Though it feels like a story from centuries past, discrimination against Acadians—the descendants of the first French colonizers in North America—was alive and well in Eastern Canada just two generations ago. “My grandfather would have been [starting this company] at the very moment that French people were finally allowed to own a business,” says David Savoie, CEO of the aptly named Acadian Construction, which was founded in 1958. “Back then, you wouldn’t be served in stores or restaurants if you were French in this part of the world.” In this context, the very fact that Savoie’s grandfather, Adélin, began and built a business is nothing short of remarkable.
But growing up, David Savoie wasn’t particularly impressed with his grandfather’s triumph over adversity and had no plans to join the family business, then run by his father Claude. “I was out in Los Angeles working in the film industry,” he remembers, before receiving some sad news: “My father was diagnosed with cancer in 1998. He passed in 2000. I’d never intended to take over, but soon I packed my bags and came home.” At that point, Savoie took time to get an MBA. (“Just so I’d know some Business 101”) before joining Acadian Construction full-time in 2003. Partners and investors had come and gone over the years, including his sister Andrée, but in 2015, Savoie bought out the last one and took over as sole owner.
Over the past five years, Acadian Construction, based in Moncton, N.B., has tripled its annual revenue and grown from 35 employees to 72 (and up to a thousand subcontracted builders, electricians, plumbers, etc.), and it offers project management services for just about any building you can think of. “In this environment, you can’t be too picky,” says Savoie. In the almost two decades since Savoie joined Acadian, he’s managed—that is, conceptualized, designed, budgeted, constructed and overseen—everything from doctors’ offices, restaurants and outlet malls to recreation centres, subway renovations and manufacturing plants. “Our smallest project had the price tag of a grand, and the largest was $250 million,” says Savoie. Acadian Construction usually operates within a four-hour radius of Moncton, but this year brings a foray into Toronto, where the company is building a warehouse. Naturally, Acadian is completely bilingual and offers construction and management services in both official languages.
Acadian’s biggest challenge is human resources. “We’re always trying to find, motivate and—most of all—keep talent,” he says. More lucrative markets in bigger cities can easily lure away his staff, so Savoie goes above and beyond to make the culture at Acadian worth staying for. “We have a gym, a trainer who comes in every month, a ping-pong table and a Nintendo for the millennials,” jokes Savoie. And while the idea of creating a positive culture wasn’t completely foreign to him, it really became a priority when he was recruited a few years ago by a global leadership community called the Young Presidents’ Organization. “They’ve helped me to learn so much about culture, and how to find, hire and motivate people.”
This mindset extends to the community as well, and Savoie believes in giving back. He personally sits on the board of the Moncton Hospital and the city’s Ronald McDonald House. Acadian Construction contributes to as much fundraising as it possibly can, too. “Every year, we pay for every employee to donate $200 to the charity of their choice. I don’t care if it’s a food bank or their kid’s hockey team, as long as they give it away,” he says. This is pretty generous considering that, 60 years ago, this community wouldn’t serve Savoie’s relatives in a restaurant. But Savoie has no hard feelings, and only goodwill. “Someone once told me, ‘If you take care of the community, the community will take care of you.’ This has stuck with me all these years.” With loyal dedication to his neighbours and a completely open mind to whatever the region might need next, Acadian Construction’s deep roots will surely support them for generations to come.