An Interview with Paul Aubut, President, Aubut & Associates
Paul Aubut: I started my career as a translator in 1970 and since 1976, I’ve been running Aubut & Associates. My specialty is the translation of specifications and drawings.
How big is your translation business?
Paul Aubut: Aubut & Associates is one of the bigger translation firms in Ottawa. We have about 20 full-time freelancers. They all do their work independently and we’re a brokerage house for their services.
We do translation work for the National Capital Commission, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada — just some of the government clients — and then we have all the architects and engineers and other commercial clients. It’s sort of a 50/50 mix – government and industry. Our clients send their work here and we take it and assign it to different translators, depending on their specialties. It’s a network. My part is very technical – construction documents. But the volume of general translation is about the same as technical. General translation involves correspondence and press releases. It has to do with translating minutes of meetings, documents, requests for proposals, briefs to the Ministers of different departments, and so forth.
In 2012 and 2013, we had a super-big project which had to do with Target (the U.S. retail giant). As you probably know, Target is moving into Canada in 2014. In Quebec alone, Target has 25 shopping centres that were taken over and the Target Group is rebuilding these shopping centres to accommodate their needs. They have huge displays and they sell frozen foods and all kinds of stuff. And we were involved in translating specifications and drawings for 13 of those shopping centres, that have to be retrofitted. So that was a huge job. We did it through Stantec, a big architectural and engineering firm in Canada and the U.S.
To what do you attribute the success of Aubut & Associates?
Paul Aubut: Working 18 hours a day, seven days a week is the norm. I’m sort of married to my job! In Ottawa, there are about 1,200 translators. Most of these professionals are within the government. Some work from the outside and I have 20 to 25 of them working with me, not dedicated full-time to us, but working with the company in a close relationship. Most of our translators have security clearance and the office has the top secret classification. We’ve worked on very sensitive material over the years and had many projects with the RCMP and CSIS. These are big names in my portfolio, so to speak. My first big project was the Lester B. Pearson Building Construction Project in Ottawa (External Affairs) in 1972. Since then, we have been involved in renovation work for that same building.
The steady translation work allowed us to branch out into real estate. We started in real estate in the 1980s, under the name Aubut Holdings. In 1985, we started acquiring some properties. In 1990, we acquired three properties in the same month. Then the market went sour and we had to sit tight until 2000! The interest rate was at 14 per cent and we held on to all our properties, but we couldn’t do much in terms of expansion. We were just in survival mode and barely able to sustain that period. Starting in 2000, we began acquiring more properties and since 2006, we started acquiring properties at the rate of one heritage house per year. What’s nice right now is that we’re at the point where the growth will become exponential. We know we are heading into a much bigger market and that is extremely exciting.
The renovation of old houses downtown has become our specialty. We’ve got a niche market, but there is more to real estate than just these houses. We feel a big change is coming. 301 Metcalfe Street is our jewel and pride and we’d like to promote it, not as something that we want to rent because it’s fully rented, but as a base for future acquisitions.
Almost all of the buildings that we’re managing right now are located in Centretown. They are all within two to three minutes’ walking distance of each other, which makes our life much easier.
We also have a good rapport with the banks now. I’ve been dealing with many of them forever and that has been my toughest challenge – convincing a bank that real estate is the way to go. Over the last two years, TD and BDC (The Business Development Bank of Canada) have been good to Aubut Holdings, which has permitted us to cruise at a faster speed when it comes to acquisitions.
What are the advantages of being a business working out of an old house?
Paul Aubut: Many people don’t want to work in a high-rise. An old house is homier. We have found an older home attracts a lot of medical tenants, like psychiatrists. We own and manage a property that is completely medical and another is almost fully rented to the medical profession. So that’s our market, so to speak. We want to develop that market further, by buying more heritage houses and retrofitting them to the needs of professionals.
This is a wonderful success story in bleak economic times. The bread and butter and gravy of this expansion all came from translation. Translation was able to sustain us in the weak years of real estate.
The objective here is to acquire more real estate. Translation is the backbone and it’s established. But the real estate business is up-and-coming.