Founder and CEO of Clark Builders brings 75th ACR Awards Banquet Crowd to its Feet
In keeping with the historical theme of the evening, Mr. Clark traced the roots of Clark Builders’ success, attributing much of it, from its start in Yellowknife and in addition to an outstanding workforce, to resource industry-related contracts.
A farm-boy from the Ottawa Valley who went west in the late ‘60s in search of opportunity, he found it best to his liking when, as the founders of the Alberta Chamber of Resources had done more than three decades before, he turned north, to the remote “mining country.” After paying his dues by working on a variety of worksites, he struck out on his own in 1974 by starting up his own modest shop, Clark Construction, in Yellowknife, population 9,400. “People are watching you,” Clark said to the young people at the banquet, citing his own early experience and sharing a secret to his success. “And hearing about you. So always do your best in everything you do.”
Erecting pre-engineered structures in the NWT capital, “success came quickly,” he said. But not working all alone. As effective leaders almost always do, he gradually gathered and attracted the skill and talent of the partners and employees he needed to help his company grow and prosper beyond its roots.
The ACR annual report for 1974 noted that 1975 should be a good year for mining in the Northwest Territories – thanks to discoveries and continued exploration for lead, zinc, copper, and silver deposits – and Mr. Clark was on the leading edge of servicing that opportunity working on northern mining projects such as the Cominco Conn Mine, the Giant Yellowknife Mine, and the Cominco Pine Point Mine (which had benefited as early as 1957 from Chamber representations to build a railroad into the area). “The mines were expanding, renovating,” Clark said. “It was a great opportunity to grow.”
By 1981, a sign of Mr. Clark’s increasingly impressive record and reputation for results, Clark Builders was the primary contractor for Echo Bay’s Lupin Gold Mine, also connected in its way to the ACR. The Chamber had helped find staff for the original Echo Bay silver mine at Great Bear Lake in the ‘60s, for example. And John Zigarlick, Echo Bay’s chief executive would also serve a term as ACR President.
Clark spoke of an experience-won, can-do attitude born of incredibly challenging working conditions – in the “blizzard capital of Canada,” for example – during those seminal years. Described as “either the most determined man or the biggest fool” a co-worker had ever met, he one way or the other set the stage for survival during bad times and excellence at all times.
In the early ‘80s, blazing new trails for building partnerships with Aboriginal people, Clark Builders was also engaged in the construction of Gulf base camp support facilities at Tuktoyaktuk and all support buildings for the Zama Lake to Norman Wells pipeline.
Based now in Edmonton, there have been many more Clark Builders mining and other resource-related projects over the years: the Kubaca gold mine in Siberia, the first Ekati Diamond mine, the Sherwood Copper mine, Opti Albian Sands, Shell, Finning, and the Genesee mine among them. And expansion of the business globally, and into virtually all areas of construction including industrial projects, design-build and advisory services, educational, retail and residential complexes, pipeline service facilities, and defence installations – a half billion dollars in business every year.
“It’s thanks to the resource industry that we’ve enjoyed the success that we have,” said Clark. “We treasure that relationship.”
But it’s not all business. Mr. Clark, personal and through his company, has been actively engaged in a brand of energetic, big-hearted, and effective community support that makes a positive difference in everything he turns his attention to. He has amplified his good work with native communities in his early days, for example, by sitting on the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business. And sharing values and aspirations directly with the ACR, he is a board member of CAREERS: The Next Generation which has been making dreams come true for students, communities, and workplaces since the early 1990s. As in many other communities, he’s given in Edmonton of both his time and other resources.
As for lessons learned from nearly 40 years of leadership: “We need to collectively resist the bureaucracy that invariably creeps into large projects,” he said. “We need to make sure that common sense and productivity thrive and that we manage risk appropriately.”