Mammoet USA COO Jan Kleijn talks to D.Ann Shiffler
By D.Ann Shiffler12 January 2010
When one thinks about the international rigging, lifting and specialized transport company known as Mammoet, several words come to mind: massive, complicated, epic. While these words don’t necessarily describe the Netherlands-based company itself, they certainly help explain the projects that the company performs.
Mammoet’s projects have been the subject of National Geographic articles and History Channel television programs. When the government of Russia needed a team to engineer and perform the raising of a sunken nuclear submarine from the ocean floor, it called on Mammoet. When Mammoet itself needs to lift an object heavier than conventional cranes lift, they build a piece of equipment or a new crane that will lift it.
Mammoet’s presence in the US started in 1984 when they developed an alliance with Davenport Brothers based in Rosharon, TX. Back then the company mainly just did over-the-road heavy haul work. But as the intensity of the projects grew, Mammoet brought in more specialized equipment, including SPMTs, cranes and its own rigging and lifting systems. In time Davenport would sell out entirely to Mammoet, and the company began to take on larger and more complicated projects in the US and Mexico.
In 1997, a young engineer named Jan Kleijn joined the company in The Netherlands. Kleijn impressed his bosses quickly, and was assigned to several high profile projects, including the raising of the Kursk submarine and the design and testing of various Mammoet proprietary equipment systems such as the Sliding Gantry System (MSG). He rose through the engineering ranks quickly, and in 2005, the company asked him to run the US division.
It’s always nice to interview a person who is passionate about his job and Kleijn is just that. He has had a life-long passion for solving difficult problems, which makes him the perfect person to head Mammoet’s US division. Following is the heart of our conversation.
The economic downturn has hurt crane and transport companies large and small. How has Mammoet weathered the economic calamity?
We are fortunate that the downturn has not really affected us so far. To do such large projects, we must have a long lead time for engineering and planning. Most of the projects we are involved in now, the decisions were made three years ago. We are still working on many projects, major investment projects, which were started three years ago.
Right now we are doing a lot of refinery expansions in the petrochemical industry. There are four big refineries that are currently in expansion and we are working on three of them.
Where is most of your work, and what are the sectors in which you compete?
Mainly our work in the US is on the Gulf Coast but we do have a large expansion project in the Chicago area among various other projects nationwide.
We provide engineered heavy transport and heavy lift services to the offshore, power, petrochemical and civil sectors. In addition to barge load out activities for the offshore market, we often perform barge offload services for all of our various types of projects.
Bridge replacement makes up the large majority of the projects we perform in the civil sector. We are involved in some wind farm work but right now that work is limited.
What expertise, equipment, engineering capabilities and processes distinguishes Mammoet from your competition?
I think one of our advantages is that Mammoet has an enormous equipment base worldwide that we are able to draw from for our projects.
We have access to engineering here and also around the world. We have 25 engineers here in our Houston office and we also have the expertise of the engineers in the main office in Europe. Since we are a big company we do a lot of projects and collectively have a lot of expertise. We are able to share that knowledge across the divisions. A typical solution for a project in the Middle East or Europe could be a good fit for a solution we need here.
As you work you gain expertise. We are working in so many places and we have an extensive history of projects we’ve done. We are also known for our ability to develop new equipment and technical solutions to solve challenging problems for our customers.
What are some of these proprietary pieces of equipment the company has developed?
Our newest innovation is the PTC 120 DS and PTC 160 DS an improvement on our existing Platform Twin Ring Containerized crane (PTC). It is a new very large capacity crane designed for our future projects. Also included in Mammoet’s extensive toolbox are some very innovative jacking and skidding systems.
When we think we need a piece of equipment that is not on the market, based on our experience, we can develop that piece of equipment. Mammoet has been developing strand jacks for many years and now we are seeing other companies copying our designs. It’s nice to see the market appreciate our thinking.
Do you envision the development of new nuclear power plants in the US in the coming years?
Yes. We are working in the nuclear power industry now, in the area of nuclear maintenance and equipment maintenance. Definitely, we are looking carefully to marketing our company to this developing industry. New plants are in the engineering and permitting phases of development now, and we are targeting the market for future projects. However, there are no single plants that have been permitted at this time.
How Does Mammoet approach safety?
Safety is the main topic every day. Safety is our most important concern. That’s key for me and it is key to our management. It’s really important to me that all our employees return home each evening in the same shape as they arrived for work in the morning.
This could be considered a dangerous business. However, if you know what you are doing, use the right procedures and make safety your top priority, you can minimize that risk. Safety is job number one at Mammoet. We have training and development programs in house for equipment and for rigging. We strongly believe in educating our people to contribute to a safe work environment.
What do you like about your job?
I really like the working environment. Even though I’m now in management, I get to do the nice stuff; I get to be directly involved in the projects. It’s very nice being a manager and getting to be a part of using all these great tools. The projects are always exciting and challenging and that’s what I really like.
I really like working in the US. I like Houston and my family enjoys it here.
What would you say is your business philosophy?
I really think that what I bring to the table is respect, enthusiasm and positive attitude. I respect every single employee. It doesn’t matter if he’s sweeping the shop or our director of sales. We all work as a team and that is my philosophy. We are all part of one Mammoet. Often we will have different teams working on many different projects but what matters is that we are all working for the same team. Sometimes the problems we work on are very challenging, and when we work together we are able to resolve those problems more effectively. I believe that one plus one makes more than two.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughters. My daughters are very involved in horseback riding, barrel racing, and western style riding competitions.
My wife and I enjoy watching them compete and have fun doing what they love.
I also like the fun stuff: water skiing, wake boarding and going to the lake with my family.