Golder Associates is an employee-owned, global organisation providing consulting, design, and construction services in specialist areas of earth, environment, and energy. Golder’s clients represent the world’s major industries and drivers of development: Oil and Gas, Mining, Manufacturing, Power, and Urban Development and Infrastructure. Through prioritising technical development and placing the empowerment of employees at the heart of the business, they have continued to provide award winning client service for over 50 years.
Golder’s success is built on a commitment to technical and client service excellence; diversity of services, industries, and geographic locations that have helped to withstand economic downturns; and a distinct ownership model that has led to a culture based on mutual respect, and trust.
The business is a multi-generational firm, with an employee ownership structure founded in Canada in 1960 by Hugh Golder. It has developed from ownership by five Principals, to a global network of over 8,000 employees across 6 continents, where 59% of full-time employees own shares. Principals and Associates own about 75% of the company, but with no one owning more than 0.5% percent of the shares. To ensure continuity and successive leadership, shareholders are required to sell back their shares over a period of several years before they retire, so that future leaders as well as employees are able to build their ownership participation. The company has been in a position of financial health since its inception in 1960. Indeed, in 2013 the company delivered a 3.8% margin on 2.2% net revenue growth, despite a challenging environment.
In the field of consulting engineering, Golder was one of the first businesses to stress not only direct ownership but the development of broad ownership within a firm. As Brian Conlin, CEO, says, “It is a slightly more ‘socialistic approach’ to business, in that broad-based sharing of success is promoted across the world, not based on regional performance. This makes Golder an employee-owned firm in the purest sense of the word.”
Why is Golder different? Unlike many consulting businesses in the energy and extractive industries, Golder does not deploy a command-control governance structure but instead, embraces an ownership model to ensure employees have the autonomy and self-determination to succeed and excel. Conlin asserts, “For a business to be successful, it should extend trust in its employees – by promoting ‘smart trust’ not ‘blind trust’, employees have the ambition to lead differently and lead well. Golder works in a network of local and regional teams, each with autonomy and trust; and a water-tight ownership model allows the business to lead from the bottom and drive up change and development.”
What is Golder’s employee ownership ethos? The business is committed to promoting the ownership model, launching the non-for-profit Golder Foundation this year. The Foundation has been established to share technical excellence and experience, and to provide a forum where other organisations who are exploring employee ownership as a business model can access insight and knowledge gleaned from Golder’s own journey.
The Golder Foundation also consists of technical archives to enable current and future generations to explore the technical knowledge developed by Golder professionals, as well as an annual awards program to recognise students who have undertaken research on important topics in Golder’s core service areas. “The origin of our Foundation stems from our desire to preserve, enrich, and impart our technical expertise,” says John Westland, Principal at Golder and a member of the board of directors for the Foundation.
“While profit is of course a major driver of any business, Golder approaches things differently. Profit is the outcome of good work, system support, clients and employees – therefore it is these factors that are at the forefront of Golder’s ethos. If profit is the only objective, this then drives behaviour,” Conlin explains. Therefore, Golder values initiatives, like the Golder Foundation, that don’t have the sole objective of driving profit but instead promote its values.
An employee ownership model has enabled Golder to grow globally and organically, and it not only drives employee retention but it impresses clients. While clients value the business’ technical excellence and consultative efforts, they can also see that the global team really cares about the business – given their stake in its development – and will go the extra mile to achieve the best results.
It is clear that Golder’s statement of purpose, to “engineer earth’s development” while “preserving earth’s integrity” transcends all facets of the business and is importantly mirrored in its ownership structure.