Third-generation contractor explains his approach to managing his company

3/8/2016 10:30:47 AM by

In an article for Equipment World, Amy Materson writes about James Tollestrup, a third-generation contractor who manages Lethbridge, Alberta-based Tollestrup Construction. Materson spoke with Tollestrup about how he managed to take his grandfather's business to a new level, while still maintaining its original identity. The company was founded in 1940 and underwent several changes, which laid the groundwork for its expansion.

Materson explains the growth that Tollestrup oversaw:

"Under the current Tollestrup leadership, the company has experienced planned and controlled growth – 40 percent over the last 10 years. Jim says the company is now completely vertically integrated – mining and manufacturing different types of sand and rock products, including dry crush, washed rock, washed sand, concrete aggregates, red shale and asphalt."

The Tollestrup Group, which Tollestrup manages with his sister, includes a development division, along with property management and multiple Wendy's and Tim Horton's franchises. For construction alone, Tollestrup is already up to 80 employees. Those who know him say that he's very hands-on in his approach.

Focus on talented, knowledgeable people

Tollestrup explains that as his construction company expanded, he made it a priority to work alongside both talented and knowledgeable people. He's also made it clear that he's willing to put in the effort to make sure he has the best personnel for the job. This commitment includes paying for training for some of his employees, which in turn, has built loyalty.


One project Tollestrup has committed himself to is building up the company's 100-machine-plus feet. Currently, he says it is 95 percent Caterpillar. The company includes five full-time mechanics and two mechanics trucks, demonstrating Tollestrup's commitment to proper maintenance and reducing downtime.

Tollestrup emphasizes that having an up-to-date, well-maintained fleet allows him the freedom to choose the projects he wants to take on. The projects Tollestrup's company takes on range from $200,000 to $15 million. Tollestrup added that his company also performs construction work, and does not take an approach where he rejects any market. Speaking of his willingness to take on less expensive projects, Tollestrup says: "There's always room for the smaller stuff."

Transitioning from family company to corporate feel

Materson explains that the transition "from a cozy family environment to a more corporate feel was simplified by the addition of layers of structure, but applied in a thoughtful way."

Materson further adds that while initially Tollestrup "regretted losing some of the family atmosphere, he knew the company had become too large to maintain the minutiae of that kind of workplace. Having a fully staffed office as well as a controller, full-time human resources professional and full-time safety expert has allowed him to mold the company into the entity he wants it to be."

In addition, Tollestrup says that he doesn't have plans to relocate the company geographically, and that he prefers to remain in Lethbridge, Alberta. Tollestrup says that he is a micromanager, in that he likes to ensure that his construction business is as hands-on as possible.

Speaking of construction, Tollestrup says: "it's a tough industry. You've got to have someone there to look after things." Explaining his approach in more detail, Tollestrup adds: "I'd like to maintain the status quo. I might like a little more growth, but I'm pretty happy where we are. I enjoy the day-to-day challenges I never expected, and I'm learning more than I ever thought I could."

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