Keith Settle discusses industry engagement and overcoming obstacles

By D.Ann Shiffler03 January 2022

OXBO Mega Transport Solutions’ Keith Settle loves the business and solving big problems.

Keith Settle is a believer in doing what you say you are going to do. This is especially important in the business of specialized transportation because for the most part, what you are doing is big, bold and brave. This industry is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Keith Settle, President/CEO, OXBO Mega Transport

A true entrepreneur, Settle founded OXBO Mega Transport Solutions in 1993 as Northwest Structural Moving. He has been with the company since its inception.

“I think it gives me an advantage to run a company that I can truly say that I have done every single job here at one time or another,” he said. “I think my experience gives me a unique perspective to be able to look at situations from multiple points of view and how processes and changes can have a ripple effect on each department.”

Headquartered in the northwest corner of Oregon in the town of Scappoose, the company was rebranded as OXBO about six years ago.

“When the company was originally founded and we had eight to 10 employees, we used to close down for the Fourth of July weekend and take all the employees and their families camping at the Oxbow Reservoir in Hells Canyon, ID. When we grew from a regional company into a company that serves all of North America, we decided to rebrand and change the spelling of the name of the reservoir to keep a part of our roots in the new name.

OXBO opened a second branch in Houston in 2017. The company has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, and Settle’s leadership is based on expert know-how and a genuine love of the industry.

Settle has risen through the leadership of the International Association of Structural Movers and more recently SC&RA. He is currently serving as the chairman of the SC&RA’s Specialized Transportation Symposium that will be held February 22-24 at the Renaissance Phoenix Glendale Hotel in Glendale, AZ.

He is excited about the Symposium and the work of the SC&RA on specialized transportation issues.

“Our main goals for the upcoming year are to continue to apply gentle pressure to the states to have uniform axle weight requirements and to implement electronic permit issuing systems,” he said. “The one positive effect that Covid did have on our initiative for electronic permit systems is that during the pandemic it was never more important for freight to move as quickly as possible. The states that had electronic permit systems thrived when all the humans were quarantined and working from home, and the states that had manual systems struggled to allow freight to move freely.”

Settle is hopeful that the industry can “learn from the past manual implementation struggles and move into the future with a technology-based system that will allow essential freight to move even when humans aren’t able to be there to approve the permits.”

Settle is known as sharp, hardworking and a problem solver extraordinaire. I think you will be interested in his answers to our questions.

What is it about this industry that keeps you engaged?

This industry is everchanging, and I love all the moving parts that can change directions in an instant. I thrive on being constantly involved in the immediate actions and decisions required to solve our clients’ problems that inevitably arise when building, moving and installing large, heavy objects on the short time frames that always seems to be a part of the industry. There are times that it can be overwhelming if you let it get to you, but if you can keep it in perspective, it is an amazing industry that allows us to use our imagination and problem solving skills on a daily basis. This job allows me the latitude to invent new solutions and learn from other industry experts every day. When you love what you do it is hard to call it work. Most days I feel like a big kid that gets to play with big toys that most people would never even be able to dream of.

In December 2017, OXBO’s team assembled quickly for the emergency removal of a 300,000-pound Amtrak locomotive that had derailed and ended up in the middle of Interstate 5 near DuPont, WA.

As 2022 begins, how do you characterize our industry?

The word I would currently use to describe our industry is volatile. It has always changed quickly, but the last few years have had exceptional changes that have forced consolidations by some and expansion from others. If your company had any weaknesses, the economy exposed them these last two years, and if your company already had a strong base, company culture and the ability to adapt quickly, your company should have excelled these last couple of years. There are currently exceptional opportunities out there if you have the ability to see them and the capacity to adapt.

What are the biggest challenges you see for the industry over the coming year?

I think the biggest challenges moving forward will be managing the need for more qualified and trained labor to handle the current surge in work opportunities. I think the companies that are willing to invest the most time and effort into attracting and training the next generations of labor will continue to separate those companies who are not prepared to train and maintain a solid workforce.

Do you see the pandemic continuing to impact the business?

The pandemic will continue to impact every aspect of business for the foreseeable future. Because our business lines are considered essential it hasn’t had a major effect of our top line of revenue, but it has definitely affected the bottom line as we adjust to the increased cost of doing business. Our people have adapted beautifully, and I could not ask more of them, but trying to get our work done and follow the everchanging rules, mandates, proposed rules and proposed mandates has been exhausting. Every time we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel another variant pops up to continue the maze of changes we are constantly navigating.

How does Oxbo distinguish itself in the markets it serves?

I think the one thing that differentiates OXBO from the rest of the pack is the culture of our workforce combined with the capabilities of our world class fleet of equipment. We have been blessed with the opportunities to move and launch objects as large as a 13,000-ton barge, as delicate and precise as irreplaceable art and called on in emergency situations to recover a 300,000-pound Amtrak locomotive that de-railed and ended it up in the middle of an interstate highway.

All those projects have been completed safely and with the pride of a staff and crew that are just good people. I am proud of the fact that I know every person that works at OXBO on a personal level and each one of them is the type of person that I would enjoy sharing a meal or a drink with after work.

OXBO won a SC&RA Job of the Year Award in 2018 by providing a crew and equipment to move the hull of Seattle’s Suquamish ferry onto a floating dry dock in Seattle, while simultaneously providing a second crew and equipment to load the superstructure onto a barge in Tacoma. The two dry docks would be tied together, and the superstructure rolled and installed onto the hull, mating into one vessel.

What is your business philosophy?

Say what you will do and do what you say! Obviously, it is not that simple, but I have found that if we stick to that short saying, our clients keep calling us to come back and work for them again and again.

The first and most difficult key is to communicate up front and clearly state what you intend to do. I find that in this industry this step is so often overlooked and miscommunicated to the clients. How can you meet the client’s expectation if you did a poor job of communicating your plan and they do not know what to expect? The simple answer is you can’t, and your project is destined for failure from the beginning.

Once the plan is communicated thoroughly to the client then it is on you to actually safely do what you said you would do. If you can do those two simple steps, then you will always be in demand and keep a happy client base.

What do you do when you are not working?

My wife and I enjoy travelling the country in our motorhome and looking for the scariest, steepest roller coaster, the steepest, most rugged jeep trails in Moab and spending time on our boat water skiing and wakeboarding.

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