Bob Burnside, P.Eng.Chairman Emeritus
When I started R.J. Burnside & Associates Limited in 1970, many business startups did not survive beyond a year or two. I suppose it is that way still, based on observation. For numerous reasons, however, this business has survived and grown beyond my modest aspirations. The first three months of 1970, when I did not have an office outside our home, I worked from the kitchen table. A home office was not a familiar concept in those days! Working by oneself in such a situation gave me the opportunity to think of what the business that I sought to establish would be like. There would be a combination of course of both the immediate focus – after all. I needed to generate income to survive – and long-term objectives.
Long term, I hoped to develop a company that cared about others: both clients and staff. It would need to be known for integrity, fairness, reliability, an understanding of others’ needs and situations, working to be welcomed back for subsequent jobs and for a respect for others. All of that had to be underpinned by financial stability. Everything depended on hiring others who had a similar vision and who naturally bought into a value-based business. How fortunate I have been to find such people, and to see that practice and attitude continue over the years! A principle that has remained common is our interest and commitment to building community, not just corporately but by the majority of staff. I believe that still shows in both client and office relationships that carry into both listening and a genuine desire to help.
That whole package is attempted to be shown in the company’s values and practices. Our projects involve clients, staff, ownership, and in some cases, a larger segment of society. Ideally, and in the vast majority of cases, we see each of those four parties able to view their specific completed project as successful. This comes as a result of operating with efforts and attitude beyond a simple transactional approach to business.
Although I am long removed from managing any part of company daily activities, I have had the opportunity to be a part of many rewarding projects over the years. Some projects brought special significance to me for a variety of reasons: be it the importance to the direct client, the trust shown to us, a unique challenge in the design and construction, or the impact it had for the end recipients.
Several such examples would be the ongoing work we completed at Walpole Island over many years in the 1970s and 1980s; notably, a pump drainage system that enabled the community to lower water levels to reduce health issues from faulty septic systems, build serviceable roads, and later construct a water supply and distribution system. Another significant project for me was the completion of the infrastructure servicing in semi-continuous permafrost for the community relocation of Winisk to Peawanuck to avoid annual flooding from the Winisk River as it entered James Bay. Establishing the water system in Everett, improving the water supply in Orangeville, and major road construction projects in East Gwillimbury, Listowel, and Shelburne were also all significant projects to me personally.
Over my career, and subsequently as well, I have been active in such community activities as I always endorsed for others. Besides family responsibilities and caring for country property, I have invested time in Rotary for over 53 years. I have chaired three hospital campaigns to raise funds for the then-new hospital and subsequent equipment and addition campaigns. I don’t think I have missed serving on any church committee over the years. I am now vice chair of the national Shareword Global Board and was Treasurer for Opportunity International, a microcredit charity. Other local charities and efforts come to mind which I will use as a an excuse for not having a very good golf game. My favorite volunteer activity after playing baseball and softball was to coach Little League Baseball several decades ago.
I have many reasons to recognize my good fortune in seeing Burnside prosper for what is now well over 50 years. It obviously has come with work, but lots of work is frequently put into efforts which are not as successful. I can only attribute it to both the ongoing incredible employees and shareholders at Burnside, and to the valued clients who have become much more than just people for whom we work.