Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Part 4 of What Steve Said! Working with your team

"As I have grown my business and as it has matured, I’ve found it very difficult not to rush in with my cape on."

Canadian Contractor mentoring series:

Steve Barkhouse is the third generation of his family to make a living in the construction business. Today, Steve’s Ottawa-based company, Amsted Design-Build, is a multiple award winner that completes up to 30 projects each year.

Many contractors set out to be as successful as Steve Barkhouse, yet fall by the wayside. Canadian Contractor asked Steve to tell us why he thinks he has succeeded. This interview was first published in Canadian Contractor’s print edition, May/June 2019. To subscribe to Canadian Contractor magazine, go to

You’ve developed a design-build team that can handle many concurrent projects. That must take great skill at delegating and not trying to constantly be a Superman?

As I have grown my business and as it has matured, I’ve found it very difficult not to rush in with my cape on. I have to constantly ask myself if maybe I have created a problem in order to solve it, or if I’m not letting my team make the mistakes that I was allowed to make, learn from them and get better.  Am I always solving problems so that, as a result, my people stop trying to solve problems and don’t grow? Am I stifling their growth? You can become a little addicted to being a superhero. I need to be a coach, a mentor, a supporter, and a cheerleader. I can be Superman underneath but I don’t need to feel that ego rush. Those days are gone. In fact, it can hurt the company. I need to step back, be more like Clark Kent, and let the team grow. As a result, they’ve become a lot better than me — and that can be a little humbling at times!

How do you find the good people that allow you to delegate so successfully?

I don’t want to be flippant, but when you have as many faults as I do, you always need to hire people that are better than you at certain things. And when you have the right people and you have the right culture, and the right people driving it, it’s contagious; it’s a magnet that attracts other like-minded people. I would say what I did was fairly modest. Early on, I went to a few people I felt were wonderful and said, “Why don’t we all get together, and do what we’re good at.” They brought the culture and together we built the culture. It goes back the core values I mentioned earlier. The people we hire have to fit into those core values and they have to want to go where we want to go. And I think that since we’re pretty open about what it is we do, where we want to go, and who we want to work with, those are the people who apply.

How do manage to retain those good people?

We survey our team every year and we’ve found the biggest reason they work at Amsted is because of the team. Compensation comes in somewhere around number nine. That said, you have to pay your people appropriately. But you don’t have to overpay them, and if you do overpay them, it’s not going to guarantee that they’re going to stay. In fact, it could have the opposite effect.

So if it’s not the money, it’s the culture?

It’s the culture, for sure. Of course, the culture of the company demands of itself that you pay fairly, because your culture is respect, your culture is fairness, your culture is identifying good work and a commitment to quality. So it just follows that you’re going to pay appropriately. And of course, you have to provide opportunity. If you don’t provide anyone any growth, and they want growth, they’re going to leave. I find this particularly with young people. Young people believe they’re not going to have a career. With that mindset, they are quick to move. If your core values and culture don’t line up with their core values, they’re going to leave you. cc






Stories continue below

Print this page

Related Stories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.