By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
It's best known for designing and building Toronto's SkyDome, the world's first stadium with a fully retractable roof. But that landmark project is just one in a long list of firsts EllisDon has achieved since its early days as a general contractor.
"EllisDon has never taken the safe path," says marketing manager Lynda Davis. "We recognize that unless we keep pushing the envelope, trying new technologies, developing better methods, improving the delivery of our services, we will quickly lose our edge over the competition."
Founded in 1951 by brothers Donald J. Smith and David Ellis Smith (hence the company name), EllisDon's first project was a small house addition in London.
Today, EllisDon is the largest builder of hospitals in Canada and one of the largest construction companies in North America. It ranks among the world's leading design-build companies, has offices in the U.S., the West Indies and Greece, and earns revenues of $1 billion a year.
EllisDon was the first construction company to build in Latvia and Lithuania following the removal of the Iron Curtain in 1993, constructed the Canary Wharf Development in England, and the Athlete's Village for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
It's currently working on a host of projects across Ontario, including pedestrian bridges and an automated people mover for the new passenger terminal at the Toronto International Airport; racetrack slots and an assembly plant in London; a university in Oshawa; and health-care facilities in Hamilton, London, Parry Sound and Thunder Bay.
In Ellis Don 1956, it was the first contractor in Canada to purchase and operate its own tower crane. In 1968, it was the country's first building company to full computerize its accounting and cost control systems.
More recently, it introduced EdgeBuilder, an Internet-accessible project management system.
"Construction is an extremely competitive business conducted in an environment of considerable risk," Davis says. "The only way to maintain a competitive edge is through innovation and being sensitive to the needs of our clients. EdgeBuilder is a perfect example of this."
EllisDon features the industry's only full-time engineering/research and development group that researches and analyzes every aspect of major projects before construction begins.
"By the time the first shovel hits the ground, the project has already been constructed on paper and computer many times to ensure that the most effective construction program possible is being implemented," Davis says.
Don Smith purchased his brother's shares in 1956 and assumed sole ownership of the company. EllisDon was subsequently purchased by his children in 1995 and son Geoff Smith serves as president and CEO. Today, employees own nearly 50% of the company and Don Smith is on its board of directors.
Named one of the 'Top 50 Companies to Work for in Canada' and one of the '50 Best Managed Companies in Canada', EllisDon credits much of its success to its employees and its entrepreneurial spirit.
One of the first construction companies to launch a corporate safety strategy to improve safety on all job sites, EllisDon's safety record makes it an industry leader, last year achieving zero lost-time injuries for 1.8 million work hours.
"This is an exceptional achievement in an inherently high-risk industry," Davis says. "The zero tolerance mandate begins at the top, and is expressed throughout the company. We simply want our people to return home to their families safe and healthy at the end of the day."
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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