Mentors are everything to award-winning Nanaimo entrepreneur

February 15, 2016 - 1:45pm

Trevor Styan (Welding ’04) isn’t the kind of boss who shows up on his company’s remote, northern BC work site wearing awhite hard hat and shiny steel-toed boots fresh out of the box. He’s not there for a quick check-in, with handshakes and a pep-talk for the work crew tasked with completing a complex infrastructure build for the province’s energy sector. It’s just not his style.

Instead, the 29-year-old Nanaimo entrepreneur and co- owner of Nanaimo-based Northern Civil energy (NCE) will arrive on site for a full week of work with the crew, labouring as one of the team to install culverts, build foundations, run equipment, and do whatever the site foreman needs doing to get the job done on time, on budget and to the highest quality in the industry.

“You can really see how the job’s truly being run, and that for me is something I’m a big believer in,” says Styan, who was named one of BC Business magazine’s top 30 Under 30 for 2015 and won the 2015 emerging entrepreneur award in the EY (Ernst & Young) Entrepreneur of the Year program in the Pacific region.

While he’s realistic that being hands-on and up close is likely to get more difficult with his company’s growth and diversification, Styan is quick to point out he’s learned the business from people who have deep experience in growing something from scratch and getting their hands dirty.

Motivation to pursue a trade and gain experience in construction came early for Styan, who credits family and friends who have encouraged him from the time he was a mechanically inclined youngster to a 25-year-old embarking on a joint venture that would lead to incorporating NCE in January 2012.

When he wasn’t learning the business from his
uncle, owner of Nanaimo’s Graf excavating, or gaining entrepreneurial insight from his dad in Quesnel and his step-dad in Nanaimo, Styan was pursuing an educational path that would ensure he had lots of options.

As a Grade 12 student at Wellington Secondary School, he was one of the first to embark on VIU’s “dual credit” program. He spent half his days learning welding at VIU, and the remainder in his high school classroom completing the calculus and physics he needed to graduate.

“I was fortunate having that opportunity in high school,” he says. “I think it gives a person a lot of strength when it comes to other challenges. My welding instructor, Sugi Tabata (now retired), was the type of guy
 you didn’t want to let down. It was really important to him that I made it through.”

After completing a diploma in mechanical manufacturing from BCIT, Styan went to work again with his uncle at Graf Excavating, where they entered into a joint venture in 2010 with Nanaimo brothers and business partners, Frank (who studied Business Management at VIU) and Mike Crucil and their construction company, FMI.

To some it may seem like
an ambitious move for a young 20-something to make. But there’s a certain amount of stubbornness that comes into play in the success of this determined young entrepreneur.

“I think I have a lot of confidence, but maybe it’s more a bullheaded unwillingness to quit or lose,” he says.

The decision to build a full service civil engineering and construction business focused on the utility and power generating sector has paid off for the Crucil brothers and Styan, with 40 projects completed to date and approximately $40 million in gross revenues. Working with clients like BC Hydro, Yukon Energy Corporation and ATCO Electric comes with high expectations, mountains of documentation and weeks of planning before the dirt gets moved.

Key to NCE’s success, Styan says, has been finding the right people for his team, getting everyone pulling in the same direction, and empowering them to do the jobs they’re trained for while gaining new skills and taking on new responsibilities to move the company forward.

“With a good team in place, it means I’m more of a mediator and an information gatherer,” he says.

NCE operates with a small core staff in Nanaimo, with between 80 and 150 people employed on projects located from BC to Manitoba. While work levels have varied seasonally and with the economy, Styan says about 60 of his crew are Nanaimo residents and travel to job sites.

With a rapidly growing company, Styan finds himself thinking about the role he’s assumed as a leader and the responsibility the role carries as he contemplates the next big project and the years that lie ahead.

When problems and serious challenges arise, he remembers some words of wisdom from his business partner frank Crucil, who told Styan that at times like these he should ask himself, “Am I dying? Nope? So then everything’s good.”

While he’s aware his actions and words, and the work ethic he models can influence at every level in his company, at the same time he knows he has to be true to himself.

“I’ve realized in the last couple years that it’s okay to be who you are. You don’t need to necessarily fit into the standard mold of what a leader looks like,” he says. “It’s pretty important to be authentic.”

Just as his mentors expected a great deal from him at a young age, Styan looks to his team when there’s talk about NCE and its potential for growth.

“It’s going to depend on what our people want to do, and how much they’re able to learn and step up, because I’m only one man and I can only do so much.”

With more business and hands-on experience behind him than many people twice his age, Styan is grateful for the mentorship and support of his family and friends – including fellow VIU grad Alissa Crucil (BBA ’12), the daughter of one of his business partners and now his fiancé.

Every now and again as he works with employees who are bringing great ideas and innovation to the business, Styan finds he’s now a mentor himself.

He recalls one new employee
 who joined the firm with solid
 training in project management, but no background in the construction industry. With patience, time and experience, he says, the employee soon became a valuable asset to his team with her critical thinking and attention to detail. Before long, she was pointing out errors that had been missed in plans and suggesting solutions to all kinds of issues.

“That’s one reward when I built Northern Civil that I didn’t expect would be such a feeling of success – seeing how some people have learned so much in the environment we’ve created,” he says. “It’s just the best reward a guy could have.”

--By Shari Bishop Bowes

This story was originally featured in the first edition of VIU Magazine, published in December 2015. See more in the online edition.

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