Building up, not tearing down

Building up, not tearing down

This Edmonton demolition company is an expert at bulldozing structures – and running a family business

If anyone understands the dangers of working with family, it’s Bill Knight, CEO of B&B Demolition, an Edmonton-based company that specializes in interior retail and commercial building demolition. Before he started his current company, he ran another demolition business with his uncle and aunt. Without getting into details, he says their three-way partnership didn’t work out. “They fired me about 10 days before Christmas,” he recalls. “The next day I started B&B Demolition out of the basement in my house.”

Knight had no plans to make his new venture, which he started in 1999, a family company. However, with the business growing, he needed to enlist extra help and wanted someone he could trust. In 2001, he brought into the fold his brother, Ben, whom he’s worked with most of his life. “Ben’s always been with me,” says Knight.

The Knight brothers started off with just three employees and four trucks, but B&B would eventually become one of Alberta’s top demolition service providers. It’s now a 50-person company with a 22,000-squarefoot warehouse, and earns about $11-million a year in revenue. The company’s also grown into a full-fledged family business. Besides Ben, who’s the senior estimator, Bill’s son, Steven, takes care of marketing, IT management and business development; and his wife, Grace, is in charge of office management. Bill owns 50 per cent the company (a non-family member became a partner in 2012).

One of the most difficult parts of running a family business is controlling emotions, which can run high because of a heightened level of familiarity. It’s even more challenging when the next generation isn’t as passionate as pops about the business. While Knight’s 22-year-old son has worked with him from an early age – he pulled nails out of demolished boards for a nickel a nail – Steven is not as passionate about demolition as his dad. “He’s tried different things in the company, but that desire wasn’t always there,” says Knight.

Still, Steven does have a lot of strengths to bring to the company and he’s honing in on what he likes doing best: marketing and business development. A recent University of Alberta commerce graduate, he brought the company into the digital age. Steven oversaw the development of a new website, created a Facebook page and has experimented with new marketing campaigns, such as putting the company logo on a fleet of Smart cars. “Steven brings a fresh new outlook to the company,” says Knight. “Things are different in the industry now than they were before, so it’s nice to have him in a role where we’re trying to entice new team members.”

With Steven now in a more senior job – he became the company’s business development manager in May – it’s looking more and more as though the company will one day be his to run. “We’re in a huge growth mode right now,” explains the elder Knight. “So, I would definitely like to keep ownership within the family.” To that end, he’s started laying the groundwork by defining roles more clearly and creating a formal succession plan.

Running a family business is not without its share of challenges, but don’t tell that to Knight. He perceives the issues that arise a little differently than most. “We don’t really have challenges,” he says. “We have conversations.” Open communication is emphasized in every talk, except when shop talk is strictly forbidden. The family holds three dinners a month where work can’t be discussed. “If it does comes up, then we have to book another dinner together,” he says.

It’s clear that these strategies are working. In 2014, the company won CAFE Canada’s Family Enterprise of the Year and it’s been recognized by several other organizations. While Knight may be the owner, he knows he couldn’t have built this business without his loved ones. “One of the largest pleasures I have in life,” he declares, “is being able to work with my family every day.”

- By Kara Aaserud / Photograph by Ashley Champagne