When Darren Cherniak first graduated in 1997 from the University of Alberta with a degree in Environmental Science, he never imagined being the owner of a thriving Environmental Consulting Company more than 20 years later.
“I never had any inclination to start a business,” Cherniak says. “I was just happy to have a good job, working for good people, and doing something I went to school for.”
Cherniak began his career working at a large engineering firm based in Northern Alberta. He worked alongside his eventual business partner, also named Darren, who was hired as a contractor for the same firm.
The pair worked on several projects together doing reclamation, construction, and remediation work in Red Earth Creek, AB. They ended up building a strong working relationship and eventually a friendship, which led to talks about the possibility of starting a company on their own.
“We spotted a lot of challenges with the engineering firm we were working at. They were very structured and rigid in their approach to client service,” he explains. “We thought we could offer these services better; we wanted to provide more flexibility and cater to the clients and their needs more than our employer at the time.”
“So, we naively decided to start a business,” he laughs.
“To be honest, it was the other Darren that I will credit with putting the idea in my head. He was already running his own business for years as a consultant, so he was comfortable with being a business owner.”
Cherniak was nervous about branching out on his own. After a few months of waffling back and forth with the decision, and with a little encouragement from Darren, Cherniak eventually worked up the courage to quit his comfortable job with the engineering firm, and headed into the unknown as he began the two-man consulting firm.
For the first couple of years, the North Shore office was based out of Cherniak’s basement. At the time the company had landed a few projects for clients, but they were on the hunt for a “big break.”
“We started doing a bit of work for Devon Energy here and there, they gave us odd jobs or pieces of projects, and we took what we could get,” he says. “They finally gave us a region in Northern Alberta that we were entirely responsible for. We were doing a lot of reclamation work up there and that was enough to get the ball rolling,” he adds.
“It gave us a large enough chunk of work to actually open an office, so we opened our first location in Sherwood Park!”
About the same time work was picking up, both Cherniak and Darren knew they had to hire more team members if they were going to fulfill the commitments to the clients.
It was then that Kelly Zadko and Dan Novecosky joined North Shore as the company’s first employees.
“Every time the phone rang we kept saying, ‘yes’, to all the work! It is kind of the consulting fear, if you say ‘no’ to a job; they might never call you again.”
The Right People for the Job
Since 2002, the company has grown at a steady rate. Currently, North Shore has approximately 90 employees and locations in Calgary, Sherwood Park and Lacombe, AB as well as Regina, SK.
Not much has changed over the years with Cherniak’s approach to hiring; he still uses the same guidelines that he used 17 years ago.
“I always felt that I didn’t want to work with someone that I couldn’t invite into my house to enjoy a meal with, because this business did start in my house, and that is something that I have always kept with me.”
One of the best business moves Cherniak says he made was hiring Daniel Engel in 2009 as North Shore’s Vice President, Finance.
“Daniel was a catalyst and came in with a completely different perspective. Up until that point, the executive team all had the same education and experience – an environmental background. Daniel looked at things from a financial angle, and he has really helped steer the ship.”
As the years went on, things within the company began to shift and in 2012 it was time for Cherniak and Darren to part ways as business owners. The split was tough on Cherniak, but he knew the decision would allow North Shore to grow and progress as a company.
“It took a lot out of me,” he says. “I wish things went differently. I internalized a lot of what went on and I think people noticed. Maybe they didn’t know exactly what was going on, but they noticed I was more withdrawn during that time.”
The decision was made for Darren to sell his shares of the company and move on separately from North Shore. Although Cherniak was disappointed, he was also excited because it meant he was able to offer partnership to the executive team and also open North Shore’s ESOP, the Employee Share Ownership Program, which allows employees to buy into the company after three years of service.
“Yes, I lost a business partner, but I gained so much more, and I do believe the company is better today because of that decision.”
Cherniak says remediation and reclamation work will always be the “bread and butter” for North Shore, but he hopes to expand the business over the next few years.
“I think everyone hopes that the economy is going to pick up, and with that I would like to see us open additional locations in western Canada in order to increase our client base and better serve existing clients locally,” he says.
“There is also the potential to grow our business with our U.S.-based customers,” he adds. “We can offer a lot of support through our knowledge of SiteView programs and I think that is going to open a lot of doors for us in the future.”
Cherniak knows his employees are what make the business successful, and is proud of the positive culture that has been built over the years.
“I want everyone to enjoy coming to work at North Shore. And I hope that no matter where their career might take them, they can look back at North Shore as a positive part of their journey.”