Since he was tall enough to reach the levers, Joe Goranson of Goranson Construction Ltd. has been operating excavation machinery.
It was his father, Rick Goranson, who taught the then ten-year-old the value of perseverance.
“Our family history includes a lot of hard-working people,” Joe says. “My dad is self-employed and created his own wealth and provided for his family in a good way for many years.”
Rick started Goranson Construction in 1981 with a focus on landscaping with mini-excavators. Joe grew up under the influence of Rick’s rigorous work ethic.
“He’s the most selfless, happy person,” Joe says, “but he could also be hard on us. You wouldn’t get anything from him if you weren’t working hard.”
Joe left high school in Grade 11, determined to strike out on his own. With his lifelong equipment operation skills, he headed to Alberta to work the rigs. Eventually, the adventurous novelty wore off, and he came home to join Rick at Goranson Construction. He was twenty-three years old and ready to “grab the bull by the horns.”
Soon after, Joe had the opportunity to expand the business into commercial development. He had a vision for growth but had to convince his father to get on board.
”I came in and wanted to do things differently, “Joe says. “And my dad – well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – and not that his son needs to be teaching him anything new anyways, but I’ve got strong willpower and always have.”
With all the determination bred in him from his father, Joe set his course on taking the company to the next level. And that’s where Tana Plewes of The Discovery Centre for Entrepreneurship (DCE) was enlisted to help.
In the two years since Joe began working with Tana of DCE, he’s made meaningful gains in personal development. Starting inward has been vital to honing the leadership skills to shepherd Goranson Construction into a new era of “elite, niche” equipment operations services. “The company is five times bigger than when I started, and we’re doing completely different work now,” he says. “We’ve changed the direction of the business. I want to grow, keep it going, and make something out of it. See what we can do.”
To get there, he’s led by example, a phrase often quoted by Tana in their facilitations. With Tana’s guidance, including through The Discovery Process workshop, Joe has “shed some personal junk first” and set himself up for success as a leader. “Tana analyzed where I was personally and worked through it with me,” he says. “One of the biggest takeaways from Tana’s guidance was learning to trust the process and not get too overwhelmed with the day’s demands. She’s shown me that there are solutions to every problem.”
With Tana’s help, Joe could identify one of his most significant personal barriers – fear of the unknown – and address it with structural solutions.
“There’s no handbook on how to run a business,” he says. “But Tana simplifies the process. Every time a challenge comes up, she helps me discover a solution. Ten times out of ten.”
Now, he looks at challenges as opportunities for growth and learning and goes in confidently, not overwhelmed.
“Me and my dad laugh about it: we do things completely differently, but we always end up at the finish line at the same time and with the same result,” says Joe. They’ve discovered throughlines in intention: Joe and Rick are “old-school” and value honesty, hard work, and sticking to their word.
But while their values are aligned, and the relationship is entrenched in friendship and loyalty, there were still challenges in working together and eventually transitioning ownership. “I was so stubborn when I was up and coming with my dad, and it did create some conflict,” Joe says.
Through weekly facilitation conducted on Zoom, Tana has taken Joe through learning the tools and perspective necessary to navigate conversations about ownership, growth, succession, and transition. The bite-sized online delivery format keeps the teachings relevant and actionable.
Family business dynamics present unique challenges for leaders, especially when the relationship outside the business is strong. With DCE, Joe has the guidance and know-how to pursue his goals for Goranson Construction without compromising his closeness to his father. Today, as 100% owner of Goranson Construction, Joe looks back with gratitude for everything the experience has taught him.
“Once the papers are signed, the papers are signed,” he says. “The ability to work with family and do that together presents a lot of learning lessons and skill development that will take a person through a lot of hard times and challenging situations.”
With eleven people on his payroll, and the day-to-day activity of business ownership throwing curveballs at him all the time, there are plenty of reasons for Joe to feel overwhelmed. But with Tana and DCE in his corner, he’s transformed overwhelm into opportunity.
“Every time a challenge comes up, Tana helps me discover the solution,” he says.
“Tana puts things in perspective. She listens, paints a picture, and reiterates it in steps so you can achieve it. Depending on how far I want to go, how big I want to get, and what I want to accomplish, she works with me in a way where she can walk me through coming up with a plan and executing it. She simplifies everything.”
Joe is taking Goranson Construction to new heights in revenue, team size, and service streams, but the good, old-fashioned family values his father instilled in him and the company remains true.
“Honesty and doing good work, and doing what we say we’re going to do for our customers is huge for me,” says Joe.
“At Goranson, you’re not a number. I care about my employees’ enjoyment of the job. It’s a profession and trade, so it’s part of our identity. We spend much of our life on-site working, so it becomes part of a person when you’re putting this much heart into it.”
It takes heart to overcome personal challenges and innovate how to grow a family business. Joe says he’s always had to learn things “the hard way,” but perhaps, just maybe: he’s figured it out the heart way.
Family-owned businesses account for 63.1 percent of all private sector firms in all of Canada, and generate almost half of Canada’s real GDP in the private sector, $574.6 billion. They also employ 6.9 million people across the country—equivalent to 46.9 percent of private-sector employment.
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