How Transparency Plays a Role in Gemstone’s Success

The Oxford Concise dictionary defines transparency as:

“Easy to perceive or detect … Having thoughts or feelings that are easily perceived; open.”

Let’s be real for a minute; when you read that definition, bureaucracy is not the first thing that comes to mind. So when a city official approached Vice President Josh Zaret to mention how impressed she was by the restoration of their heritage home office at 252 Argyle Avenue, Josh found the comment flattering, but also somewhat ironic.

Apparently, while she admired our home office on her daily walk to work, what most impressed the municipal bureaucrat was how Gemstone had stuck with their original plans that were brought to the city, which included restoring and reviving the 19th century property without altering its heritage cachet. As nice as it was not to be painted with the same brush as “bad-guy-developers”, Josh’s immediate reaction was that he wouldn’t have it any other way. Which is why he found her surprise so ironic. For Josh and his work at Gemstone, delivering on a promise is commonplace.

The city official’s skepticism arose because so often, what’s drawn and proposed to the city is very far from the outcome. Whether or not this is the case, and whether or not 252 Argyle serves as a jumping off point to gain more permits from the city as part of a relationship built on trust; it boils down to the fact that the foundation of Gemstone’s core values is transparency – we do what we say we’re going to do.

Anything that causes a stir amongst our community piques our interest. Our commitment to transparency applies to everyone in the building and development community – to city officials, clients, architects, engineers, subcontractors and contractors – so we thought we’d explore this commitment to honesty and sincerity. After all, it is top of mind for us, every day.


What Transparency Looks Like at Gemstone

In an industry where it’s sometimes easier to cut corners and cover up mistakes, why emphasize a transparent organization and service?

Because it’s generally good business practice? Because it means we can sleep at night?

Since starting Gemstone in 2005 President Neil Zaret made sure transparency was integrated into every step of the delivery process. Because we can take on projects at any stage, transparency is paramount to a successful project. For us, being open and honest with our partners and clients not only makes sense, but results in far fewer obstacles throughout the job. The result is a final product that aligns with what was originally promised. The circular nature of our process holds us accountable, so transparency comes naturally to everyone in our organization.

What does that mean exactly? From a more tangible perspective, we took the notion of transparency literally and built it into our corporate culture when we erected a clubhouse-like office space (link to Ottawa Mag blog post) so that our staff feels comfortable being open with each other. If a subcontractor has an issue with an invoice, they can swing by the office and sort it out over coffee with accounting. If a client wants to reassess a design plan or get an in-depth update about their project’s status they can visit our showroom or stay for a work lunch in our kitchen. Outside the office, our senior staff takes a hands on approach to every job and is in constant communication with our teams – both onsite and in the back office. We’ve eliminated physical boundaries to foster an atmosphere of open, honest communication.

Even when we make mistakes.

Because sometimes we do make mistakes. We’re human, and it happens. But thanks to a business culture that thrives on candor, you can be sure we’ll admit when we mess up.

We don’t hide behind a name – transparency yields a relatable and approachable corporate persona. Although personal interaction may not seem like the most efficient use of time when a plethora of apps exist to expedite communication, it’s part of what we do at Gemstone to ensure our clients and partners trust that we’ll keep our promise.

We won’t promise something we can’t do, and our open engagement with the Ottawa community is paramount because we understand that trust is the basis of a beneficial relationship. And what’s the foundation of trust? You guessed it – transparency.


Transparency and Quality

With more information being shared amongst Gemstone staff, we can make informed, timely decisions and resolve problems faster as we move through the phases of our projects. The value created through knowledge sharing and open dialogue becomes palpable in the form of a beautifully restored building, the satisfied smile of a happy client, and the skeptical surprise of a city official.

Our methods of transparency result in higher productivity and synergistic, motivated staff. The end result for our client and their community? Projects delivered as promised to the highest level of standards and service, and no surprises along the way. This is why people notice our work on the street. Quality stands out.


Transparency and Assurance

In the same way an investor seeks out transparent companies with open books to justify investment, so should clients seek out transparency in their builder or developer. Especially in the luxury custom build space. Our commitment to integrity isn’t just about spewing buzzwords or business strategy – it assures our clients that we’ll follow through on our promise.

Gemstone luxury custom builds and renos are an investment, and we want our clients to go to sleep at night knowing their investment is being taken care of, and that the outcome will be as they had originally envisioned. This is what transparency is for us – assurance that results are in line with our client needs and vision. Without it, distrust and insecurity develops, and that doesn’t help anybody. We live in an age where information is available to us with the swipe of a finger – why not roll with it?


On Reducing Skepticism in the Industry

As evidenced by the city official’s astonishment over the end result of 252 Argyle, we – as custom builders and developers – are surrounded by skepticism. It is manifested in apprehension that proposed plans will not be adhered to. Distrustful clients who have been burned in the past by general contractors. Neighbourhoods that are reluctant to embrace development because plans are repeatedly changed mid-way through the project. The list goes on, and while we know we’re not exclusive in our quest to be transparent, we are still met with disbelief over some of our practices.

How can we make openness the norm?

By seizing opportunities that demonstrate our commitment to following through as promised. Projects like 252 Argyle and our current work in progress at 187 Billings Ave are visible proof that not all developers want to demolish Ottawa’s historic residences. We are truly seeking the best possible way to pay homage to history and celebrate growing communities in the urban centre. Every luxury custom project that is completed with full disclosure to all parties is a stepping stone to a trusting relationship – but we need to be given the opportunity first.

Shutting down proposed development plans impedes this type of progress. As a luxury custom builder and developer, it is in our best interest to be open and candid about both our accomplishments and our issues.

When we face challenges we use them as an opportunity for growth and collaboration. Hiding details and deviating from our agreed-upon goal undermines our value as a competent, reliable partner.

When we complete a successful restoration or development aligned with what was originally planned, we are proud of our commitment to integrity and will gladly celebrate it. But we hope that it soon becomes the norm.


On Leadership


“Now, in the hyper-connected and ever evolving world, transparency is the new power.”

– Benjamin Herzberg (Private Sector Engagement for Good Governance (PSGG) at the World Bank Institute)

We’re not on a power trip, but we do believe the power of transparency makes us a better builder and developer.

Transparency is a hot topic in corporate governance circles, leading companies to encourage more transparency within their own organizations. Indeed, Gemstone fosters transparency within our corporate culture, but we are fiercely passionate about extending this attitude of transparency beyond our office walls. Our commitment to openness extends to our frank discussions with engineers, designers, architects, city officials, suppliers, and clients.

As we strive to be a positive example for change in the nation’s capital, we understand that our actions directly impact the urban community of Ottawa. Our practice of keeping our commitments is our way to increase the spirit of collaboration in the building and development community. We believe in leading by example, and transparency removes the “us vs. them” mentality. We are on the same playing field. We all want a beautiful, safe, and dynamic city to live in.

Let’s make it happen together.