Ball Construction shares something in common with the buildings its team has built across South Western Ontario — a strong foundation. Founded as Ball Brothers General Contractors in 1923 by brothers Frank and Harold Ball, the Kitchener-based, single-source construction company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Ball Construction President Jason Ball said their success is due to the foundation of great customer service that Harold and Frank built their business on.
“My grandfather, Harold, was big on customer service. He wanted to make sure that the business was fun and that everybody was engaged. He was way ahead of his time. He wanted to make sure people had a good experience with the construction process — and that was back in 1923, so he was looking at construction differently back then,” Ball said.
The drive to do construction differently has helped Ball Construction adapt to changes in construction processes, materials, and the evolving demands of a growing community. The brothers incorporated the business as Ball Brothers Limited in 1930. The brothers’ first project was the railcar barns in Kitchener, known then as Berlin.
“Within a couple of years, they were doing the twin towers of the Church of Our Lady, an iconic church in Guelph. After being in business for three years, they had grown to 400 employees. Back in those days, traditional general contractors also employed their own masons, steel workers, and carpenters — there weren’t many subcontractors like there are today. You did a lot of your own work,” Ball said.
After World War II ended, Frank’s son, Bill, and Harold’s sons, Jack, Jim, and Thom, joined the business as the second generation of leadership. In the 1940s and 50s, the industry began a transformation towards specialized trade contractors starting their own businesses.
“These were often foremen working for a major general contractor starting their own businesses specializing in masonry or structural steel. They’re what we know as the modern-day subcontractor,” Ball said.
Along with those changes, Ball added that many general contracting businesses pivoted to becoming broker contractors who brought on those subcontractors and specialized trades companies as needed. Instead of following suit, Ball Construction has remained a single-source contractor that employs its own tradespeople.
“We still employ carpenters and labourers to do some of the work ourselves. We pour our own concrete foundations, we’ll do the installation of all the millwork and rough carpentry. When you do the work yourself, you control your schedule. We have the advantage of driving the schedule at the front end of the job,” Ball said.
Doing the work themselves comes naturally for the family-run business. In 1997, Jason and his cousin Cameron Ball, Vice President of Ball Construction, purchased Ball Construction Inc. from Ball Brothers Limited, bringing them together as the third generation of the family to lead the business.
In 2005, the company was incorporated as Ball Construction Ltd., and Gary Hauck, Vice President and Estimating Manager, joined as the third partner. Rod Aitken, Construction Estimator, became Vice President and the firm’s fourth partner in 2016. Ball Construction named Brent Cochrane, Vice President, General Manager of Small Contracts, its fifth partner in 2022.
Today, the company employs over 100 office and field employees as it continues to serve its customers across the region. While many construction and trades companies struggle to retain workers, Ball said their single-source structure has helped them keep talented employees on the team.
“Most of the people that retire from working with us retire with 30 or more years of service here. Those are carpenters and labourers working for one company for almost their entire career — they’re good workers, so we keep them busy,” Ball said.
The work of those busy employees can be seen across the region’s skyline, from the printed glass exterior of The University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy in Downtown Kitchener to the Niagara IceDogs home ice at the Meridian Centre in St. Catherines.
One of Ball’s favourite projects was working on the Stephen Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo. The Ontario Association of Architects recognized the project with a design excellence designation at its 2021 awards ceremony.
“Cameron Ball and Gary Hauck got to meet Stephen Hawking and take him on a tour through the building. We were proud to be able to tour someone like him around a construction site,” Ball said.
Ball Construction is also behind two of Ontario’s leading theatre spaces — the Thunder Bay Auditorium and the Centre in the Square in Kitchener. Constructed in the late 70s, the Centre in the Square is one of Canada’s leading performing arts spaces. It has one of Canada’s largest orchestra pits, a feature custom designed and built for the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
“That building has probably some of the best acoustics in North America. We love arts buildings, we love recreation facilities, and we love doing really cool and interesting institutional buildings. If you think back 100 years and look at the list, it’s amazing what we’ve been able to work on,” Ball said.
Celebrating 100 years in business is also an opportunity for the Ball Construction team to look toward the future. Cameron Ball’s son Ethan works for the company and represents the fourth generation to work in the family business. Ball said that bringing new partners to the leadership team, including Aitken and Gary Hauck, and prepping Ethan Ball for future leadership is one of the keys to ensuring long-term success.
“You have to have the right management team. We’re happy with the partners we have in the future. Ethan Ball is already working in the company, he’s been trained to go into a management position — and ownership one day not too far off unit future,” Ball said. “Rod has been with the company from the day he graduated college. Same thing with Gary Hauck, now they’re both partners. It comes down to picking the right people.”
It is not only the future of its leadership team that Ball and Aitken are planning. Aitken said the company is constantly looking into new technologies, materials, and processes for its projects.
“Staying on top of the changes in construction technology helps us stay on the cutting edge. You have to make sure that you stay abreast of all the new changes that are out there to keep yourself competitive,” Aitken said.
One of the areas where Ball Construction is a leader is in sustainable construction processes. The company has worked on numerous LEED-certified buildings, and Aitken said they are continuously looking for ways to reduce waste on job sites.
“We’ve been promoting sustainable construction for the last 15 years. We were also one of the first companies to get on board with LEED. We take that mindset into every job by recycling and sorting garbage on-site, reusing materials as possible, and especially looking for ways to include sustainable initiatives like green walls or green roofs,” Aitken said.
Whether adopting new processes, creating a great work culture, or building out its leadership team, Ball Construction is ready for the challenges and opportunities over its next 100 years of business. Ball said keeping true to its core values is what has kept them on the right path to continued success.
“We’re successful and have longevity because of our reputation, ethics, and values,” Ball said. “We’re a customer-based organization. We believe that the process should be fun, we want the customer to be engaged in the process, and we want them to feel like they’re part of it. That’s what construction should be. It’s a dynamic process with lots of variables, but at the end of the day, you should meet all those challenges — exceed them if you can — so everybody can feel great about the process.”
May – June 2023
Article Author: Alex Kinsella