Viewpoint: The keys to business viability

Mark buckshon
Mark Buckshon

By Mark Buckshon

One of the most intriguing challenges in the architectural, engineering and construction community is resolving the tug and pull between stability, sustainability and innovation.
Reflected in this picture is how some businesses rise and then flame out, while others continue thriving for decades and even longer.

I’m seeing these concepts play out in real life as I begin my 35th year in business. When I started in 1988/9, the Internet was a thing for scientists and defence researchers. Then, technology had revolutionized the publishing industry with desktop publishing and laser printers replacing expensive sophisticated typesetting machines (and these had about a decade previously replaced clattering lead-based Linotype monsters).

Now almost everything we do is electronic. There were some existential scares along the way but the successful observation of some fundamental business concepts and values helped save the day.

The first: Face problems before they become irreversible. There were times when debts were mounting, sales were dropping like a lead balloon, and I needed to face the music – cutting or changing products or services, and sometimes employees – before things got totally out of hand.

The second: Build a strong team including truly competent professional advisors. Our company’s lawyers and accountants have suggested creative solutions that helped avert catastrophes at times.

The third: Avoid excessive secured debt. Far too many businesses fail when the bank calls in on its loans. This is especially painful if you’ve used personal resources or your home to provide security. Non-secured trade debt is another thing – when things get really rocky, the suppliers will need to accept a deal that allows you to stay in business, or they’ll end up with nothing. (The converse point of course is that you must watch your receivables closely and never be too dependant on one or a small group of customers.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think it is important that a viable business is founded on solid ethics and integrity. Sure, you can get away with shoddy business practices and mistreating employees, suppliers and clients for a while (and in some exceptional cases, that “a while” can be quite long), but generally if you mess around with your values you’ll eventually find things crumble around you.

That in part is why I appreciate initiatives such as the General Contractors’ Association of Ottawa’s (GCAO) Integrity and Ethics Awards. We should recognize how integrity truly underlies and connects the foundations of true business viability and recognize individuals and organizations which make it a cornerstone of their operating philosophy.

Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes Ottawa Construction News. He can be reached by email at


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