focus on federal government work. The decision paid off: in 2011, Ottawa awarded Seaspan an $8-billion shipbuilding government contract. Seaspan has since doubled its staff to 2,400, up from 1,200 in 2009, and annual revenues have grown about 20 per cent a year to nearly $700 million. “It has been very gratifying,” Whitworth says.
Jeff Stibbard, CEO, JDS Energy & Mining
Jeff Stibbard made his fortune riding the ups and downs of the resources sector. He started by working in mining camps in the Arctic, moved up to manage the Ekati Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories and later took an ownership stake in Western Oil Sands, which developed the Muskeg River Mine in Fort McMurray. “That whole entrepreneurship, skin-in-the-game program paid off,” says Stibbard, especially after the company was sold to Marathon Oil in 2007. A few years earlier, in 2004, Stibbard started his own company, Vancouver-based JDS Energy & Mining, which deals in engineering, construction and management services in the sector. It also has investment and mine development divisions. Overall revenue has grown by about 30 per cent each year, even during the downturns, Stibbard says. “The unique part about our business is that we are countercyclical. The tougher times get, the more people call for help,” he says. Stibbard’s goal is for revenues to hit $1 billion in the next five years, up from more than $300 million forecast for 2016.