New Kids on the Block
To celebrate Father’s Day, we interviewed a few family duos in the industry – to learn about how they got started, the lessons they have learned, and their ideas for the region’s future.
When she was eight, Elise Shillington would watch videos about storm sewers and even visited storm ponds during rainy days with her dad, Keith.
“We went to see if the ponds were functioning properly,” she explained.
Elise is an urban planner, while Keith is a civil engineer. Both work in the real estate development industry in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
Elise says that her dad’s passion for his work was what motivated her to get into the same line of business.
“My passion for shaping cities was engrained in me from a very early age,” she said.
In 2011, she joined Stantec and worked as an administrative assistant. The following year, she pursued studies in urban planning and continued to work as a co-op learning student at Stantec, the City of Edmonton, and Brookfield Residential. Now, at Cantiro, she builds new residential communities as a development manager.
After graduating with a civil engineering degree from the University of Alberta in 1985, Keith joined Stantec (formerly Stanley Associates). After a summer surveying road improvement projects, he was introduced somewhat informally to land development. He found himself leading many development projects, numerous clients over the years, and would later be appointed as a Senior Vice President for Stantec in 2014.
“When I go through a neighbourhood that I have been involved with, and see families walking down the streets, I feel a strong sense of pride,” he said.
Keith would often tour Elise through these communities – highlighting the range of challenges and opportunities that emerged when building them and the importance of collaboration to address them.
“I’m hoping that I’ve passed onto Elise the value of relationship building,” Keith said.
A sentiment that Elise hopes to pass onto others as well. As they say, the apple does not fall too far from the tree.
“One day I hope to be able to mentor others and pass down the importance of approaching projects with all disciplines to create a shared sense of responsibility and ambition, and unique but also implementable plans,” she added.
Growing up, Courtney Jensen (Usenik) took on a few jobs working in her dad’s (Blaine Usenik) subdivisions.
“I would paint fences or deliver notices of asphalt overlays,” she recalls. “One summer, I did public lot sales out of a mini-van onsite in Ardrossan.”
After graduating from Queen’s University with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Courtney joined Blaine’s company, Strata Developments, which she now co-owns with her brother, Andrew Usenik.
Courtney cited her upbringing as formative in her understanding about how the industry works and, in the relationships, she has formed along the way.
“I got involved in UDI committees and built friendships with others who were trying to make a difference in the region,” she said. “I am a big believer that all boats rise with the tide, and in this case, the tide is any strides that the industry makes as a whole.”
That spirit of connection is something she says her dad instilled in her.
“My dad set an incredible example for us. He worked hard, had a positive attitude about what he was doing and treated others well.”
Blaine said that those who work in real estate take a lot of pride in what they do.
“We have to be passionate in this industry because it is a long endeavor,” he added. “But it is truly meaningful to see communities being built and people moving into them.”
That sense of privilege in being able to shape spaces in the region is something Courtney says was one of the many lessons she learned from her dad.
“It is humbling and quite the honour to be able to create neighbourhoods that people call home, parks where people spend time with one another.”
While Courtney said the “business torch has been passed on” to her and her brother, she joked, “I still send dad out from time to time to look at my dirt.”
When Ryan Hamilton was pursuing his engineering degree, he tried to get a job with his dad, Dan, at DES Engineering.
“He wanted me to explore the possibilities of my education and wasn’t willing to hire me,” Ryan said. “But I was passionate about what he was doing at DES, so I ended up interviewing with Al Thomas [founding member] and got the job.”
He joked, “I ended up working alongside my dad after all.”
Since 2007, Ryan has assumed a range of roles in the industry – a shop worker, labourer, cable installer, designer, project manager, engineer, and business owner. Through these experiences, Ryan discovered that “observing, listening, and being in close proximity to knowledgeable people is the best way to learn.”
Ryan said his dad was particularly good at building productive interactions in the industry.
“It’s necessary to know what motivates others, and to do that, you have to get to know them and what they do,” he added. “I think my dad was one of the best at doing that.”
In 1982, Dan started Jatec Electric with his friend, Jim Allen. In 1985, he was introduced to the shallow utility industry and would later help to establish DES Engineering.
“This is a great industry with a bunch of great individuals,” Dan said.
He said that he instilled in Ryan the importance of working with municipalities and utilities to keep standards reasonable and fair, while introducing new technologies and innovations.
“If you have well-established relationships with clients, consultants, municipalities, contractors, and utilities, you can find reasonable solutions to most problems,” Dan said.
Ryan agreed with this sentiment, adding, “It is our job to fight for efficiency and balance so that we can remain competitive but there is a happy medium for us to achieve together.”
When asked about how to move forward together, both noted the importance of getting involved in industry committees to share expertise and insights.
“You and others gain so much knowledge when you get involved,” Dan concluded.