When the recruitment firm Hays Canada contacted PCL executive vice president Chris Gower to be featured as part of its DNA Series profiling the career paths of Canadian business leaders, he welcomed the chance to share his journey discovering what excellent leadership is and how that could help him make a difference within the industry and at PCL Constructors Canada Inc.
A specialist recruitment consultancy, Hays created the DNA series to provide an inside look at what it takes to achieve a leading role in sectors such as construction, finance, and IT. For ambitious professionals this series provides insight into personal career planning, common obstacles, qualifications that really matter, and the impact of people management.
From his beginnings as a carpenter to overseeing the Toronto operations of Canada’s largest general contractor, Gower provides valuable insight into the experiences, challenges, and key lessons that have guided his journey.
Q&A With Chris Gower, Executive Vice President, PCL Constructors Canada Inc.
Q: Why did you want to become a VP of Construction?
A: Throughout my career I have always wanted to succeed in what I was doing. While I didn’t necessarily have my sights set on a
certain position, my goal was to become a construction leader and to make a difference in my field.
Q: What was the greatest challenge you faced along your career journey?
A: Probably the greatest challenge I have experienced so far in my career was securing leadership positions at a young age where I
was placed in the role of leading seasoned employees. This opportunity helped me to develop skills that empower people to be
their best, while still achieving accountability. It also helped me discover how critical it is to improve and evolve skills along the
journey to remain relevant and to increase value to the organization.
Q: Beyond education and work experience, what do you think stood out in your resume that led to you being hired for
A: As a self-starter who seeks out new opportunities and challenges the process along the way, I’ve always demonstrated the ability
to get results and to make sound decisions in difficult times. After 19 years with PCL, I’ve learned that the quality of relationships
you build will move you forward.
Q: What personal characteristics are integral to the role today?
A: Introspection has become a very important trait in my career. This involves not only being aware of my own behaviour, but also
learning from my mistakes. The role requires a high level of personal integrity and authenticity, and as with any role in business, it
is critical to adapt to change while generating a positive outcome.
Q: How important are soft skills/people management to your role?
A: Managing a diverse and experienced group of professionals requires well-developed soft skills. As you transition from doing work to
managing work, you need the ability to get the most from your team. More than anything, effective communication is essential to
the ability to encourage the hearts of those you lead.
Q: How often do you work on your technical skills/staying on top of the latest trends/developments?
A: I am constantly reading about leadership practices and industry and business trends. More and more, the use of technology
makes it easier for leaders to stay informed of market trends if we use our time wisely.
Q: At what point do soft skills become more important than technical skills in the role?
A: The need for soft skills is enhanced when a person transitions to managing other people. At a certain point in your career,
technical skills are common to many; what differentiates a leader is the ability to empower others to take responsibility for the
outcomes of their team.
Q: Has the career journey/path changed from when you were moving up the corporate ladder? What does the next
generation need to know to become the head of a construction company?
A: My career path was nontraditional in the sense that I skipped a few steps in the formal process of advancement. I urge all
professionals to trust the wisdom of your mentors who will prioritize your development, and don’t be afraid to take positions that
may not fit your perceived path for success. Mobility is critical in the construction industry because the opportunity to develop the
skills you need may not be available at home. I would not be in the leadership role I am today without having relocated my family to
Saskatchewan at the age of 32.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you want the next generation of construction professionals to know that is integral to
their career progression, in working towards becoming leading construction professionals in Canada?
A: I’ve learned several critical success factors that have helped shaped my career:
- The one thing we can control is our behavior. Know who you are and take control of your future;
- Be a life-long learner and gain the right experiences at the right time. Be aggressive, but don’t rush your development;
- Don’t blame others for setbacks. Learn from adversity and put in the time needed to be successful;
- Know what success means for you, your family, your customer, and other stakeholders, and work to achieve balance;
- Building and maintaining relationships is a cornerstone to sustained success.
Learn More About Chris Gower
As executive vice president of PCL’s largest district, Toronto, Gower is responsible for all operations in the Greater Toronto Area and southwestern Ontario. He also provides executive support to PCL’s Special Projects divisions across North America and contributes to numerous corporate initiatives.
Having invested 25 years in the North American construction industry, Gower has extensive practical construction experience both in the field and in a senior management capacity. During his tenure at PCL, he progressively held positions including estimator, construction risk manager, senior project manager, district manager, vice president, and regional vice president, before assuming his present position.