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Gillam Group president managed construction projects at Vanbots

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by Patricia Williams

Professional engineer Marcus Gillam is putting his construction and business skills to good use as president of his own firm, Toronto-based Gillam Group, which was launched in April, 2011. Gillam, who has a civil engineering degree from Queen’s University, used to manage construction projects at Vanbots, now known as Carillion Canada.
Marcus Gillam of The Gillam Group Inc.
Marcus Gillam of The Gillam Group Inc.

Professional engineer Marcus Gillam is putting his construction and business skills to good use as president of his own firm, Toronto-based Gillam Group.

Gillam, whose credentials include a six-year stint as vice-president of Vanbots, a division of Carillion Construction Inc., decided to make the move after conferring with two industry veterans – his father Keith Gillam and colleague Tim Harris.

“At Carillion, I most recently had been managing bids for P3 projects,” he said. “I really enjoyed working with designers and engineers. I liked the fact that these were large projects that were challenging to win.

“But at the back of my mind I kept wondering where the P3 program was headed and whether there would there be a sufficient pipeline of projects in the medium to long term.

“When I weighed the pros and cons, I came to the conclusion that my opportunities were best served by being in business for myself.”

The Gillam Group Inc. was launched in April.

Gillam, who graduated from Queen’s University in 1997 with a civil engineering degree and who later earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Rotterdam School of Management, got his feet wet in the industry working summers as a labourer.

As a university student, Gillam gained experience as a junior estimator at Vanbots, undertaking quantity takeoffs and lending a hand with tender closings.

“I got a real feel for how estimates are put together,” he said. “I worked with some really talented people. I learned a lot about the building construction process while working in the estimating department.” After graduating from Queen’s, Gillam transferred to Vanbots’ Vancouver office.

“It was a tough time,” he said. “Vancouver was still reeling from the effects of the recession. We found ourselves on bid lists with 20 or 30 general contractors.”

Gillam subsequently joined the Vanbots team building a $400 million automotive plant in England, where he honed his skills as a project manager. He later spent two years as a project manager at Barclays Capital in London,

Gillam returned to Canada in 2005, after the “novelty” of working overseas had worn off. He rejoined Vanbots, initially as a project manager, before turning his attention to business development. The company was acquired by Carillion in 2008.

Gillam, who has opened an office on Northline Road in the Bermondsey Road industrial area of old East York, is in the process of staffing up.

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His father Keith, former chair and principal shareholder in Vanbots, and Harris, former Vanbots vice-chair and one-time Toronto Construction Association president, are on board as senior advisers.

“Construction is very much a people business,” he said.

“As a new company, you have to trade on the experience and reputation of the individuals involved.” The Gillam Group is offering a broad range of services, including project management, construction management, scheduling, cost consulting, quality assurance and quality controls, risk management and project audits.

One key focus is on project planning during the preconstruction stage.

“I used to work with a gentleman who was fond of saying ‘if you are flying from London to New York and you are one degree off, you end up in Boston,’” Gillam said.

“That means that if you don’t have the plan right from the beginning, you will end up in a completely different place. I’ve taken that saying to heart.”

Gillam said the firm is being “very selective” when it comes to hiring because it wants to build a “stellar” team. Gillam already has hired two estimators. He hopes to have a staff of 10 within 12 months.

The Gillam Group is targeting projects in the $1 million to $50 million range. The firm has already landed a contract to provide project management and construction management services on an estimated $25 million aquatic facility in Toronto.

“It’s early days yet, but I think there is a bright future ahead,” Gillam said.

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