McLachlan’s advice on success: Be reasonable, relevant and a resource

Journal of Commerce  |  ASSOCIATIONS  |  by RUSSELL HIXSON   |  Mar 7, 2017 last update:Mar 9, 2017 

Though Manley McLachlan is leaving the BC Construction Association (BCCA), he says he believes he’s leaving the organization in better shape than he found it back in 2004.

“The way I have described it, with no disrespect, the organization had lost its confidence,” the former BCCA president said.

McLachlan, who at the time was working as president of the Saskatchewan Construction Association, leapt at the opportunity for him and his wife to move to Victoria after he was asked to lead the BCCA.

It was an organization in turmoil and had rapidly gone through two presidents, he said.

“My biggest challenge frankly was to reestablish a working relationship with government,” said McLachlan. “We had to create our identity and our purpose.”

Not only that, but McLachlan explained the association had only three-and-a-half employees and little money. This meant no resources to hire experts or consultants to do research. So the BCCA had to focus on non-dues related revenue and slowly build its presence.

His approach was three-pronged.

“I approached this in a simple way,” explained McLachlan. “I said we need to be reasonable, we need to be relevant and we need to be a resource to government. And so all of the measures that I put into place it always structured around those three positions. That proved very effective over time.”

One of the first major projects was addressing the declining availability of workers. McLachlan saw an opportunity as he had experience creating an employer-based construction career development program in Saskatchewan.

Working with government, the BCCA developed the Skilled Trades Employment Program. Originally it focused on aboriginal communities but has since expanded to landed immigrants, women and people with disabilities. The program still operates today.

“Over the years about 15,000 have gone through that program, many who were not working, many who were on welfare, but we were able to give them an opportunity,” said McLachlan. “Roughly 80 per cent still work in the industry.”

The fruits of relationship building paid off in late 2008 after a crippling financial crisis had halted many major Vancouver projects. The association soon got a phone call from then Premier Gordon Campbell asking which shovel-ready projects they could recommend for the federal infrastructure stimulus plan.

“We had four or five-storey holes in the ground and the money just wasn’t available,” McLachlan said.

The association was able to recommend around 60 projects.

“We were very pleased to see that about 30 of them showed up in the list that were funded,” he said, noting that following the stimulus B.C. was able to have a “soft landing.”

During his time as president, McLachlan also helped create the Infrastructure Forum, co-chaired by the deputy minister of finance and the BCCA board chair. The partnership was formed after the BCCA had been advocating for a review of public procurement processes.

The 14-member group consults, discusses and shares information and ideas related to improving government’s infrastructure procurement practices and use of construction-industry resources.

“By working together in the forum, bringing the right people together we have achieved some major changes,” said McLachlan.

After a transition period, McLachlan and his wife plan to travel around in their motorhome, visiting their daughter and son-in-law in California and also making a trip to Saskatchewan. He also plans to take time to golf and fish.

“My goal of retirement has never been to stop working, but my real goal will be to pick and choose what kind of projects I work on,” he said, anticipating maybe doing some consulting services. “I am going to miss the intensity of the job. It’s a big job, there is a lot on the table and in play and the adrenaline drives you.”

McLachlan added that he is thrilled with Chris Atchison, his successor. Atchison spent nine years as COO at the Association of Service Providers for Employability and Career Training and 17 years as the provincial employment contracts manager for many successful programs.  He is chairman of the Sandra Schmirler Foundation, a national charity that has raised millions. This experience is relevant for the role he will play in helping to guide BCCA’s charitable arm, the Construction Foundation of BC, McLachlan added.

“In many ways he is a much smarter guy than I ever thought I was in terms of organizational development and the ability to run a good strong organization,” said McLachlan.

Mar 7, 2017 last update:Mar 9, 2017