Blue-Con Excavating is a Calgary-based construction services provider specializing in Deep Utilities, one with its own deep history rooted in family. Company president Matt Haasen tells the story of how his parents grew up in the Netherlands and were part of a mass emigration out of Europe in the 1950s, settling in a small community near London, Ontario.
Haasen met a man named Tony Aarts at a young age, a man who would go on to found Blue-Con and become a mentor to Matt over the years. Haasen, along with several other members of his family, worked for Aarts in various capacities before purchasing shares of the company during Ontario’s economic recession of the 1980s. Haasen, beginning his time in Blue-Con as a labourer, eventually became a company partner in the latter part of that decade, eventually purchasing enough shares (made possible by his late sister Elly) to present his remaining siblings with a deal to purchase the company outright.
Haasen, along with his sister Elly and engineer Dave Chene, grew the company over the ensuing decades to the sizable force it is today. Haasen also continues his familial outreach to this day as his son Ryan and three of his other children currently work for the company in various capacities and are worked hard by their father, as Matt himself is sure to note.
Blue-Con focuses on the installation of Deep Utilities for the residential and commercial sectors, which involves sanitary, storm, and water piping (and associated infrastructure) to deliver water to users and to ensure its drainage. Customer service is a primary focus for Blue-Con, a company that prides itself on addressing problems as quickly as possible. Customers are often very complimentary of Blue-Con’s quick response to challenges that arise on a job, which is thanks in large part to the leadership and years of collective knowledge of all involved.
Haasen believes in engaging with clients early on to build strong relationships. He reflects on the fact that some of the company’s largest clients today began as some of its smallest and that, “there is no greater pleasure in watching these clients succeed and feeling that you were a small part of their success.” He is proud to say that there is no one in the whole company who is unwilling to get their hands dirty for the sake of the client.
Blue-Con strives to differentiate itself from competitors on many levels, a goal that is influenced at least somewhat by how Haasen feels the construction industry is viewed. “[The construction industry] has had the image bestowed upon it… as a lower-class citizen,” he explains. “This couldn’t be further from the truth.” Haasen, and the Blue-Con workforce at large, have been host to incredibly bright employees over the decades who have exemplified selflessness and other admirable traits day after day. This has been due in good part to the company focusing on hiring for attitude over skill, meaning that an employee can be trained for nearly anything if they have the attitude to learn, improve, and do their best.
Indeed, a culture of openness and communication is encouraged within the company, as Haasen himself has taken to team-building measures like making barbeque lunches for staff and sending out weekly, open-ended emails to allow for honest dialogue from all levels about what is working in the company and what may not be. These practices have helped put Haasen back in touch with his roots and reminded the higher-ups that the organization must remain humble enough to recognize the avenues within that can be improved upon.
Ryan Haasen, Matt’s son, adds that, as skilled workers retire, young people are needed who see companies like Blue-Con as a career, not just a job. To attract those people, “we have to make this a company they want to work for.” If the company can serve up strong leadership, people will generally not leave for other opportunities. The company has an attitude of continually upping its game to attract staff, continually educating and training so that the youngest can learn from the most experienced. Ryan’s belief is that the company’s success lies in the hands of the field staff who complete the actual work, and it’s the responsibility of the leadership team to inspire and empower these people to succeed.
Safety, of course, is a persistent concern within construction circles, which is where Matt Haasen extols the work of safety officer Sandro Roberto. A core company belief is that, to have a great degree of productivity, one must have safety in equal measure. The company focuses on safety, quality, and productivity, in that specific order. Says Haasen, “I don’t want to be the one telling your loved ones that you had an accident and that you won’t be coming home to hug them anymore. No job is worth that.”
In the last year or two, Blue-Con has had to endure some tumultuous instances that have been felt industry-wide. Low commodity pricing had begun to affect the industry by January of 2020 but, thankfully, commitments of large Deep Utility projects from loyal clients the next month helped keep the future of Blue-Con bright. By March, however, the reality of COVID-19 hit the company; in collaborating with its competitors, the company was determined that the best course of action was to follow burgeoning safety protocols as closely as possible so that Blue-Con could continue to operate as an essential business. This led to a successful construction season for the rest of the year, with 2021 on track to be another to follow it, but Haasen and his team are closely watching commodity shortages in areas like lumber and PVC piping for how that may affect business going forward. “We are fortunate to have remained loyal to our suppliers for the last few decades; that may help us in our supply,” Haasen remarks of this potential concern on the horizon.
For the rest of the year and beyond, growth will continue to come for Blue-Con – but in a safe and measured manner, with attention paid to any potential trouble ahead for the industry. Haasen and his team are not on a mission to be the largest deep utilities contractor in their market; they prefer to focus on their own continuous improvement. With its business longevity, Blue-Con will continue to add on more experienced staff who also possess the wisdom needed for further growth. New opportunities are constantly being explored and success in the construction industry has allowed the company to partner with certain land developers, solidifying its stake in some key construction projects moving forward.
Haasen is also keenly aware of the need for succession planning and, while not planning an imminent retirement, Matt proudly states that he has gotten to see the passion that his son Ryan has exhibited for the construction trade from an early age, intimating that he will be one to watch as the years go by.
With over 40 years under the belt of the company, Matt Haasen believes in the end, it is all about people. He attributes his success to the people in his life, from the mentor he had as a young child to the assistance his sister gave him to take over and grow Blue-Con many years ago. “I’m thankful for all our loyal staff… for our clients who kept feeding us work in even the leanest of years.” Ryan feels a profound sense of pride to be a part of the company his family has built up, especially in light of the challenges and tough times the industry has faced. The Haasen family share a unified vision of safety, quality, and the closeness of familial bonds as Blue-Con continues ever forward.