Business View Magazine interviews Rajesh Ahuja, Founder & President of Dependable Mechanical Systems, as part of our focus on Canada’s Best Managed Companies.
Rajesh Ahuja, President and Founder of Dependable Mechanical Systems, moved to Canada in 2001 and found a job working for a mechanical contracting company in Concord, Ontario. His talent and skill as a mechanical engineer soon led him to another company, and a high-profile project at the Downsview Airforce Base in Toronto. He was heading the entire mechanical-electrical renovation project there – until the funding for the project was temporarily halted by the government.
“At that point,” Ahuja recalls, “I had enough experience that I decided to branch out on my own and start bidding on work, independently. In the short span of a month and a half, I landed three or four projects. That was a lot of work back then. I started out with smaller work, and grew my business step by step. Every year, the revenue has increased.” Success has been swift and steady, but Ahuja hasn’t strayed far from where he started – the head office of his award-winning business, Dependable Mechanical Systems, is still located in the Concord area, today.
Ahuja is involved in project management and consulting, and is supported by a strong employee base of management professionals and skilled trades. Best described as a mid-size mechanical and electrical contracting company, Dependable Mechanical Systems achieved status as one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies in 2015, 2016, and 2017; City of Vaughan Construction Business of the Year; and was nominated for the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement Award three years in succession, winning in one of those years. While gaining recognition in the industry and a lot of repeat business from existing clients, the company continues building new relationships and taking on projects with ever-increasing scope.
Employee numbers range from 70 to 150, and vary with the construction cycle depending on how projects are moving and the stage of progress. A small amount of work is sub-contracted, but the majority is done in-house – plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, HVAC mechanics, sheet metal mechanics are all on the payroll.
Ahuja stresses that training is imperative with technology changing day to day. “You need to keep employees up to speed with what’s going on in the industry and ensure their skills are on par with the new equipment that is coming out. Tech wise, we are way ahead of most of our competition. We’ve developed our own internal apps to run every aspect of our business – from project management to field coordination, to procurement, to payroll – everything is fully automated with specific apps, and the whole business is running in the cloud, right now. Every person in the field, including our foremen and field coordinators, are equipped with the tools they need to operate. Every resource in terms of information is available to them in real time.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) comes into everything from the design/conceptual stage to the finished product. Ahuja adds, “Buildings are already smart these days and, in the future, with AI, you’ll conceptualize, build, and see through your project with nothing being there in the field. That’s where tech is moving and it’s going to become reality soon. We try to keep pace with the changing technology, and ensure that our operations in the field, in the office, the shop, fabrication work are all intertwined, with checks and balances built in, so nothing is lost. In terms of our overall business model, tech has played a huge part in our growth.”
The company currently operates only in Ontario, where there is a lot of competition. Ahuja admits, “Compared to the big guys out there, we are a much younger firm. They’ve been in existence for the past 50-plus years, and we’ve only been doing construction work since 2005/6. But, over the last few years, we’ve become a recognized name when it comes to clients using us as a preferred vendor. Technically, we are pre-qualified on most of our projects and go neck and neck with our major competitors.”
As sole owner of the business, Ahuja works with an active management team he describes as “not a huge team, but very valuable. A large group of suppliers have worked alongside us for several years, watching and helping the company grow, and we’re building more and more relationships. Earlier, there were challenges when I was building the business and getting the correct credit facilities set up, but those things are now in the past.”
From its headquarters in Concord, Dependable Mechanical Systems operates a 25,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility, where they make their own metal, do assemblies, and prefabricate components for delivery to sites for installation. A small office in Belleville and a temporary satellite office in Kingston, manage work in the Eastern Ontario region, where some big projects are underway in the Kingston/Trenton/Batawa area.
Government contracts are lucrative for Ahuja’s business, including a large project finished last year at CFB Trenton. The massive hangar facility for Canada’s C-17 planes was a challenge in terms of logistics and installation, featuring two hangar bays, 120 feet high. Dependable Mechanical Systems also does a significant amount of work for Metrolinx: The Union Pearson Express facility at Toronto’s Union Station; a 200,000-sq.-ft. GO facility that services all eastern Ontario Metrolinx buses; GO Brampton and GO Halton bus facilities; and several TTC projects in progress.
With an increasing aging population, long-term care is another major sector. Ahuja reports, “We’re doing a big facility in Kingston, and another for VIVA in Oakville; just finished ones in Barrie and Oshawa, the expansion at Kipling Acres for the City of Toronto, and have a couple more in the pipeline. In fact, we have a crew geared especially for those projects, as there is so much work out there in this field.”
New builds comprise most of the work, but the company also does expansions and retrofits for school boards, universities, and governments, such as recently completed mechanical and electrical system upgrades for the City of Barrie offices. “We go in as a general contractor for these institutions,” says Ahuja. “On the heritage front, we’re presently working on the Old post office building in the city of Cambridge, and have done several historic buildings in downtown Toronto. Retrofitting these old structures requires specific expertise, because while you’re setting up new systems, you need to ensure the heritage aspect is not disturbed.
“Because we’re in the infrastructure sector now, almost all our projects have LEED Gold and Silver requirements built in. It’s a point system – you must be fully aware of what design changes are required to conform to and exceed the requirements, and ensure sustainability is maintained over the whole life cycle of the building.”
Looking ahead, the company is planning to expand into other Canadian provinces and south of the border, as well. But Ahuja wants the infrastructure in place internally, first, so it’s a profitable venture when they make the leap. Public/private partnerships is another sector being actively pursued; teaming up with general contractors and establishing new relationships in a big way in the future.
Ahuja says, “Our business model moves around two key items. Technology is our biggest tool for growth – keeping checks and balances in place. Repeat business with customers is the second factor. Collaboration with all stakeholders is critical. Keeping our clients abreast of changing tech requirements to better the design is an important aspect. It’s the flow of minor details that people, in hindsight, forget to take care of, but, in the long run, they can be very helpful to improve the life cycle of the building. These are what we bring to the table to ensure clients get the right product and value for their money.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Dependable Mechanical Systems
WHAT: Design-build mechanical and electrical contracting services for the ICI sector.
WHERE: Head office in Concord, Ontario, Canada