Meridian Surveys: Canada’s Best Managed Companies 2018

Find the discipline in bad times to win big later

Canada’s Best Managed Companies

Meridian Surveys has spent more than 50 years as a surveyor for commercial projects in Saskatchewan and Alberta, but it took a downturn in the natural-resources sector for the company to begin looking inward.

When the oil and gas and pipeline projects that make up more than half of Meridian’s business starting drying up, revenues tumbled from a high of just over $40 million in what president and CEO Calvin Fowler describes as its “champion year,” 2014, to around $23 million in 2016.

Former president Max Putnam admits with a wink that Meridian may have gone “a little overboard” in its response to the subsequent challenging business environment. The company embarked on an aggressive series of initiatives that helped it re-emerge as a stronger company.

“It had been on our list for a long time, but you often end up taking care of what’s urgent, not necessarily what’s important,” says Putnam. The company’s efforts included everything from long-term strategic planning and skills development to team-building exercises and new product innovation.

Two years later, Meridian’s revenues are growing again and staff numbers are slowly creeping back toward pre-slowdown levels. “Our pipeline business came back strong last year, as did the oil patch business,” says Fowler. “With the oil price being above $50 [a barrel], the well sites will start popping up for us again.”

It even found itself in a strong enough position last year to open a new office in Edmonton, its ninth, which Fowler says could eventually help the company expand its operations into northwestern Alberta and B.C. “We’re quite anxious to see what we can do in that area,” he says.

Meridian has also been a long-time champion of innovation, from being an early adopter of GPS technology in the early 1990s to adding drones to its arsenal in 2014.

The latter requires fewer workers and, more importantly, less time on site. “You can fly an area in 20-30 minutes versus a whole day for a two-man survey crew,” says Fowler.

All the training in tough times has put the firm on a competitive footing. The past year also saw Meridian land its largest contract ever, providing services for Enbridge’s multi-billion-dollar Line 3 Replacement Program. And, without resorting to undercutting itself on price, Meridian claims that it wins more than 75% of the approximately 30 requests for proposal it responds to each year.

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