Constructing Change

Whether nurturing their garden or turning around a company, Beverley and Frank MacInnis have a talent for 'building up' the world around them

Erica Viegas - 11 January 2016

Two Scotch terriers scurry around a garden of meticulously arranged perennials and roses in the MacInnises' yard in Westport, Conn. The Northeastern winters are hard on the yard but their garden is a 28-year labour of love and, with hard work, it is brought back to bloom again each spring.

Luckily, Beverley and Frank MacInnis aren't afraid of starting from the ground up. When Frank talks about his tremendous business successes - such as leading a bankrupt corporation to Fortune 500 status - his recipe for growth is the same one Beverley applies to their garden: "You have to be willing to dig in and get your hands dirty."

Frank admits to being especially drawn to projects that allow him to fix things or make them stronger. So it seems fitting that after five years of corporate law practice, his love of "building things up" led him to roles within the construction industry. Frank held several chairman and chief executive officer positions before he joined New York-based construction group JWP Inc. in 1994, successfully managing the company's emergence from bankruptcy and subsequent renaming to Emcor Group Inc. With Frank at the helm, Emcor was transformed into a global leader in construction, infrastructure and building services. Fortune magazine has named the company (more than once) to its list of the World's Most Admired Companies.

"There is something gratifying about taking something that is officially dead and turning it around," Frank says. "Rebuilding a company that has gone through bankruptcy means rebuilding faith, and that starts from the inside." It's an approach he brings to everything in his life.

A 1964 Mustang convertible sits in the MacInnises' garage. It has been in the family since it was new but the classic car started to wear out in 1977. Frank has since taken the Mustang apart piece by piece and restored it to give the car new life. "You can't just put some paint on it and hope it'll be pretty," he says. "It might look like a pile of rust, but old cars are made of much thicker steel than new cars. Unless it's really far gone, there is usually still enough metal to build upon." To Frank, the same rule applies to corporations. If there is still value deep in the foundation, there is something upon which to build a long-term solution.

Beverley, who stayed at home with the couple's four children as they were growing, lives by similar convictions. "There's a real challenge in how to see your way through something. The answer is never no, but show me how," she says. This way of thinking is woven into the couple's core.

Over the years, the MacInnises have offered their advice and support to projects that have enhanced communities by promoting extensive community involvement through grants, loans and sponsorships. When Frank's hometown of Camrose, Alta., was looking for a sponsor to complete the restoration of the Bailey Theatre, a local performing arts venue, the MacInnises jumped on board. To them, the theatre not only held fond memories. Restoring it was also critical to revitalizing the downtown core, bringing traffic to nearby businesses and fostering a greater sense of belonging among residents.

They also supported Beverley's home city of Lethbridge, Alta., by establishing Catholic Central High School's Trinity Learning Centre, an outreach program for students who need a self-paced, self-directed learning environment. "We are grateful to Alberta for the level of quality education we received, our upbringing and the very reliable social structure," she says. "We still respect and live by the values with which we were raised."

Though they are both University of Alberta graduates - Frank from law and Beverley from education - their paths never crossed on campus. They met on Easter Sunday 1975, when Frank showed up late for mass at St. Joseph's Basilica and slid into the pew next to Beverley and her family. She jokes that his tardy entrance "kept both of us going back to church for an honest month of Sundays."

The couple found the opportunity to give back to their alma mater when they heard the University of Alberta's Faculty of Law building needed more teaching spaces. "I thought moving law classes to different areas of campus would be a threat to the collegiality and community within the program. I truly appreciated the group socialization and the relationships that I developed in law school for a lifetime," says Frank.

The result was the Frank and Beverley MacInnis Centre, which consolidated classes previously scattered across campus under one roof and upgraded the then-33-year-old law building with state-of-the-art learning, study and research facilities for students. This transformative gift is, to date, the largest ever made to the Faculty of Law. And, to acknowledge their small-town roots, the MacInnises also created a generous leadership scholarship for rural Alberta students in honour of Frank's late mother, Adele.

With Frank now retired as CEO of Emcor, he and Beverley continue to build their legacy. Their latest project together is a home in St. Andrews, Scotland. The details of the construction, including a garden that will sustain local wildlife and birds, are being developed in collaboration with Scottish architects and builders. The goal, as for all the projects the MacInnises undertake, is to leave the space even better than they found it.