Private Company Directors

Our Board Evolution: Building the Board and Management of the Future

In 2009, foreseeing difficult economic times, the leadership of Ulteig decided that independent experience on the board would help the company navigate the future. For the first time, independent directors were brought onto the board of the employee-owned engineering consulting company that has 13 offices across the country. That structural shift in governance set in motion a series of strategic decisions that propelled Ulteig to become one of the fastest-growing engineering services firms in North America today.

In its first step toward building a board for its future, management turned to the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) to recruit two independent directors. As a result of that search, I joined the Ulteig board. Tilting the balance of board activities away from managerial issues and toward a focus on good governance and strategic progress became the goal. This was a difficult process, as growth stalled against the headwinds of the Great Recession. To enhance board effectiveness, we added another independent director, reduced the size of the board and then began to focus on CEO transition.

Management had not yet found the key to unlock Ulteig’s growth potential. The board needed to find a leader who had strategic capability to focus on growth while managing a larger organization. Ulteig would need a more solid business model as a foundation on which to build a strong strategic plan. The culture would have to become more open, engaging employees and infusing them with confidence and business sense to fuel aggressive growth. In 2015, the board, by then fully independent, recruited Doug Jaeger to join as CEO. His charge was to build a supportive culture, upgrade the business model and develop a strategy for growth. We were building the management team of the future.

From his first day, Doug set out to change the culture, analyze and strengthen internal operations, and develop strategy. A recognized leader in the energy and technical services sectors, Doug worked closely with the board on strategy and developing his leadership team. Governance enhancements continued. Board agendas were tuned to prioritize the board’s time, and executive sessions were used extensively to enable substantive and sensitive conversations during board meetings.

Ulteig has grown significantly while creating a recognized culture of excellence with high levels of employee engagement and retention. Constructive accountability has been central to this cultural shift. When managers recognize that accountability and problem solving are tools for success and not marks of failure, a system of continuous improvement can evolve.

Aggressive growth requires a mindset shift and development of internal processes that are consistent with expansion and adaptive thinking to embrace change. While the board had sought to promote acquisition and aggressive growth options in the past, we had not yet developed the reporting and internal processes to support such growth. Doug brought the requisite acquisition experience and recruited a chief financial officer with complementary skills. The company has since completed two acquisitions, notably expanding its reach into Hamilton, Ontario, in 2021 in the midst of the pandemic.

Today, the board consists of five independent directors and our CEO. Succession planning at both board and management levels remains a top priority. In 2018 and again in 2020, Ulteig completed national searches for additional independent directors, seeking to further augment the board’s skill sets and diversity profile. We used a broad network, including the Private Directors Association, to source candidates. At present, two of our five directors are women, including our board chair, Kim Mageau.

In the 2019 planning cycle, the board tasked management with establishing formal contingency planning processes. By that time, management had developed a greater ability to manage imbalances between workflow and workforce and was ready to investigate how those skills could help Ulteig steer through unforeseen crises. As the ink was drying on the plan, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. The board leaned in heavily, lending extra support to the CEO and executive leadership, including sharing lessons from other industries about COVID-19 preparedness, joining virtual town hall meetings and adding special meetings and communications relating to the crisis.

The COVID era helped accelerate our new view of our geographic footprint. We no longer depend on a set group of offices, focusing instead on how Ulteig will attract the best talent to be the most responsive and productive for its clients.

This board is truly a team, caring deeply about each other and the business. The results speak for themselves: five consecutive years of growth, record-setting revenues over the past three years, a highly engaged workforce and an incredibly bright future.

 

Shep Pryor has served on the Ulteig board since October 2009, including 11 years as board chair. He has more than 45 years of experience as a senior-level financial services executive, corporate director and management consultant.


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