As Titan Environmental Containment celebrates its 10th anniversary, Geosynthetica’s editor caught up with Brett Burkard, co-founder and CEO. The interview and story are part of an ongoing project from Geosynthetica to profile geosynthetics industry companies, technologies, and historical developments. – Chris Kelsey, Senior Editor & Content Director
Brett Burkard, founder and part owner of Titan Environmental Containment, believes in a handshake. He believes in building and sustaining relationships. While it can be far easier to say these characteristics are important to a business than to make them a true part of a company’s culture, Titan has succeeded on this point. It’s one of the reasons that the company has been able to grow as quickly as it has in the past decade in the supply and installation of geosynthetics, storage tanks, and geodesic domes; and the supply of drainage materials and erosion and sediment control products.
The beginning for Titan Environmental Containment was certainly humble.
“We started in my garage,” Burkard says. “We had a 1986 Suburban and a trailer. We had the desire to work on our own and be our own bosses and have our own company. So, we just opened one day and we did it.”
There were four of them working in Burkard’s garage to carve out a business. Three of them still play key roles in the operations: Brett Burkard is the Chief Executive Officer, Kelly Sitarz is Titan’s President, and Ron Skrobutan serves as Vice President.
They hired three people that first year, and 10 years later two of those three remain with the company. Even with the overall employee roster having swelled well beyond 100, the original relationships are not lost.
OF THE AG MARKET & IRAQ
It’s hard to draw connections between the Canadian prairie and US military operations in Iraq, but both were fundamental to Titan Environmental Containment’s establishment.
“At first our focus was lining manure storage, hog, poultry, dairy, feedlots. Any type of large commercial manure containment,” Burkard says of the earliest projects. “Agriculture is in my family, my history, my roots. Ag work here in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is what we did, and we still do.… The growth, the commercial side of things, developed over time, but [the plan] was always to service the ag industry in the prairies.”
Getting to do that work required capital to get things in motion, and that was where the founding partners drew upon experience in Iraq.
“Two of the partners were basically field installation guys with tank experience and two of the partners, including myself, had a sales background in the geosynthetics industry,” Burkard says. “The two who were in the tank side had been building tanks in Iraq for the US military. Not fun work! A little dangerous, you might say. But, it did help fund our start up.”
He laughs about the scale of things in 2006 versus 2016.
“We were really happy to get a truckload of material,” he says. “That was a big job. 12 rolls! The jobs were like 12 rolls, $100,000. They would take a week or so. They were fairly comfortable.”
Titan performed 10 of those projects in the first year, much of it rooted in the relationships the partners had established years before their company came into existence.
“We knew the owners, we knew the engineers, we knew the general contractors,” Burkard says. “We had strong ties with everybody. It was great.”
Today, Titan Environmental Containment has diversified well-beyond the ag-heavy market early days. It has become a major supplier of geosynthetics, affiliated civil works construction materials, liquid and dry bulk storage tanks, and geodesic domes in Canada. It has become an Approved Installation Contractor (AIC) by the International Association of Geosynthetic Installers (IAGI) as well as an ISNetworld® Member Contractor, and Titan has achieved National COR™ Safety Accreditation from the Canadian Federation of Construction Safety Associations. Every installation technician is an IAGI Certified Welding Technician (CWT).
EMERGENCE IN GEOSYNTHETICS
With its diversification, Titan has propelled into other markets and seen individual projects come in at more than 10x the revenue of its earliest days. An exemplary installation was the work the company performed at the Farley Mine in Lynn Lake, Manitoba.
More than 550 acres (25 million tons) of tailings, mostly from nickel operations, needed to be remediated.
Titan Environmental Containment supplied and installed 9.5 million ft.2 of 60-mil textured high-density polyethylene (HDPE) geomembrane and more than 700,000 ft.2 of geosynthetic clay liner (GCL). The site works took two years.
In its early days, the company was 90%-10% ag and commercial work. Today, the ratio is reversed. Titan installs more than 4,000,000 m2 of geosynthetics annually.
“About half way through, we moved to a commercial location just outside of Winnipeg,” Burkard says. “That was a huge and dramatic shift in the company. That’s where we switched from being construction/installation focused to also offering supply only tailored for other markets.…. Now, we are huge in the supply of geosynthetics. Setting up this distribution facility here, just outside of Winnipeg, and expanding our sales team were key to this.”
The company notes that its diversification, and the manner in which it has established relationships with so many geosynthetics companies, in part came of necessity.
“Our geography grew faster than our supplier relationships,” Burkard says. “You’ve got one supplier who wants to sell to you but only in Eastern Canada. Another only wants to sell to you only in Western Canada. Another wants to sell to you but only in the US.”
Now, the company focuses on manufacturers and suppliers that give them full support in North America, but it still maintains regional suppliers for balance.
TITAN ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAINMENT IN 2016
As it celebrates its 10th anniversary, the company looks very different, but its central leadership and much of its guiding philosophy remain the same.
“The most enjoyable jobs, bar none, are the ag jobs,” Burkard says. “It’s the long-term relationships that we have here at the office and that the field guys have with contractors. The crews will fight over who gets to do the ag work, for sure. It’s just relationships. It’s a good thing.”
And just as the company has grown substantially in geosynthetics, it has also done so in other markets. In 2015, for example, Titan constructed one of Canada’s largest geodesic domes. This impressive structure measuring approximately 150 feet high and 364 feet wide required 35 employees on site for 8 months.
“It was a massive undertaking,” Burkard says. “To go to the site and see our guys repelling down the side of the dome was just awesome.”
He also cites the company’s increasing work in tunnels as an achievement they are proud of.
“Tunnels are unbelievable,” he says. “To do the underground work, it’s so detailed. What we’ve done, how we’ve grown, how we’ve had to expand our staff and geographic locations to develop our markets has been years of work.”
But it has all been worth it. The dedication shown by Titan’s team members have seen the company grow to six locations and establish a US division with a fast-growing geomembrane installation business and a surging geogrid supply market.
The company’s three distinct divisions—Construction (supply and installation geosynthetics), Supply Only (supply of geosynthetics and other civil construction materials), and Tanks (supply and installation of storage tanks and domes)—have essentially equaled out on the balance sheet.
Despite all the growth, some things have not changed for Titan Environmental Containment. The company began small and focused on the ag market. It has expanded into major supply and installation contracts in mining, waste management, transportation engineering, environmental protection, and other construction works. Yet, the old ag market is still deeply important to them.
“Of those original ag customers from 2006,” Burkard says, “we still have every single one of them. We do all of their lagoon lining work, all their maintenance work, all their service work—and we will so long as I’m at the helm.”
As it heads through another year of upward-minded change, Titan keeps its feet grounded in the relationships it has built. Burkard says the leadership, working closely with the every growing team of employees, in some ways treats each year as a beginning. No matter how strongly it finishes, they say, “This is our starting point. Where do we go from here?”
“When we started in 2006, we were cowboys,” Burkard says. “We did what we wanted to do. Today, our growth is a little more planned, a little more strategic. That also includes our employees…. The key for us for our growth has been people. We surround ourselves with good people. That has been our methodology.”
If you are near Winnipeg, give Brett Burkard a call. In addition to believing in “old school” relationship building through handshakes, he also believes in coffee and lunch.
Learn more about Titan Environmental Containment at www.titanenviro.com.