According to Robert Baribeau, his new job as President of the Cree Construction and Development Corporation is “a little hectic,” but he says that so far things are going well.
Nonetheless, Baribeau has his work cut out for him. The CCDC reported losses in the last fiscal year and faces the challenge of remaining competitive in an ever-changing market. But, looking at his career history, Baribeau says he is well-suited to his new position and is ready to sink his teeth into shaping the company’s future.
Baribeau said that he couldn’t imagine himself working in anything but the construction industry. It’s something he has known most of his life because his father owned a construction company.
After working in the family business, Baribeau spent several years working for various other construction outfits and then moved on to become a construction worker at the Troilus mine. It was there that he first had the opportunity to move up the ladder, taking on a human resources position at Troilus.
From there Baribeau was courted by CCDC to take on a HR position in 2001 and that’s when he began his steady climb up the corporate latter, becoming Director General in 2005 and finally becoming the head honcho this year.
“I have a lot of experience with all of the kinds of problems and situations that you encounter in the construction industry because it is one where your biggest asset is people. I can say that I have really mastered problem solving in this specific field,” said Baribeau.
When it was announced in January that then-President William MacLeod would be retiring, Baribeau saw his opportunity. While there was an open application process for the position and many others vied for it, in the end he won out.
While MacLeod will be staying on until September during a transition process, Baribeau officially took the reins of the 35-year-old company June 1
“This has always been my goal since I began with CCDC. It is a big job and there are a lot of challenges ahead because in the construction world and particularly in the Cree world you have a lot of new companies that are being created through a great deal of these joint ventures. And, Cree Construction is at kind of a crossroads where we need to find new markets and this is what we will be looking at and investing in over the coming year,” said Baribeau.
CCDC is still reporting losses, but that does not mean that the company is doing badly, he insisted. It is just a standard procedure in the construction industry for a company to report losses one year and then profits the next as it can take a very long time for projects to pay out, especially as they frequently end up going to court or into litigation to negotiate out a final deal.
As he explained, when a construction company embarks on a job, the conditions may not be as expected and so costs may not be what were originally anticipated. Sometimes you will even find that the client wasn’t aware of certain kinds of problems that may exist and would eventually encounter on the job, he said.
He gave the example of a previous contract that CCDC worked on for the SEBJ. Because the contract went into the claims process once it was completed, the company one year wound up reporting a loss at around $20 million a few years back. While this may not have looked so great on paper, once the claim was settled the entity not only managed to recover all of their losses but to make a small profit.
“In Manitoba we have the same kind of situation. There is currently an appreciable loss going on but we have however filed a claim and we have a very good track record on recovering losses. You do however have to declare things as a loss because they recognize they agree to recognize the amount owed or a court order is made. You can’t buck these things and so you have to show your losses,” explained Baribeau.
Looking to the future, Baribeau said that CCDC has some excellent prospects on the horizons both in Eeyou Istchee and across the border in Ontario where there is talk of over 100 years of major mining projects in developments being dubbed as mining’s new “Ring of Fire.”
Baribeau said that CCDC already has a foot in the door for the Ring of Fire. They have been working on projects locally with the Marten Falls Anishinabe First Nation, building winter roads to give the community its first vehicular access.
“They enjoyed their winter road so much that we had to keep it open at their request for one extra week. It was a good experience this year. Marten Falls is our current partner right now in this area and in this area alone there will be more than enough activity for many, many companies,” said Baribeau.
Back in Eeyou Istchee, CCDC has also been quite busy with a wide variety of projects: expanding the lodge in Oujé-Bougoumou and taking care of other infrastructure work and gearing up for Chisasibi’s High Ground Project, which was outlined in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
The High Ground project will also be another opportunity for CCDC to utilize as much Cree labour as possible and so many economic spinoffs can be expected.
While Baribeau says he is delighted to be in his new position, he recognizes that there may be some bumps on the road ahead. He believes that the greatest challenge he will be facing will be breaking into new markets, though the company has a new plan for this: project management.
CCDC has already begun operating a project management service that will not only act as a means of halting some of the wealth leakage from the Cree communities into the southern world but also puts the company into the ranks of competing for contracts with companies like SNC-Lavalin and Genivar Inc.
“We think that with the number of engineers that we already have at Cree Construction and the 35 years of experience that we have in the north that we can offer an equal if not better service than those companies to the communities when it comes to supervising these works the right way and their budgets,” said Baribeau.
What excites him most is becoming top dog though all of the projects up for grabs as a result of the mining and other natural resource developments being prepared.
“On our own side of James Bay there will be all sorts of projects coming up that just have not been announced yet. I think it is going to be very busy,” said Baribeau.