Alan barnhart grew p in the steel erecting business that his father founded in Memphis, TN in 1969. During high school and college, he and his brother Eric worked summers as ironworkers and crane operators, learining the business from the ground up. In college, they both studied civil engineering, coursework that would serve them well after joining the business full-time in the early 1980s. In 1986, they started Barnhart Crane & Rigging, with Eric gravitating to the engineering side, overseeing the complicared projects the company is well known for taking on. “Eric is a brilliant rigging engineer who creates most of our special equipment and oversees our most difficult projects,” says Barnhart, in admiration of his sibling. “My role since 1986 has been to lead the team.” And lead the team he does, managing 18 branches throughout the south and southeastern US. With that many locations, it seems it would be easy to be out of touch, but that's not the case for this large business with a small business approach.
“We have 18 branches, but we are one team,” he says. “We are not a group of independent companies. Branches work together every day, sharing equipment and personnel, to meet the needs of our customers. Our primary expansion strategy is to look for locations that will facilitate this team approach.”
Last month at the SC&RA Annual Conference in San Antonio, ACT had a chance to catch up with Barnhart, to get his take on the industry and the company he runs so well.
Which came first, the transport business or the lifting business?
Steel erection was first, crane service started in the mid-1970s and transport started in the mid-1990s.
What distinguishes Barnhart in the marketplace? How do you envision the company 10 years from now?
Barnhart is a growing service company. We are willing to take on challenges. We work throughout the US and have an expanding network of branches. Our growth model is to expand our geography by acquiring existing crane and rigging operations. Normally, we hire the entire team of the acquired company and help them expand and improve. By providing accounting, banking, insurance, engineering, and other administrative services, we allow branches to focus on meeting the needs of customers. We also provide a variety of special tools that allow branches to take on larger, more complex projects. I have no 10 year plan. I want us to grow into a better company.
What are the most memorable or spectacular Barnhart projects that come to your mind when you think back about the company's work?
We have tackled several interesting projects in nuclear plants but a recent job at a paper mill in Oklahoma may be the most impressive thing we have ever done. We relocated two 600 ton precipitators involving some of our most innovative rigging and transport tools. It was a tricky job.
The company has taken on several projects outside of the US. Do you envision Barnhart as an international company with a worldwide reach?
Barnhart is a US company that is willing to take on projects internationally. I do not see expansion internationally, except perhaps Canada, in our immediate future. Ninety-nine percent of our business is in the US and I expect it to stay that way for some time.
Economy wise, the industry has had a pretty good run the last two years. Looking into the Barnhart crystal ball, how do you see 2007 playing out and on into 2008?
Let's enjoy it while it lasts. My crystal ball is foggy but it does show that things will change.
Among the company's core values and mission is a mention about protecting the environment. This isn't something you often see as a part of a company's mission. What motivates this position?
I believe this world was created by a loving God who has provided for us in amazing ways. Part of our response to that should be to care for His creation. Doing so makes sense, pays long-term dividends and is part of my obedience to God.
What are the biggest challenges for you in running the company?
People are the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of running the company. We seek to provide a work environment that is fulfilling and fun. It is not always easy while working at a fast pace but relationships are very important.
What do you like about what you do? What do you like the least?
I like the satisfaction of doing projects well. Our business is not a theoretical exercise. We do real things, lift and move heavy stuff. I like watching our team get better at it each year. Failure to meet our customer expectation or our own expectations is always disappointing.
When you are not working, what do you do for fun?
I have six kids and most of my non-working time revolves around them. I am a Boy Scout leader and love camping and hiking. My wife, Katherine and I are active in our church and have a passion for helping others (through the church) around the world.