Woodall Retirement Leaves Big Footprint Over 96 Years
It is perhaps fitting that Dave Woodall and Woodall Construction Co. Limited. are featured in this space, given this is the annual Biz X Awards issue with a “Proud to be Canadian” theme.
Woodall and his company have never been nominated for a Biz X Award, likely because the scope of their services — general contractors, design build, construction management, project management, maintenance and development, has not fit neatly into any one slot.
If a lifetime achievement category was ever up for grabs, the Woodall name would rise to the top. Dave, 75, quietly announced his retirement on September 1 with personal letters notifying his customers and suppliers that the company is taking on no new projects after 96 years and three generations of Woodalls running it.
His three kids — Chris, Rob and Megan — have found success in other realms and his last two business partners — cousin John Woodall and brother Al — stepped away over the last three years.
“I’ve been in the construction business for 52 years and I have enjoyed every minute of it,” says Woodall.
What he won’t be giving up is his volunteer service to the community. Woodall is a key team player in the Great Canadian Flag Project unfolding on the Windsor waterfront. He is acting as Construction Engineer for the 150 foot Canadian flagpole.
The aim of his group is to erect it in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary and Windsor’s 125th, early next year. The project costs $325,000, with $275,000 already raised.
Asked about criticism that flaunting such a giant flag belies Canadian modesty, Woodall points out that Wisconsin has a 400-footer and there are much bigger flags in Eastern Europe, the middle east and far east.
“It’s all relative . . . you can bet a bigger (American) one will go up across the border,” he chortles.
Dave Woodall himself is a modest man. He has never sought out personal accolades, although he is fiercely proud of the company’s adherence to quality workmanship, delivering projects on time and entrenched relationships with its customers and vendors.
You could fill this magazine with the names of satisfied Woodall customers, dating back to the 1940s. It’s a veritable who’s who of Windsor’s corporate elites — the Big 3 automotive companies. Hiram Walker, the University of Windsor, the Canadian Salt Company, Valiant Machine and Tool, Shoppers Drug Mart, Essex Golf and Country Club, International Tool, Sears Canada, prominent banks, funeral homes, high schools and car dealerships. Many of these companies kept coming back to Woodall, without putting out a tender.
“Attention to detail and giving the customers what they want,” replies Woodall when asked for the secret to his company’s success. It’s a credo that harkens back to 1920, when Dave’s grandfather Bill and his great uncle Fred Sr. moved from Winnipeg to Windsor and started the masonry company Woodall Brothers.
Dave came on board in 1967 after graduating with a civil engineering degree from the University of Windsor and spreading his wings with a Calgary construction company for two and a half years. By then his father Fred Jr. and his uncle Gord were running Woodall Construction Ltd.
Before he went west, Dave got immersed in the building of Windsor Raceway in 1965. Construction started on March 1 and was completed in time for the grand opening on October 19th.
“They were literally vacuuming the carpet at one door and customers were coming in the other door,” says Woodall. “It was an around-the-clock build for seven months. We lived it night and day.”
It was also in the mid-1960s that Fred Woodall Jr., who died in 2002, displayed one of the perfectionist traits which made him an industry legend. Inspecting the construction site of the University of Windsor’s administration building, he peeked in a door, tilted his head towards the hallway and detected a defect.
His foreman was ordered to take that wall down and rebuild it properly. “Dad had an obsession with learning, every day of his life, and I’ve tried to emulate that,” remarks the son who revered him.
Photo by Alan Halberstadt