Future-Proofing a Cross-Continental Construction Empire

Van Horne Construction Limited
Written by Pauline Müller

Cross-continental construction is a complex yet rewarding industry. Van Horne Construction Limited, a property developer and general contractor headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, has a presence across Canada and in Istanbul, Turkey and plans to start expanding into Europe next year. This company is turning toward creating affordable housing and senior housing in response to the economic blow the COVID-19 crisis dealt to many people around the world.

Van Horne Construction Limited may be half a century old, but there is nothing stuffy about this visionary company. With a young management team leading the way, the company excels at quality construction management, general contracting, and design-build projects with dedication and attention to detail. It prides itself on diversity in the workplace with a roughly equal number of men and women and a mixture of employees from different cultures all working toward the same goals.

Owner Zeki Mert came to Canada as a Turkish immigrant and stucco expert in 2002. Stucco is a specialized wall rendering used since ancient times around Greece, Italy, and the rest of the Mediterranean as far as Morocco. Today, only very few master craftsmen still know the technique. They are, understandably, well-respected artisans.

Mert joined Van Horne Construction in 2003. He worked for the company for around eighteen months before returning to the world of stucco for several years. During this time, he completed several stucco projects for Van Horne as an independent contributor. That was until he bought a 50 percent stake in the company.

In 2017, Mert gained full ownership of the company, bringing it to its fifty-year mark with great success. The inspiring leader and pioneer’s personal goals are clear. “My dream is for the company to become a global general contractor and developer and to make sure that we always [hold] the Canadian flag [high] and, as a Canadian business, to be a respectful company,” says Mert.

At forty-two, establishing such a powerful legacy in a relatively short time was no mean feat. “I am still young. I want to achieve my dream and make sure that we build a [valuable] company and future for our country and our kids,” Mert adds. He is not a man who balks at industry competitors’ contributions. “I like competition. It makes you stronger. It also makes you always do right. If we have something of value, maybe we change ourselves and, at the same time, we change our competition too. [In that way] we assure that we [contribute] some value.”

The first thing Mert did when he bought the company was to change the historic firm’s management team. The reasoning behind this decision was to ensure that every person in the leadership team would be energetic and driven enough to be hands-on and involved in projects personally. This brought about several changes, including new technology that still enhances and grows its capabilities daily. He is especially satisfied with the fact that all of Van Horne’s current teams have “a deep connection” with the company, treating one another and customers like family and the business as their own.

Its major technological upgrade came in 2017 when the company introduced an entirely new construction management system. Today, Procore Construction Management Software remains its program of choice.

The software is believed to be used by nearly two million customers globally, making it relevant in today’s increasingly demanding construction market. It allows teams to check everything from schedules to budgets from anywhere on the planet via the internet. That ensures easy control of every project as well as transparency and sleek progress management.

To further guarantee its customers of the very best service and quality construction, Van Horne Construction became CORE-certified last year. The company is also LEED-certified, a nod to its promise to treat the environment with as much respect as it treats its clients and its staff. To this end, Van Horne Construction is continuously developing and fine-tuning its environmental policy to support the LEED-certified projects on which it collaborates.

“We want to help other people. We want to help the economy,” Mert says of creating affordable housing. The company currently has two affordable housing projects underway, one of which comprises over eighty living units.

Affordable housing is not all the company specializes in. Van Horne Construction Limited also excels at building luxury living units. Like the Orchard Point Harbour condominium complex on Lake Simcoe in Orillia, Ontario. The buildings focus on the retirement market, and Mert is particularly proud of these two lovely examples of quality construction.

“I think it is two very special [condominium complexes] we built in 2017, finishing in 2018. These are… special properties. It was [an important] project for us. When you work on the water, you have to be very professional,” he says, earnestly.

Mert points out that beyond the stunning setting and tasteful design, building on the lake edge was a tremendous responsibility that demanded many safety measures to keep the water and surrounding environment as pristine during the construction process as possible.

Known amongst colleagues for his strong market intuition, Mert sensed an approaching downturn in the construction market as early as 2017/18. Following this hunch, he sat with his management team to develop a solid risk management plan. Van Horne Construction turned to government buildings and institutions like schools and universities to recession-proof the company, accepting fewer private projects as it changed its typical client profile.

Mert could never have imagined that COVID-19 would hit or that trusting that sense of discomfort and acting upon it would ultimately save and build his business as it actually grew during this time. “The company was not hurt by COVID-19. I am very proud of my team,” he says.

Acts of charity are commonplace here, and the team takes great pride in helping when and where they can. In Canada, the company supports the Police Association, the Cancer Association, and others with donations of money. In Turkey last year, Mert invested in books for five libraries serving underprivileged children, an act of kindness that will potentially change the lives of thousands of children who will grow up to pass their knowledge and love of books to their children and grandchildren one day.

When asked what the future holds for Van Horne Construction Limited, Mert shares the continued importance of following his dreams and future-proofing the business. Having the right team to help pull the company through when the chips are down remains imperative. The next goal is to look at Europe while expanding its presence globally. “I always [wanted] to be in Europe and the Middle East. I like that area more, especially Europe.”

If there is a single thing that stands out about Van Horne, it is its acute attention to market changes and its precise and rapid response to even the slightest indicators of turning tides. One thing is certain. Van Horne Construction Limited is a company that lands on its feet, everywhere, every time, without exceptions.

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