In any new situation, whether it involves an elevator or a rocket ship, you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus-one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn’t tip the balance one way or the other. Or you’ll be seen as a plus-one: someone who actively adds value.

– Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield
in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was NASA’s director in Sochi, Russia –long before Sochi came to the public’s attention as an Olympic venue. In his recent book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Hadfield describes that he was commanding a mission from Sochi on 9/11 – a day when his attentions were immediately torn between the mission flying up in space and the rapidly-shifting world here on earth.

Hadfield shares numerous lessons learned navigating the world and beyond. Many of these lessons apply to all enterprises, including our business here at Trisura, where we constantly strive to be a plus-one for our brokers and their clients.

Trying to be a consistent plus-one is a challenging and elusive objective. Since I joined the insurance business 26 years ago, and particularly since we launched Trisura in 2006, the rate of change in this industry has been exceptional and unprecedented. Over this period we’ve seen the introduction of numerous new competitors, technologies, product offerings, and delivery methods, the commoditization of previously specialized products, ridiculously low pricing, and an astonishing rate of acquisition of both brokerages and insurers alike.

Through it all we’ve remained focused on trying to create exceptional experiences for our brokers, attempting to better understand their needs and those of their clients and then providing solutions that help them succeed. As a result, we have successfully grown Trisura into an $80 million company with three solid business segments and offices across Canada.

Despite this constant change, we have never lost sight of the fact that the core of our business is people – our brokers, their clients and our staff – indeed these three critical constituents form the Tri in Trisura. Our external environment may change, but our focus on people and relationships has never wavered, and my commitment to you is that it never will. 

Changing Environment. Same Strategic Priorities

If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. Personally, I’d rather feel good most of the time, so to me, everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Trisura will continue to respond to our changing environment without losing sight of the values and principles that have brought us this far.

First and foremost – our broker relationships are fundamental to us as a company. Our brokers must know that they can rely on us, and we work hard to be their trusted advisors. Our people must consistently put themselves in the brokers’ shoes and ask: How can we make their lives easier? How can we help them win business? How can we help our brokers’ reduce their costs?

Our people must continue asking themselves these questions each day, in every one of their interactions, no matter how routine. The good news is Trisura staff have received high marks for providing our brokers with information and expert advice, and we must continue meeting these expectations. Recognizing that our people make Trisura successful, we will continue to invest, hire, mentor and train the best in the business.

In 2013, we asked our brokers about their Trisura experience, then we widely shared the results and committed to delivering on certain key priorities, including:

Technology & Tools: Trisura will continue investing heavily in our online program administration and portal solutions and we have put in place a dedicated Program Solutions team to help us better execute this strategy. Our new website – www.trisura.com — provides easily accessible resources to support our brokers’ sales and marketing efforts.

Quick and Decisive Decision-Making: Trisura will continue acknowledging submissions within 24 hours, expediting rush submissions and providing quick and decisive feedback.

Partnership & Collaboration: As a “select” broker market, Trisura understands there is a give and take in effective collaboration, and we work diligently to ensure that our business goals align.

As Trisura grows, we will continue focusing on our brokers with the goal of creating and delivering an exceptional experience.

A Step Above: Taking Trisura to the Next Level

It’s puzzling to me that so many self-help gurus urge people to visualize victory and stop there … Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is the opposite of worrying: it’s productive. Likewise, coming up with a plan of action isn’t a waste of time if it gives you peace of mind.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

We’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, but our journey continues, and we have reached another transition point. It’s time for Trisura to build on the solid foundations we have laid.

Trisura is moving forward with our current five year plan which we expect will culminate in $120 million in annual revenue by 2016.  But why stop there?  We are now starting to think about the year 2020 and what our company will look like by then.  What can we become?  A $200 million business?  $300 million?  With your continued support, and the exceptional team we have built, I believe anything is possible.

We feel we are already well underway – and as another step in that right direction, today we are launching our refreshed brand identity and a dynamic new website.

Trisura has been built on three core competencies – Surety, Corporate Risk, and Risk Solutions (Warranty) – and we believe we have plenty of runway ahead of us to be able to continue to grow all three of these businesses.  But we are also excited about reaching our potential, which might involve strategic initiatives like adding a fourth area of business, or a fifth, acquiring other businesses or people, and possibly even considering further geographic expansion.

It’s one of the exciting things about Trisura – we aren’t interested in resting on our laurels or stopping.  We feel we have only just begun our journey.

Whatever course we choose, we will continue to rely on the things that have made us successful thus far: providing exceptional experiences for our brokers, putting boots on the ground in the places we do business, and responding quickly to market needs and trends.

