Twentieth anniversary celebrations got underway at Thunder Bay-based TBT Engineering Limited (TBTE) – northwestern Ontario’s largest employee-owned multi-disciplinary engineering consulting firm – with an employee luncheon on February 1.
It was back 20 years ago in 1995, that Rob and Liana Frenette launched TBTE with two technicians, after buying a material testing laboratory that had been in business since 1968. Full time entrepreneurship was new territory for both the Frenettes. Up until then, Rob had been an engineer with the government, while Liana was a teacher on leave to be home with their children.
“We started with a five-year plan at the end of which we hoped to have made enough money to pay for the children’s education, but here we are 20 years later,” said Rob, TBTE’s president, crediting Liana as the company’s CEO, the staff, client and colleagues as keys to the company’s success.
TBTE now employs over 100 current full-time technical and professional staff, which includes engineers; scientists; biologists; surveyors; technologists; technicians; and drillers.
Looking back over the 20 years, while there were many project highlights, one that stands out for Rob is the award-winning Hawk Lake Bridge built in 2007 for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, with TBTE providing total project management for the highway realignment and new grade separated crossing. Located on Highway 17 approximately 40 kilometres east of Kenora, the single-span bridge straddles a CPR Rail line, replacing a deteriorating restrictive underpass that was unusable for travel of oversized loads on this stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway. The bridge – probably North America’s first completely brand new structure to use ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC) – received an award for “excellence in design and construction in concrete bridges” in the 2010 Portland Cement Association’s 12th Biennial Bridge Awards Competition.
Since its early days, TBTE has followed a strategic growth strategy that has resulted in service diversification across a wide range of civil and related consulting engineering disciplines, becoming “one-stop shopping” for clients.
The latest expansion was the addition of the new Structural Engineering division when Dr. Jag Mohan joined the company in May 2013 as Senior Vice-President of Engineering, and headed up the new division as well as Research and Development. Mohan provides technical and project management service for the company’s engineering divisions, bringing more than 30 years of professional engineering experience in structural and civil engineering, and in engineering education.
“Structural engineering is a growing division in the company” said Mohan, who is enthusiastic about the opportunities in Northern Ontario, Canada, and especially overseas. “Structural Engineering takes a holistic view, taking a project from the beginning to the end. Competition is high, especially from southern Ontario, so we need to ‘think out of the box’.”
TBT Engineering has always maintained a strong link with First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario and has taken a keen interest in exploring and innovating their services to better assist First Nation initiatives. The desire to provide better services that focus on First Nation Communities and Initiatives such as Complete Project Management, Planning & Feasibility Studies, Business Planning and Business Consulting Services, Engineering Surveys and Aggregate Resource Prospecting (to name a few) is what led TBT Engineering to ultimately form a close partnership with Rainy River First Nations, Naicatchewenin First Nation, and Saulteaux Consulting & Engineering on an Aboriginal owned engineering company. Thus, Ozaanaman Engineering was established to perform and administer a variety of Engineering and Environmental Services, all the while maintaining a strong respect for our environment, and our culture. This, as well as other First Nation partnerships have allowed TBT Engineering to truly aspire toward “growing the north.”
And what’s in the future for TBTE?
“The first 10 years our focus was on developing the company on a provincial basis, across Ontario,” said Rob. “The second decade, with Ontario being our prime base, we worked to establish a strong presence across all the Western provinces and the Far North.
Now going into the third decade, with Dr. Jag Mohan joining the company, we are pursuing unique international opportunities, particularly in India.” The experts can come from the North”.
He added, “I’m a big dreamer. Without dreams, things seldom change. But for dreams to become reality, you need to take care of traditional clients and make sure we are solid here with our base in order to expand to world stage.”
Moving forward, the company is repurposing a 38,000-square-foot factory space into the world global headquarters for TBTE, bringing the company’s five offices into one facility on the shores of the Kaministiquia River.
Yes indeed – it has been a grand past 20 years for TBTE and looks like exciting times are ahead for its third decade.