Employee Ownership: A PCL Retrospective

PCL has a rich history—one that withstood the test of time as PCL broke records, geographic boundaries, and expectations to become one of the largest construction companies in North America. Part of that history includes the adoption of an employee ownership​ business model that revolutionized the construction industry.

Employees pose for a photo with their boss Ernest
Poole more than one hundred years ago.

In 1948 Ernest Poole outlined several
guidelines, or “Poole’s Rules,” which
still govern PCL’s business practices to
this day.

The Early Years

PCL’s founder, Ernest E. Poole, was born in 1883 on Prince Edward Island. At the age of 20, Ernest boarded a train on the East coast heading to the West looking for summer work. After arriving in Stoughton, Saskatchewan, Ernest partnered with an elderly tradesman named James Martin and, using the construction skills learned in his father’s woodworking shop, helped James build houses, barns, and stores for the town. In 1906 James retired and Ernest launched E.E. Poole General Contractor—the predecessor of PCL Construction.
The next 50 years would include expansion into several provinces, the renaming of the company to Poole Construction Company Limited, the postwar construction boom of the 1920s, and the economic hardships of the Dirty Thirties, which PCL survived thanks to contracts established before the stock-market crash in 1929. Poole Construction headquarters moved to Edmonton, Alberta in 1932, and after the end of World War II and the discovery of oil in the province, the company sat poised to capitalize on a brimming market. Ernest sold the company to his sons, John and George Poole in 1948, at which time he created “Poole’s Rules”—a set of business principles that defined PCL’s core values. By the late 1970s, PCL had started expanding operations into the US.

Taking Ownership

In 1977, 25 PCL employees became the first shareholders in a new model proposed by George and John Poole and then-president Bob Stollery to realize Ernest’s goal of encouraging loyalty and stability in a difficult industry. Today there are more than 3,500 PCL employee shareholders. “Everyone has a stake in the satisfaction of our clients and the success of our business,” said Mike Olsson, vice president of Human Resources and Professional Development. “It is a real incentive to do our best work every day which has supported PCL’s growth over the years.” PCL set the bar for other construction companies that embraced a similar model after seeing the rewards that come with putting the success of a company in the hands of its hardworking employees.

As PCL nears its 40th anniversary of employee ownership, it’s clear that Ernest Poole’s legacy lives on in the thousands of employee owners across PCL’s 32 offices.


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