Digging deep: A Q & A with alumna and entrepreneur Dawn Tattle

Dawn Tattle in front of blueprints

For the past 30 years, alumna Dawn Tattle (CivE 8T5) held leadership roles at contracting firm Anchor Shoring. She recently left to found her own company, Dawn Tattle Enterprises. (Photo courtesy of Dawn Tattle)

Dawn Tattle (CivE 8T5), founder of Dawn Tattle Enterprises Ltd., has always been business savvy — a trait that has underpinned her career as both an engineering leader and entrepreneur.

“As a kid, I’d take old newspapers, roll them up and sell them to neighbours as ‘fire logs,’” Tattle said. “I guess you could say that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Earlier this year, she launched Dawn Tattle Enterprises, a consulting business that will allow her to apply her expertise as a geo-structural engineer, keynote speaker and worksite safety educator.

“I’m a passionate advocate for improving workplace safety,” she said.

For the past 30 years, Tattle held leadership roles at Anchor Shoring, a contracting firm co-founded by her father Gord Demetrick in 1968. Specializing in the design and installation of soil retention and engineered foundation systems, Anchor Shoring is recognized as a leader in Ontario’s construction industry. Tattle joined the company in 1986 as a partner and became president in 1997, overseeing many high-profile projects including the Air Canada Centre, MaRS Discovery District and U of T’s Bahen Centre for Information Technology.

She has twice been included in the Women’s Executive Network’s list of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women (in 2008 and 2010) and received U of T Engineering’s 2T5 Mid-Career Award in 2010 for her achievements in the profession.

U of T Engineering spoke with Tattle about founding her company, advice for entrepreneurial alumni and why she’s remained connected to Skule™.

Anchor Shoring is your family’s business. Was it difficult to step away?

It was a big part of my life and I love the people there. We built some really impressive projects and developed a fantastic culture of safety and quality and customer service. But I did shoring work for 30 years and it’s exciting to be able to pursue other opportunities.

My dad taught me that one of the most important things in running a business is to plan for succession and leadership, and we built a very strong leadership team at Anchor. I had no concerns about leaving the company in the hands of our team.

[Anchor Shoring’s new leadership team includes two of U of T Engineering alumni: Toben Jerry (CivE 0T5) and Derrick Speakman (MinE 8T6).]

Dawn Tattle participating on a Perimeter Institute panel

Tattle participates on a panel during Perimeter Institute’s Inspiring Future Women in Science day last spring. Watch video of the discussion. (Photo courtesy Dawn Tattle)

What advice do you have for other alumni who may be thinking about striking out on their own and starting a business?

It’s been a lifelong learning process — what I call my ‘self-directed MBA.’ I’ve taken courses through the Ivey Business School and Harvard Business School as well as completing the ICD-Rotman Directors Education Program at Rotman School of Management. It’s important to educate yourself about the bigger picture when it comes to business.

Networking is vital, too. Make sure you create a strong network of people that you can learn from and call on for help. I also think that mentoring younger people keeps you energized and full of new ideas.

How did U of T Engineering prepare you for a career as both a civil engineer and an executive leader?

Engineering enabled me to develop a structured way of thinking that has helped with problem-solving in all facets of my career.

You championed the Civil Engineering Class of 8T5 Legacy Award here at the Faculty. How did that come about?

We had a very close-knit class and kept in touch over the years. I broached the idea for the scholarship at a class alumni dinner. We were at the Miller Tavern in May 2011. I passed around a napkin at the table and had people sign it, agreeing to contribute. Heather Tippin (CivE 8T5), Rob MacGillivray (CivE 8T5), Dan Gargaro (CivE 8T5) and I followed up with our classmates by calls and emails and our first scholarship was awarded in 2013. People were generous in giving back because U of T Engineering has been an important part of their lives.

Civil Engineering Class of 8TS Legacy Award napkin with signatures

The Civil Engineering Class of 8T5 Legacy Award’s humble beginnings — on a Miller Tavern restaurant napkin. (Photo courtesy Dawn Tattle)

Do you have any favourite memories from your time at U of T Engineering?

I participated in Skule Nite; played in the band. I was always involved in orientation and the onboarding of the new classes. Survey Camp was, of course, a great memory.

We’re an engineering family, and we have lots of wonderful connections to Skule™. My dad is a civil engineering graduate from the University of Saskatchewan and was taught by a professor named Peter Wright. When I was in first year, that same professor transferred to U of T and taught me. Then when my son, Gordon Tattle (CivE 1T4), was in engineering, he said to me one day, ‘You know, there is this professor from Saskatchewan that’s filling in for one of my professors. Do you know him?’ It turned out to be Professor Wright. Three generations of our family were taught by him!

You’ve spent time as a volunteer and course instructor in the Department of Civil Engineering. Why is it important to you to stay connected to your alma mater?

My engineering degree has been such a significant part of my success. I think it’s important to recognize that and give back to the University to help current students. It’s important to be a role model.

What are your plans for the future?

I have a lot of exciting things on my personal roster: I just returned from some travelling overseas and will soon jump into my second year teaching the Construction Management course in the Department of Civil Engineering at U of T in the fall. I am serving as a director on various boards. In addition, I’m continuing my work as a keynote speaker, specifically regarding health and safety. This is in partnership with two superb organizations: the League of Champions, and My Safe Work.

On the entrepreneurial side, I am partnering in a business that is developing apps for worksite safety in construction, which, as you know, is a passion of mine. Finally, I’m consulting with construction firms to improve their internal processes relating to internal quality control and strengthening their culture. Several different irons in the fire with each fascinating in their own way!