CIMA engineers a plus-sized success
Firm grew by helping organizations outsource engineering services

Kazimir Olechnowicz walked slowly into the newly completed rail tunnel at the Montmorency station of the Laval Metro extension project. His look was one of quiet satisfaction.

"See how the track slopes downward? "Olechnowicz, president of CIMA+, the engineering consulting firm that is overseeing the project said, pointing. "That saves energy because it helps the rail cars pick up speed when they pull out of the station. It also works in reverse by slowing them when they pull in"

Good engineering boils down to little details. And as representatives for the Agence Métropolitaine de Transport on the Laval Metro project, the people at CIMA+, know those details well.

Construction costs on large governmental and private sector infrastructure projects can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of these organizations simply don't have the engineering staff on hand to oversee these complex assignments. That's where CIMA+ comes in.

"We provide outsourcing services for companies that want to keep the number of engineers that the employ at an optimum level," Olechnowicz said.

According to Jean-Pierre Normand, who heads the eight CIMA+ engineers that are assignment to the Laval Metro account, the firm has been involved in the project from the get-go.

CIMA+ engineers compiled the criteria to select the architects. Once the plans were ready they broke the project down into 61 manageable sub-projects that were subsequently contracted out.

These days they spend most of their time overseeing the 400 on-site workers, and the 100 engineers, from other big subcontractors such as SNC-Lavalin and Tecsult.

But CIMA+ doesn't just act as a client representative. The firm also gets involved with pure engineering work. One big client is Hydro-Quebec, which unlike Ontario's Hydro One, has a long established policy of using consulting firms on major projects.

"If we hire engineers the only experience they have, is what they learn here," said Serge Lapalme, general manager (expertise) at the power utility's equipment division.

"By with companies like CIMA+ we can also benefit from what they have learnt on all their other projects."

During the mid-1990s Lapalme's department did almost 90 per cent of its engineering work in house. But there are so many active files at the public utility that the situation has reversed itself and today almost 80 per cent of the work is out-sourced.

The big advantage for Hydro-Quebec is that when those projects are completed, firms like CIMA+ will either have to bid for new contracts or find work elsewhere.

"It' a good system," Lapalme said. "I only pay them when I need them."

Olechnowicz, the son of a Polish immigrant, who worked briefly in France and England before coming to Quebec, has been a self-employed engineer since he graduated from university.

After ten years in business, his firm, then known as Dionne Olechnowicz, had 15 employees and was growing steadily. But he soon found that they were missing out on large projects. So during the next few years he initiated a series of mergers that led to the creation of CIMA+ in 1990.

Since then the company has been growing steadily, grabbing a piece of the engineering work on many of the province's most high profile projects. These include the Metro extension, the Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport expansion and structural work on the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

This year CIMA+'s 700 employees will crank out about $60 million worth of engineering services, a number that Olechnowicz expects to double during the next five years.

One of the most promising growth areas is in the firm's international section, which now comprises almost 10 per cent of CIMA+'s sales.

So far this year the company has landed a range of international mandates. These include sub-contracting work for Hydro-Quebec pertaining to the construction of electrical facilities in Libya, a consulting gig to assist on the expansion and renovation of 20 hospitals in Nigeria and a contract to build a small central thermal station in Iraq.

The Nigerian contract, which is worth about $3.6 million is by far the most promising said Hamidou Mamadou Abdou, CIMA+'s vice-president (international affairs), because it could lead to a lot more work down the line.

"The African countries like dealing with Quebec firms because we have a North American business outlook but we speak French," Abdou said. "But unlike the French from France we don't carry any baggage from a colonial past."

CIMA+'s push into the international market couldn't have come at a better time, because according to one industry professional, the trade is becoming increasingly competitive.

"Competition for big projects was always very tough, but lately municipalities are obliged to give the contract to the lowest bidder," said Joanne Desrochers, president of the Association of Quebec Consulting Engineers.

It's a strategy that works well in theory, but according to Desrochers it puts pressure on engineers to cut corners.

"Engineering is a complicated business. If you want to hire a brain surgeon, you don't hire the cheapest one, you hire the best," Desrochers said. "And you don't tell him to stop working because he is over budget."


Photo caption: According to Kazimir Olechnowicz, CIMA+ provides clients significant value by supplying them with a temporary external engineering department that can oversee large construction projects.


Chart: Quebec consulting engineering firms

Rank Name Employees in Quebec*
1. SNC Lavalin 1,777
2. Dessau Soprin 1,250
3. Tecsult 1,070
4. BPR 1,025
5. Genivar 740
6. CIMA+ 650
7. Roche Ltée. 593
8. Groupe RSW 300
9. Hatch & Ass. 295
10 Groupe SM International 260

*Source: Association of Quebec Consulting Engineers



Fact Box:
Company Name: CIMA+
Owner: 70 partners, ten of which control 40 per cent of the shares
Products: Engineering services
Employees: 700
Sales: $60 million
Phone #: 514-337-2462


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