I’m proud of the expertise and energy we bring to the workplace every day However, our ultimate measure of success is to be viewed as a “plus-one” by each and every one of you. After all, no one likes being a zero. As Trisura tackles the future, this quarterly e-newsletter will be a resource for communicating our goals, setting our course and celebrating our joint successes. I hope you enjoy the read and you find it beneficial to your business. I would very much appreciate your thoughts, feedback and suggestions.

After all, we’re all in this together.


Mike George




Although Canada experienced a setback with the 2008 financial crisis, today our economy is recovering and we boast one of the largest construction markets in the world.   In fact, Canada has become the 5th largest construction economy largely due to natural resources and the recessionary infrastructure spending, which helped to ensure a “soft landing”.

However, Canada’s large infrastructure deficit remains one of the country’s most significant challenges.  Much of our current infrastructure was built in the 1950s and 1960s and on average Canada’s infrastructure is about 70 percent through its useful life and in need of serious upgrade. The Canadian Federation of Municipalities estimates that Canada’s infrastructure needs more than $250 billion just to bring it up to acceptable levels.

All levels of government are keenly aware of the infrastructure challenge and have connected future economic growth to infrastructure investment.  Obviously, funding remains the biggest challenge. Governments are now earmarking funds for infrastructure investment as evidenced recently by the federal government’s New Building Canada Plan, which aims to provide funding over a 10 year period, as follows:

  • $32 billion Community Improvement Fund for the benefit of municipalities
  • $14 billion New Building Canada Fund ($4 billion national infrastructure component and $10 billion Provincial-Territorial infrastructure component)
  • $1.25 billion for the P3 Canada Fund
  • $6 billion under existing infrastructure programs

However, more money is needed and Canada has led the way with the P3 initiatives and private investment in public infrastructure.  The result of Canada’s infrastructure challenges has been:

  • Projects have become larger and smaller initiatives are being bundled
  • International firms have entered the Canadian marketplace
  • Consolidation
  • Competition remains fierce. Margins are much tighter than they were before 2009
  • Bid lists are still long

So what does much of this mean for mid-size regional contractors?   For many, it means re-assessing their markets and looking for diversity to grow and sustain their business.  One of the most apparent avenues is larger projects.  However, securing and managing larger projects is not easy and can come with significant risk.  Contractors looking to “move up” must be ready and willing to identify and implement best practices to give themselves the greatest opportunity for success.

Focus on Strong Estimating Practices

All construction projects begin with a solid estimating process, but in today’s competitive environment, estimating is more important than ever.

Research and Understand Every Part of the Project

At the procurement stage, get to know the project inside and out. Establish a team that will conduct a full review of:

  • Jobsite conditions
  • Surveys
  • Contract terms and conditions
  • Productivity expectations

Assign team members for each of these functions and have them report to the management team. 

Develop a Contract Review Matrix

A contract review matrix is a tool to help a contractor assess its risk appetite.  Large construction projects often push a firm’s limits and a contract review matrix can help guide decision-making, especially when choices get tough. In particular, it can help establish a “walk-away” point when the risks get too high.

Maintain Strong Project Management

Once a contractor has successfully secured a larger project, now they must get it done in accordance with the contract’s terms and conditions.  Large projects have many moving parts so it’s essential to track, assess and monitor the various functions and components. Documentation and record keeping is vital, especially for potential dispute situations.

Focus Your Communication Skills

Right from the beginning, contractors should establish an open channel of communication with their customer, and their subcontractors and their suppliers.  Specifically, ensure key staff have strong negotiation skills and can resolve issues before they become problems that will affect the project’s outcome.

Rely on Known and Trusted Site Supervision

Never underestimate the importance of on-the-ground supervision.  Large projects involve hundreds of decisions each day, so having tight oversight of the project ensures the contractor can react quickly when there are difficulties.   Strong site supervision will ensure productivity stays on track.

Have a Strong Balance Sheet

Invariably, contractors get into trouble when they run out of cash.  Before getting into a larger project a contractor needs to ensure its balance sheet has sufficient strength, liquidity and access to cash.  It is vital that the contractor’s balance sheet can sustain the cash flow needs of the both the large project and the contractor’s entire backlog of work.

Practice Strong Financial Management

The bottom line is the primary reason to consider larger projects.  A great job cost and accounting system that can measure project and financial performance is essential and will allow a contractor to:

  • Manage and control costs
  • Maintain strong cash flow management
  • Ensure balance sheet strength
  • Develop forecast models

Develop and Rely on Strong Business Partners

Successful contractors develop a strong relationship with Surety partners that are interested in understanding the contractor’s unique business and business plan.   Contractors should be able to rely on these key partners for advice, as they have seen it all and understand why some contractors succeed and others have not.  They can help ensure the contractor’s business is set up appropriately for larger projects and success.

Your Turn

Has your company or clients undertaken large construction projects?

Which of these best practices prepared you for the risks and challenges of these large-scale initiatives?