The Pigott Construction Story

A Call to Action
Pigott Construction was started by my great grandfather Michael in the 1870’s. Over the next century the business grew in step with Canada, building schools, rail lines, bridges, hospitals, factories – whatever the market demanded. It survived world wars, the Great Depression, brushes with insolvency, and the occasional project cost overrun.

The vision of Michael, his successors and his dedicated employees saw Pigott rise to a position of leadership in Canadian construction. To accomplish so much over so many years in such a tough industry required a business culture that was entrepreneurial yet disciplined; responsive to change, but not impulsive.

The Final Chapter
Growing up as a 4th generation member of a business family, I took pride whenever I passed a project built by Pigott. Landmarks like the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto’s TD Centre, and the Burlington Skyway Bridges were reminders of my great grandfather’s vision, and the accomplishments that followed.

During summers on the jobsite I was mentored by people who had been with us for decades. They took tremendous pride in the projects they helped build. Construction was in their blood too. In my mind there was no doubt that the Company, like many of its buildings, would be around for generations to come.

After university I worked on Bay Street in banking and real estate before joining Pigott full time. I served in the field, and in project management before being appointed to run Capital Equipment, the heavy equipment division that was founded by my father in 1957.

Construction was booming in the late 80’s and the Pigott Group reported record levels of revenue, on projects from the Maritimes to Alberta. It was an exciting time. But ultimately, lapses in planning and governance spelled the end of our family business legacy. Little were we aware that our rapid growth was outpacing our capacity to manage the business risks. Management was stretched to the limit. Meanwhile serious problems took root. Eventually the problems surfaced and proved intractable.

And so it was that I found myself issuing termination notices to many of the same people who had trained me and worked with me over the years. This was not the kind of ending anyone had in mind.

Lessons Learned
The urgent demands of growth blinded us to increased risk. As members of the 3rd generation retired or died their stewardship was lost. There was no independent board of advisors to lend us their experience. In the end our only alternatives were to sell the construction business and liquidate the equipment division.

We fell short on three counts – strategy, governance and succession. Our story offers a compelling example of why proactive planning and independent oversight is needed to deal with increasing complexity as businesses grow and evolve.

Reflecting on what took place I believe that our fate was avoidable. I also believe that using the experience to help people navigate succession will put the lessons that I learned to good use.

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