Although he now leads a Penticton-based group of companies that does some of its best work in the Arctic, it was Down Under where Mark Melissen got his start in business.
He was nearing the end of a gap year in Australia in 2001 when he had a chance encounter with a professional skateboarder who was sponsored by Juice Clothing company.
One thing led to another, and Melissen, now 33, soon found himself on a plane headed for home with an exclusive deal to represent the Juice brand in Canada to help put himself through college.
“They had a U.S. guy, but never anyone in Canada, so you go to trade shows and you sell it, you represent it,” he explained.
“I had it in stores from White Horse to Nova Scotia.”
Melissen, the final nominee for the Top 40 under 40, parted ways with Juice after earning a diploma in international business from Langara College in 2004 and going to work for Lafarge North America.
Juice is “still not doing much in Canada or the U.S., but they’re fairly decent size in Australia and New Zealand and Asia,” he said, adding the experience taught him a lot about work ethic and managing finances.
“I operated the whole thing out of a rental house, so (I learned) the constraints of small business and doing things on your own.”
Today, the married father of three is regularly busting through constraints as managing partner and general manager of the growing Wildstone Group of Companies.
What started in 1995 as a small construction and engineering firm owned by his step-father, Jim Morrison, has now grown to five divisions whose work includes landfill management, mining projects and civil infrastructure.
“What you see around the South Okanagan is somewhere between five and 10 per cent or what we do,” said Melissen, whose partners in Wildstone include his brother, Mark Melissen, and Morrison, the founder.
The company’s recent work outside the Okanagan includes a prison expansion in Prince Albert, Sask., and a water treatment plant in Old Crow, Yukon, one of about 50 projects the firm has completed in the Arctic.
Melissen said Wildstone, which at the height of the summer construction season has up to 150 employees — three-quarters of whom live in Penticton — has diversified to help smooth out business cycles.
Local developer Robin Agur, whom Melissen considers a mentor, said via email the younger businessman’s focus on small things has helped with the bigger picture.
“With a keen eye for detail, construction deadlines and costs, Mark and his company continue to gather more work and new clients while maintaining good relationships with past and long-term customers,” said Agur, who’s a part-owner of the Bad Tattoo brew pub Wildstone is currently building in downtown Penticton.
“Personable, willing to share advice freely, and following up on deficiencies when necessary will keep Mark at the forefront of his chosen field as long as he chooses to be there,” Agur continued.
Melissen is confident Wildstone has the potential to keep growing into an industry heavyweight like PCL Constructors or Kiewit Corporation, but knows it will require a long-term investment of time.
“They’re over 100 years old. They’re like fourth- and fifth- generation family companies,” he said.
“So it’s possible, certainly, but we’re trying to target measurable goals.”
Outside of work, Melissen enjoys golf, dirt biking, wake surfing and spending time with his family.
He’s unsure if his kids, the oldest of whom is six, will want to follow in his footsteps at Wildstone.
“I’d be happy if they joined me in anything,” he said, “but at the same time, I want them to seek their own paths and do something that they love.”
Penticton Top 40 under 40 is presented by the Prospera Credit Union and White Kennedy LLP Chartered Accountants in partnership with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, JCI Penticton with support from Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen.
All of the nominees will be recognized and celebrated at an event July 3 at Poplar Grove Winery.
Tickets are $40 and available at the chamber office or through JCI Penticton at firstname.lastname@example.org.