When he became Chief Executive Officer of The HIDI Group last November, Dario Di Carlo was prepared to face COVID challenges impacting the building industry, work through them, and welcome the future. Now, past the midway mark of 2022, staff are returning to the office, “and rebuilding the corporate culture we had before COVID,” says Di Carlo.
With every business caught off-guard by the pandemic in early 2020, and facing uncertainty over how the coronavirus spread, The HIDI Group was available to help clients operate their buildings in accordance with best industry practices.
For this multi-disciplinary consultancy business, ensuring staff have robust work/life balance is crucial, and communication keeps flowing for employees both in the office and operating from home. It is all about getting people connected again face-to-face, including at corporate events like golf tournaments and barbecues. “We are a collaborative industry, so it’s a necessity to get the corporate culture back on par for the collaborative effort it takes to design a building,” shares Di Carlo.
Fostering staff and client loyalty
Founded by Andrew Hidi in 1975, The HIDI Group today has 26 shareholders and 142 employees. One of Canada’s best-known full-service companies providing expert mechanical, electrical, plumbing, communications (ICAT), audiovisual, energy, specialized architectural lighting, commissioning, security, risk and resilience, and consultancy services, Toronto-headquartered HIDI Group now has offices in Calgary, Dubai, and most recently, Ottawa. Along with those locations, the company also supports the KWC region, comprising Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge.
Even today, The HIDI Group is 100 percent employee-owned, and plans to stay that way. “Our associates and above are all partners here, and that’s one of our main strategies going forward, for many reasons,” states Di Carlo, citing retention as a factor. “Our best employees are highly intelligent, highly educated, highly driven individuals, and putting them in that employee-owned model is a real motivator for them to feel like they are working toward something and are part of the bigger picture.”
Highly streamlined, company management comprises Di Carlo as CEO, President David Sinclair, and the Principal group, and clients appreciate the predictability that comes from always dealing with the same people instead of someone new each time. “The complaint we always hear about larger, publicly held firms is clients never know who’s going to end up at the meeting,” says Di Carlo. “We pride ourselves on those long-term relationships with clients and with the individuals who are servicing those clients, to make sure there is a strong bond between the client and the consultant.”
As a small- to medium-sized firm, The HIDI Group takes a friendly, hands-on approach with its clients. Building a diverse portfolio of well over 15,000 projects since 1975, much of the company’s strength comes from its project diversity, including a major client in the broadcasting world. Beyond just mechanical and electrical works, the company is also behind communications, security, audiovisual, energy and sustainability, commissioning and post-construction services, as well as lighting design branded as Alula Lighting Design, which provides superior architectural lighting consultancy services locally and internationally. “We call them our eight disciplines, even though there are nine, because eight makes a really good logo—you’ll see that on our webpage,” laughs Di Carlo.
Adapting to the times
Over almost 50 years, The HIDI Group has kept its finger on the pulse of the building industry, with good reason: rapid change. Structures are no longer designed the same way they were in the 70s, and clients’ needs are different, especially in terms of sustainability.
Believing it is making a positive difference, the team at The HIDI Group knows the Internet of Things (IoT) and big changes in technology mean disciplines can no longer be designed in isolation, but require a village. Having diverse professional, specialized services in-house percolates that multidisciplinary feel throughout all the company’s work.
“By us designing your lighting control system and your HVAC at the same time, we are able to use some of the sensors and overlap them, so they are being used for both systems, for instance,” explains Di Carlo. “We are also able to dovetail in between security, audiovisual and communication systems that discipline together, and make a design that is future-focused.”
These complementary disciplines also accommodate new energy targets that are more aggressive than ever before, such as Toronto Green Standard (TGS) Version 4 (https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/planning-development/official-plan-guidelines/toronto-green-standard/), which was adopted by City Council last July. “Applying the TGS sets your development apart: high performance, high quality, low emissions and future-proofed,” states the city on its website. “TGS v4 developments will contribute to savings of over 1MT CO2e cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, or [the equivalent of] taking more than 300,000 cars off the road each year.”
As Toronto and other metropolitans adopt Net Zero and other low-energy use climate strategies to limit greenhouse gases, The HIDI Group is there to advise and work with clients on all project aspects. “You can no longer just throw one discipline at the problem,” says Di Carlo. “You really need to look at all areas to improve building performance, and that’s what we specialize at. So it’s not just putting in a better mechanical system—that doesn’t work—you’ve got to have better mechanical and electrical, and they must be working together to meet those energy targets.”
With The HIDI Group for eight years, Di Carlo – who holds an MBA from McMaster University and is a licensed engineer – is keenly aware of client needs and expectations. In 2020, at the same time as COVID struck, the company was working on a new Audio Visual design department, which opened last year. Even though the company had been serving AV needs for years, it has now hired more staff and is actively marketing its services.
“AV is getting more complicated, and it’s not as simple as just buying a screen from a big box store,” comments Di Carlo. Creating state-of-the-art audio/visual systems for its customers, the company’s works range from straightforward meeting room and classroom technologies to high-end video walls for clients such as General Motors at one of the automaker’s training facilities.
Active in retail, commercial, health and science, residential, sports and entertainment, hospitality, and other sectors, The HIDI Group’s portfolio reads like a Who’s Who of many of Canada’s best-known structures. Admired worldwide for its outstanding system, the Toronto Public Library’s (TPL) many branches will soon include the new Dawes Road Library. At an estimated $20 million, the unique Net Zero 22,000 square-foot, multi-storey building will serve as a library and community hub, including flexible meeting rooms, hoteling stations, office space for City of Toronto staff, and more.
Another project in the works is a new structure for MDA in Brampton, maker of the world-famous Canadarm, used on space shuttle missions and to service the Hubble Space Telescope. “It’s going to be manufacturing the Canadarm 3, which will be part of the lunar orbiter project,” says Di Carlo of the work, which will see The HIDI Group part of the project team for MDA’s new global headquarters and Space Robotics Centre of Excellence.
One of the company’s most recent works is for Sportsnet Studios, which serves not only as an example of The HIDI Group’s commitment to quality but also its ability to meet deadlines. Located within the Rogers Communications Downtown Campus, the new studios opened in time for the 2021-2022 NHL season. Divided into two phases—the first phase involving a feasibility study, the second design and build out—The HIDI Group provided mechanical, electrical and plumbing, while Alula Lighting Design provided architectural lighting, and HRCx commissioned the project.
Winning recent awards for its outstanding work—including the Architzer A+ for the Bata Shoe Factory (Jury Winner, Architecture and Stairs category)—The HIDI Group continues taking on projects across Canada and worldwide, including the Four Seasons hotel chain in Mexico, Spain, Egypt, and Greece. With the vision of growing across Canada, the company is also focused on strengthening its disciplines, branding them, and leveraging those disciplines to make them more individualized.
“We don’t feel like we have our fair share of the Toronto and Calgary markets, so those markets are important to grow, and that discipline growth is part of that, growing each, whether it’s electrical, mechanical or communications,” says Di Carlo. “Opening offices across Canada as we’ve done with Ottawa—and slowly working our way from east to west—we will see what that holds for us as we get into some more rural areas. But then it’s really growing and supporting our workforce that is important for us. We need to have the best staff for an employee-driven business, we need to develop our staff and make sure they are making a difference in our clients’ operations, helping and advising them.” Thus far, it has proven to be a winning formula.