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Wednesday, Jan 08, 2020

"Investing in People, Invested in Communities" - Interview with Mark Porter

Mark Porter Interview

In 2007, Mark Porter was living in the United Kingdom and was actively seeking opportunities to work abroad. After a chance meeting with David Harvey, this led to an offer to join Associated Engineering far away on the west coast of Canada. Thinking he’d stay for just three years, Mark has since found a stable home in Canada with Associated Engineering.

Now 13 years later, Mark joins us for a chat in the sunlit 5th floor boardroom in our Vancouver office. He currently serves as a Structural Engineer and National Practice Leader of our Buildings Services and has been recognized as a Fellow of both The Institution of Structural Engineers (UK) and Engineers Canada.

“One of the big questions I had before I joined was what does Associated Engineering, being an infrastructure company, have for me as a purely buildings person,” says Mark. “But what I’ve found is that Associated offers me the chance to be entrepreneurial within a stable and long-serving company. So it’s been really good.”

Building the Buildings Practice

“Seeing the growth of the buildings practice is a real highlight,” Mark says of his time at Associated Engineering. “When I started, most of the structural engineers worked as a subset of our water or transportation groups. But over time, I, and others, have diversified that practice.” While those projects are still a major part of Associated's business, the buildings practice has grown under Mark’s leadership. In BC, the buildings group has grown by 300%. “In 2016, I was asked to lead the buildings practice nationally.” Mark says. “And since then, we’ve grown substantially, and been able to deliver institutional buildings. We’ve done really well in First Nations communities, and Education.”

Investing in People

(Mark, far right, contributing to a meeting with members of our Vancouver Water Division)

“When I first joined Associated Engineering, we said we didn’t really do buildings. And now, they’re a core part of our practice,” Mark continues. And it sure keeps him busy. “No day is typical. Every day is busy,” he says. “My day is filled with different project demands. I can usually be involved in three or four different projects on any one day, and I try and touch base with every member of my team on a daily basis.”

While the growth in Associated’s buildings practice has brought more engineers to the company, it’s managers like Mark that make it an attractive place to stay. And for Mark, while there’s no doubt he values the work opportunities and the professional challenges that his time at the company have brought him, it’s the people he works with that keep the days flying by.

It’s About the People

“It satisfies me when I see projects succeed, people succeed,” he says. And it’s easy to believe him. Around the office, Mark is the picture of calm. While the demands on his day can sometimes make him tough to find, when you do, there’s always an easy smile and a genuine desire to know how your day is going. That’s not always easy with a practice that’s grown to around 120 people in offices across the country, but it’s clear that knows his staff and cares about them.

It’s an attitude that’s not unique to Mark, but also ingrained within Associated Engineering. Our One Office philosophy means that no matter where you are in the company, big office or small, major project or minor, there’s someone available to help. Projects frequently include teams from multiple offices, where experts in a given field can lend their expertise to multiple teams, wherever and whenever they're needed.

It’s a strength Mark recognizes as bringing positive benefits to many projects and helps builds a culture that fosters stronger ties between offices and communities. “I love the people. The people that I work with are phenomenal. I think we have a culture of wanting to help each other,” Mark continues. “There’s this commitment of ‘yes we can help you, when do you need us?’. And it’s reinforced with every successfully delivered project.” 

Mark Porter Meeting

Building the Projects that Matter

It’s the same culture of wanting to help each other that helps build Associated's place in Canadian culture as well. In every corner of Canada, there’s a project that Associated Engineering has been a part of. These projects are part of what ties our uniquely Canadian communities together. From massive bridges such as the Deh Cho Bridge across the Mackenzie river that connect and supply Yellowknife and communities to the north, to historical structures like the St. Andrews Lock and Dam crossing the Red River near Winnipeg, to community centres, water treatment plants, pump stations, highways, rural roads, roundabouts, and community parks, Associated takes pride in being in the community.

Pitt River Bridge

(Pitt River Bridge, under construction)

“I have a number of memorable moments,” Mark says. “My first project was the Pitt River Bridge, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.” Crossing the Pitt River in Coquitlam, BC, the crossing helps connect communities along the north side of the Fraser River. “The Barnston/Maple Ride Pump Station,” Mark continues. “That was the first time we got to use heavy wood in an infrastructure project is also a highlight.”

Barnston/Maple Ridge Pump Station

(Wooden beams inside the Barnston/Maple Ridge Pump Station)

“The work we do has meaning for communities. We’re creating better places."

“I love the work we do.” Mark says proudly. “The work we do has meaning for communities. We’re creating better places. A lot of the work we do is around critical infrastructure. For well-being, water, wastewater, transportation, important institutional buildings, and education. It’s all hugely important and provides value.”

When you talk to people at Associated, the word community keeps coming up. Community within the office. Community between offices. And the value of working in the communities where they live.

“For me, Gitwinksihlkw is really important,” says Mark as our interview winds down. Gitwinksihlkw is a Nisga’a village in the Nass River valley of northern BC, a little over 100 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert. “My first involvement was with a new water treatment plant. We did that and we delivered it well. And then we were asked to look at their reservoir, and then to look at their church, followed by the community centre and then a design for a new firehall. And I knew as a company that we’d been asked to do other pieces of work for that same village.”

Gitwinksihlkw Water Treatment Plant

(Gitwinksihlkw Water Treatment Plant)

“I think that just really demonstrates the importance of building trust and building a relationship with the people that we’re working with. When we can deliver that and be there, not just for one project, but for the ongoing relationship with the people, that’s really important. That stands out. They weren’t big projects, but each one of them was meaningful and it meant something to the community.”

And that’s what it all comes back to... community. Associated Engineering builds communities. We build them externally by providing clean water, local infrastructure, and these days, climate change mitigation. And we build them internally by fostering a commitment of success for staff across the country and by building up our people. “We’re invested in our people,” says Mark.

“We’re invested in our communities. But over and above that, is this sense of commitment beyond the immediate project, to the legacy of what we’re leaving behind.”