Sometimes, if you really want to get ahead, you have to break from the pack.
That’s what structural engineer Mike Cleland realized as he convinced his colleague, Bob Jardine, to make the jump into entrepreneurship with him.
Together, they tossed around their thoughts and ideas, and weighed the pros and cons of starting their own business. Most of their discussions took place at the Lieutenant’s Pump, a popular Ottawa pub on Elgin Street.
“I was an associate at the firm we were both working at and I knew it was going to take years for me to get to the point where I would have control,” says Cleland, who was also raising a family at the time.
“We decided, ultimately, to give it a go,” says Jardine. “Ninety per cent of the battle is having the guts to go do it.”
The men launched their structural engineering consultancy firm, Cleland Jardine Engineering, on March 1, 1993. Cleland’s role model and mentor was the late John Adjeleian, a preeminent structural engineer in Ottawa. He was saddened to see Cleland and Jardine leave the firm and strike out on their own.
“But he was quite understanding and supportive,” says Cleland, who is company president while Jardine is chief operating officer.
Cleland Jardine Engineering started from humble beginnings; the founders barely earned a salary during their first couple of years as they invested everything back into the company. Today, the company has the largest structural office in the region. It employs 55 full-time staff, with offices in Ottawa and Toronto, and has handled some 20,000 projects over its 25 years, from condo and office buildings to single-storey strip malls, schools and hospitals in places throughout the region such as Pembroke, Winchester, Hawkesbury and Kingston. It’s done work on all three campuses of the Ottawa Hospital and was involved with the recent $180-million expansion of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
"Complacency kills business."
Since 2006, the company’s office space at 580 Terry Fox Dr. has undergone three major expansions and is preparing to grow again. It’s all part of the company’s philosophy to keep improving and changing.
“Complacency kills business,” says Jardine. “If you get complacent with your clients, there’s always somebody else waiting in the wings to take over. If you get complacent with your employees and take them for granted, they’ll go somewhere else. If you get complacent with running the business as it relates to day-to-day operations, things will go astray.”
Says Cleland of change: “You have to stir the pot, otherwise everything just gets stuck to the bottom.”
Cleland Jardine Engineering has also grown its partnership group over the years to include André Marcoux, Matthew Jaynes, Brian Johnson, Rob Nevin and Ryan Munden.
While engineering has traditionally been a male-dominated profession, the number of female hires is on the rise due to their strong technical qualifications and communication skills, Jardine and Cleland say.
The founders describe their working relationship with one another as “symbiotic.” Cleland is an expert in the design of new buildings while Jardine’s specialty is in repairing and fixing existing ones.
Cleland, 63, of Almonte, earned his engineering degree from Carleton University and currently sits on the faculty’s advisory board. Jardine, 58, is originally from St. John’s and came to Ottawa to find a job after graduating from engineering at Memorial University. He met Cleland when he started working for their former employer in 1986.
Cleland Jardine Engineering recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary with a big bash for 300 people at the Infinity Convention Centre. Its first employee, associate Sharon Hagen, remains with the company after a quarter of a century.
“We’re just two people; that’s all we are: two people,” says Jardine. “There are 53 other people that make the company what it is. It’s the efforts of those people that contribute to the success and to where we are today.”
Five things to know about Mike Cleland and Bob Jardine:
1. One of Cleland’s favourite projects was his pro bono work on the building of Roger Neilson House, a pediatric palliative care and respite home located on the grounds of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. He got involved through his friend, the late Roly Hein of R.E. Hein Construction.
2. Jardine started working at age eight in his parents’ fish and chips restaurant and general store in St. John’s. He sold candy and cigarettes, if you can believe it. And when the potato peeler for the french fries broke down, he was called in to peel the taters by hand.
3. Cleland and his wife of 41 years, Karen, have three children and seven grandchildren.
4. Jardine took up martial arts to spend time with his twin boys, who are now 23 years old. Not only did he earn his third-degree black belt, he also learned many useful instructional and leadership concepts that he still uses today.
5. Cleland is part-owner of a hunt camp near Ompah, but he goes there just to socialize and get away with his buddies. He doesn’t even own a gun.