March 7, 2005

Incoming chair sets his priorities

Farmer taking over helm of CCA

Victoria native Murray Farmer, vice-president of Farmer Management Inc. and chair-elect of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), got his feet wet in the industry at an early age.

Farmer, who is slated to take over the CCA helm Friday during the association’s 87th annual conference in Mexico, spent a couple of weeks cleaning lumber when he was just eight years old.

“I’ve always been interested in construction association activity.”

Murray Farmer

“I was working with one of my brothers,” Farmer recalled. “I think we got a cent-and-a-half a board foot or something like that.”

Farmer, who succeeds Ottawa’s Shirley Westeinde as chair of the association, joined Farmer Construction Ltd. in 1968 as an estimator and project manager in the company’s renovation division after earning a degree in economics from the University of Victoria.

The company, which was incorporated in 1951, was founded by Farmer’s father George.

“It was a natural move,” Farmer said of his decision to join the business now operated by second-generation family members. “When you’re brought up in construction, the subject is at the dinner table all the time. You learn so much, just from osmosis.”

Farmer, who also is a registered quantity surveyor, spent nine years at Farmer Construction in various capacities before assuming the position of president and general manager of Mutual Equipment Rentals. The sister company had offices in Victoria and Burnaby.

“The manager had left,” he recalled.

“I saw an opportunity to put my own stamp on the business. I became quite interested in cranes. I concentrated on complex crane-lift planning including production of detailed computer-aided-design drawings.”

He joined Farmer Management Inc. in May 1998, after Mutual Equipment Rentals, by then renamed Commercial Crane Ltd., was sold.

At that juncture, the company was the largest, private crane rental firm in the province with 40 cranes.

“There was a lot of consolidation going on in the industry in those days,” Farmer recalled. “Big companies were swallowing up other companies and paying premium prices.

“I could see that there was going to be a glut of equipment on the market, because of a looming over-supply in Europe, and that crane prices were going to decline. So I decided to have a look around and see who might be interested in acquiring the firm.”

The company was sold to Sterling Crane.

Farmer’s current responsibilities include providing project and construction management services for public and private owners, developing residential land and commercial land and buildings and managing a portfolio of in-house commercial and industrial buildings.

The company is developing a 40-acre subdivision in Comox on Vancouver Island.

On another front, Farmer also is vice-president of Accent Inns, a five-property hotel chain that was launched in 1986 by Farmer, his brother Terry and cousin Brian Scroggs. The chain remains family-owned and run.

“We had a property in Victoria,” Farmer said, looking back. “We had to decide what to do with it. We decided to build an inn. That is how it all started.”

Farmer, a past chair of the British Columbia Construction Association, the Construction Association of Victoria, the Vancouver Island Construction Association and the Public Construction Council of B.C., joined the CCA board in 1992 and its executive committee in 1997.

“I’ve always been interested in construction association activity,” said Farmer, who is also active in the community.

“One of the most important things about an industry association is that it is a forum to interact with your colleagues.”

Farmer, who has chaired the CCA’s manufacturers and suppliers section as well as the standard practices and e-construction committees, believes the role of the association chair is to act as “custodian of the wishes of the membership.

“I feel that if you are going to be successful as an association, you have to be really close to the challenges and wishes of the grassroots members — in our case, the individual contractors.”

While the CCA’s goals are his goals, Farmer, nevertheless, has identified some personal priorities for his term of office. Paramount among them are:

— A “thorough” review of the association’s strategic plan to ensure that CCA is truly responding to the needs of its members.

— Expansion and promotion of Construction Opportunities On-Line Network (COOLNet).

— Continued promotion of the national Gold Seal certification program for construction project managers, superintendents and estimators.

— Encouraging further use of standard contract documents.

“We’ve got a constant battle on our hands trying to get people to not bastardize our documents — to keep them in fact standard,” Farmer said.

The CCA is the voice of the nonresidential construction sector in Canada. It is holding its annual convention this week in Cancun.

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