The Executive Summary: EllisDon & National Bank – September 2022

September 15, 2022

In September, we hosted an informal armchair discussion between Geoff Smith (President & CEO, EllisDon) and Michael Denham (Vice-Chairman, Commercial Banking and Financial Markets, National Bank of Canada).


Geoff joined EllisDon almost 40 years ago and has been President and CEO since 1996. EllisDon is an employee-owned, $5 billion construction services and technology company that has grown exponentially beyond its modest origins in London, ON.

Michael Denham joined National Bank in 2021, after more than 30 years of experience in various organizations, including directing AquaTerra and most recently, the President & CEO of BDC. Part of Michael’s mandate is to contribute to the success of businesses of all sizes within Canada.

From supply chain disasters to the need for government regulatory changes, we covered many substantial topics with Geoff, Michael, and our members.

Here are the highlights from our meeting:


Geoff indicates the main pain point for EllisDon is the state of their sub-contractors who are at risk as they get pounded by inflation: if the sub-contractors go broke, it doesn’t matter if EllisDon has locked them in, because they don’t exist anymore. Throughout the past 6 months, EllisDon has been inspecting their supply chain’s supply chains.

Given all the volatility around interest rates, currency, and raw materials, Michael states that he is seeing many companies create detailed simulations around price scenarios and item availability. Access to goods has been stable for a long time, therefore the risk a company is exposed to in this world of unpredictability can be shocking – ie. covenants getting breached or service coverage gaps. Michael assures the group that anything that can be publicly traded can be managed and getting on top of this allows folks to steer clear of trouble.

Meanwhile, many of our members have built their businesses on excellent customer service, and the supply chain barriers have created risk of fractured relationships with clients. One member maintains that the key to client management when your turnaround times have slowed is to have your sales or accounts team connect with your clients often so that there are no surprises when things go sideways. When you have no control over slowdowns, talk regularly with your clients. Look at both of your delivery timelines and work together to mitigate risk.


Geoff encourages fellow CEOs to be entrepreneurial and to lean into uncertainty, but cautions against trying to enlarge when the financial gains are not there: it can be more headache and more risk than it’s worth. He left us with these ideas: a company must grow so there are opportunities for [employees] to grow but don’t chase shit that you can’t afford if the timing isn’t right.


The group discussed how government can support industry in Canada – and Geoff maintains the most useful help will come by way of regulatory change rather than financial support. Geoff says EllisDon is anxious to produce green projects, but government regulations are behind. Other members agree that inertia and lack of adaptability in a regulatory environment are some of the biggest barriers to tech advancements in industry. To set the course for the future of business, we must work together (with our competitors and beyond) to push for change.