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Engineering Vancouver’s Past, Present and Future

While Glotman•Simpson has been involved with some of Vancouver’s most iconic development projects, it’s the strong relationships the company has with its clients that has defined its true success for the past 50 years

For the past 50 years, Glotman•Simpson has provided unparalleled structural engineering services to its clients in British Columbia and beyond, specializing in commercial, institutional, industrial and residential design, as well as seismic upgrades. With high-profile projects such as the Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion, One Wall Centre, Richmond Speed Skating Oval and the Whistler Peak to Peak Gondola to its name, Glotman•Simpson’s contribution to the landscape of greater Vancouver is nothing short of remarkable.

The company, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, was founded in 1964 by Martin Glotman and consisted of just three people. In 1984, Martin’s son Geoff Glotman came into the practice, focusing on client relationships, and partnered with Rob Simpson who brought valuable technical expertise. The company has since grown to a staff of over 70 engineers and technicians with an impressive pool of knowledge and experience.

A relic of Martin’s early days hangs in the front entrance of Glotman•Simpson’s Vancouver office—a framed certificate of his first contract for the 41st Avenue Medical Building (dated 1964) in which the client agreed to pay him a fee of $8.50 an hour.

“In every business somebody has to plant the seed. I think that I am very fortunate, as is this firm, that my father was born before us all,” says Geoff Glotman. Born during the Great Depression and orphaned as a young child, Martin overcame considerable obstacles before starting his own firm from the ground up. He was deeply passionate about engineering, and consistently put his clients’ interests above his own. Mel O’Keeffe, another partner in the firm, remembers him fondly. “Martin was very important to me because when I came into the company as a partner, he was my mentor, making sure I understood the Glotman•Simpson feel. He taught me an awful lot,” says O’Keeffe.

The company prides itself on bringing both innovation and quality to each project it undertakes. According to Levi Stoelting, one of the newer partners in the firm, this high standard of ingenuity in building design is something their clients hold them to. “Our client’s expectation is that they’re hiring one of the most innovative structural engineering firms, and we need to bring that innovation to bear on their project, no matter how large or small it is, and what kind of challenges we’re presented with,” says Stoelting.

However, innovation must be tempered with experience, and this is one element that sets Glotman•Simpson apart from other firms. “The fact is, when we do innovate, it’s done with the background of 50 years of knowledge,” says Glotman. Another key to the firm’s success is their model of specializing in structural engineering first and foremost. “We know what we’re good at,” states Glotman. “Some firms provide an average product across the board, and we provide an excellent product for a very specific item,” he adds.

But perhaps one of the greatest benefactors of Glotman•Simpson’s success is the city it calls home—Vancouver. With numerous iconic buildings to its credit, and several more in the works, their projects have left a lasting mark on the city, and the built environment. “We’re incredibly grateful and honoured to have been given the opportunity to work on some of Vancouver’s—and B.C.’s—most iconic projects, and to help our clients achieve their vision,” says O’Keeffe.

One such project is TELUS Garden, currently under construction in downtown Vancouver. Slated for completion in 2015, the development includes a LEED platinum-certified 22-storey office tower, as well as a 450-unit residential tower built to LEED gold standards. The building also boasts a green roof which will provide organic produce to local businesses, and a geo-exchange utility that will capture heat generated from the TELUS HUB and store it in the ground for hot water heating. Like all of the company’s projects, the development is cutting edge and will undoubtedly be a jewel in the city’s eco-friendly crown.

Glotman•Simpson has also been involved in a number of smaller projects, such as the recently completed York Theatre in East Vancouver. Stoelting, who worked directly on the project, says, “It’s not a massive building, but when you look at what it contributes towards the culture and the neighbourhood, and our society, it’s very significant.”
And yet, despite having contributed to several of the city’s landmark buildings, the company remains most proud of the relationships it has built with its clients. “We’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to grow with a lot of our clients over the past 50 years,” says Stoelting. As for Glotman, a major measure of success is whether or not the client sticks with them. “The building could be successful, but if we don’t continue to work for that client, it’s really a sign to me that we didn’t do our job.”

The firm’s principals are quick to point out that much of Glotman•Simpson’s success is owed to the dedicated staff who brings its projects to life. Some have been there for more than 25 years, and the company continues to nurture new employees who often come on as co-op students. In fact, O’Keeffe explains that having a great staff with an eye to the future is something that Glotman•Simpson takes very seriously. “We really like to add young, enthusiastic staff to our team and give them the tools and the opportunity to grow with our firm, which has been a very successful formula for us.”

According to Glotman, the attitude towards employees goes back to the roots of the company. “The firm is really built around the people who work within it. It started as a family business, and it really still is a family business.”

Glotman•Simpson also contributes significantly to the community through Glotman•Simpson Cycling—a cycling club that the company founded in order to create a safe, fun environment for cyclists, and support research to find a cure for pancreatic cancer. It is now the largest cycling club in British Columbia, with over 250 members.

To date, Glotman•Simpson Cycling has raised close to $1 million for pancreatic cancer research. Glotman emphasizes that this success is entirely due to the support of the company’s clients and the community. “It wouldn’t have happened without the help and contributions of many of our clients and friends through the business who have picked up on our cause and donated to it.”

The firm has seen some significant expansion over the years, including an office in Calgary, and a number of projects south of the border in cities like Seattle, San Diego and Los Angeles, to name a few. But Vancouver is still Glotman•Simpson’s main focus. “Our home is here in Vancouver. We’re growing our branches, but at the end of the day the roots are still here,” says Glotman.

With the future of Glotman•Simpson in the hands of several talented young engineers who have partnered in the firm, the next 50 years is looking equally bright. The continuation of Martin’s legacy through the next generation of talent is what gives Glotman the greatest sense of pride.

“It’s that continuity that I’m really proud about, in terms of continuously trying to grow the firm to be the best that it can be; and it all started with that little seed that my Dad planted 50 years ago.”