An information-technology firm that has grown into a powerhouse in the communications networking business opens its new headquarters today.
Charter — co-founded as Charter Telecom in 1997 by Paul Chandler, who for years ran it from a converted barn in Metchosin — has outgrown its forest-enclosed, 55-acre site and moved to environmentally friendly high-tech digs in Langford.
“This is a combination of our evolution and holding onto the roots of why the company was formed,” said Kelly Michel, Charter president.
Holding court in the firm’s new boardroom, Michel said Chandler’s hospitalization in 2012 for an aneurysm and his long recovery, which continues, came at a time when things were ticking along nicely for the firm.
Michel said Charter’s ability to understand where equipment manufacturers were heading with technology, and anticipating what customers would need in terms of IT infrastructure — and being able to marry the two — set it apart and landed it major clients, including work servicing Telus, a major competitor.
“When Paul came out of hospital, he became very strategic,” said Michel, noting the directive then became making a bigger mark in the industry.
That led to the 2016 acquisition of Vancouver-based Boardwalk Communications, and the company has never looked back, building itself into a 100-person team with offices in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Toronto.
The company builds, maintains and operates secure, high performance communications networks and data-centre infrastructures for some of the most critical systems in the country, including government, healthcare, education, retail and aerospace sectors.
“The vision remains the same — we have a role to play in adding value to the customer and to the manufacturer,” said Michel. “And that core principle remains solid, but what we’ve done now is take off some of the bridle and allowed it to run.”
That means being nimble and responsive to clients’ needs. At the same time, the company has increased its profile in business circles, both around North America and in Greater Victoria.
Michel said the new office, which is hard to miss driving west on Sooke Road, is part of making a bigger splash in the community and telling the Charter story.
“We tell our guys we want to be innovative, be on the edge and that we care — the building personifies that,” said Michel. The environmentally friendly four-storey building uses 90% less energy than a comparable traditional building, reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by 93% and uses sustainable design to provide comfort, with no temperature swings and improved air quality.
Michel said the heat-recovery system takes advantage of body heat, heat from electronics and other systems. “We have vents that pull air from the building, spin it, suck in air from outside, spin heat out of the air, heat the fresh air and put that back into the building,” he said.
On a tour of the 16,500-square-foot facility, Michel notes there’s plenty of open space and room to handle expansion, stimulate team-building and brainstorm.
The building is constructed with B.C. timber and insulated with laminated wood panels that run the height of the building.
Michel said the building says something about Charter. “It’s a statement not just about us getting into the community, not just about being a better steward of the environment, but also about our commitment to the organization and the fact we appreciate what everyone here does,” he said, noting the company believes the building is healthier and better for its employees.
Michel is reluctant to say what Charter spent on the office, as it was way out of his comfort zone, but notes it was a 30% premium on what a comparable building would have cost. It also took three years to build.
“Part of that is because a lot of the [systems and techniques] used here have never been done,” he said. “A lot of things were being done for the first time.”
The office includes meeting space that can be used by community groups, and a two-bedroom suite for staff visiting from other offices.
Michel said upgrades to the company’s other offices have also included environmentally friendly features, along with use of B.C. wood in some renovations.
Michel said Charter is still finding its feet as a larger firm — doing things on a bigger scale, while trying to maintain its nimbleness. “You go from doing everything for everyone to having to be more strategic,” he said.