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The hatch of Hatch: from startup to global engineering and construction powerhouse

Once a small engineering firm, Hatch is now a global tech and management behemoth

The story of how Hatch Ltd. became a global engineering and construction powerhouse begins underground—in a subway tunnel in downtown Toronto, to be exact.

In the 1950s, Gerry Hatch—the company’s founder, and an M.I.T. graduate with expertise in metallurgical engineering—found himself among those tasked with developing the Toronto Transit Commission tunnels along University Avenue. The subway system presented gargantuan and unforeseen engineering conundrums, and Hatch, working alongside a large British consulting firm, was eager to solve them.

With the TTC, Toronto became the first city in Canada to use tunnels for its urban transit, and Hatch’s company designed and managed the construction of the subterranean system, forming the roots of one of the country’s largest subway networks. Since then, Hatch Ltd. has worked on all major subway projects for the commission.

“That was the origin of the company taking on the world’s toughest challenges, and the biggest problems of the day, no matter what they were,” says company chairman and CEO John Bianchini, who’s worked at Hatch for over 30 years and became CEO in 2012.

Over time, the Canadian company’s footprint grew, likely well beyond what Gerry Hatch had envisioned when he began the company and turned it into an employee-owned enterprise. In the 1980s, the company’s mining and energy sector clientele began expanding their own operations outside of Canada into emerging markets like Indonesia and Australia and across the African continent, all of which presented unique engineering and construction management problems for the company to solve.

Today, Hatch Ltd. has grown to include over 9,000 employees working out of 45 offices across six continents, with projects valued at over $30 billion in the energy, metals, and infrastructure sectors. For Hatch, that’s meant keeping abreast of management, both internally and externally: leaning into the future, for example, by emphasizing the value of digitization to their clients, some of whom have been around for even longer than the company; and integrating the realities of climate change into projects.

In 2021, the company is launching a climate change and sustainability system to help clients reduce their carbon footprints, while shifting to cleaner practices. Exciting initiatives include work in fusion and nuclear technology, and a leadership role in the Green Hydrogen Consortium, which aims to accelerate decarbonization and renewable energy practices at some of the world’s biggest mining companies, such as BHP and Anglo American. Hatch has also made a $1-million investment in the Canadian Museum of Nature’s newly announced Nature Foundation. The Hatch Minerals Sciences Discovery Fund will support scientific training and fieldwork focused on earth sciences.

Along the way, Hatch has been declared one of Deloitte’s Best Managed Companies in both Canada and Chile, the only company to earn the accolade in multiple countries. Deloitte Canada partner Peter Brown says something many Best Managed Companies have in common is they “disproportionately” invest in their people, providing training opportunities, resources and support to allow them to grow together. “The team with the best players, who act like a team together, usually wins the championship,” he said.

As a powerhouse, Hatch faces challenges distinct from those it faced in the 1950s. Back then, the company was still truly a small shop, with the ability to focus on its clientele, which was centralized, small and loyal. Once the company began to globalize, the challenge, Bianchini says, became how to maintain the same degree of commitment, care and knowledge on a worldwide scale. “A few years ago, we declared a new era at Hatch, and we started transforming to who we are today,” says Bianchini. The company diversified, putting resources into emerging areas like operations, maintenance, project design and digitization.

“The biggest question is: how do you keep going?” he added.

The answer is twofold, Bianchini said. For one, it’s essential to clearly develop a corporate culture and tradition, which at Hatch is summed up as “entrepreneurs with a technical soul.” That culture is directly tied to the second factor: coaching.

Bianchini himself has enjoyed the benefits of internal coaching since starting at Hatch, fresh out of university. “I wrote my final exam on a Friday and, by Monday, I was here,” he said. Immediately, he was taken under the wing of more senior workers, and learned by osmosis what it takes to be a Hatch employee, such as commitment to the team and ongoing personal improvement. Leadership development inside the company is ongoing, but Bianchini says it’s important to seek outside guidance, too.

“It would be very arrogant to say that we [at Hatch] have all the answers,” he says. A coach’s advice can be jarring, as you hear that the way you’ve done things might not be the best way. “At first, it can be a little uncomfortable, but by the end, I found it valuable to have a new perspective.”

That added perspective can help companies grow while also avoiding pitfalls, says Deloitte’s Brown. Smart companies know they don’t know everything. “The reality is that, in today’s world, the pace of change has never been greater,” Brown says. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as resting on your laurels anymore.”

In addition to forward-thinking initiatives, adapting also means integrating like-minded thinkers into the corporate fold, as Hatch did with its recent acquisition of Calgary’s Upside Engineering (now Hatch Upside), a firm focusing on midstream facility management. Bianchini said Upside matched Hatch’s culture. (Upside is also a Best Managed Company.)

Bianchini wants the company to continue growing. They have eyes on further expansion in the United States, where Hatch already has 15 offices in 10 states, with a focus on infrastructure renewal and the transportation industry as a whole. In November, Hatch acquired transit system engineering firm LTK, which doubled the company’s American footprint in one fell swoop.

Not bad for a company that started underground.

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