20 March 2008
Friendly, personable and known for his keen sense of humor, Frank Bardonaro is a crane man through and through. He immensely enjoys the business of cranes, and says he is continually amazed by the people and the machines that comprise his day to day life.
“The crane business, it's a passion for me,” says Bardonaro, who manages one of the largest crane rental companies in the nation. “My dad was in the construction and crane business most of his life. When I was six years old my dad would hire me to shovel snow in front of the crane yard.”
After finishing college, some law school, and two years in sales and management, Bardonaro realized he would rather be working in the crane business, so he joined his father and worked with him for almost 15 years. In 2001, as his father neared retirement, he had the opportunity to go to work for Joseph Wesley, owner and founder of AmQuip, based in Pennsylvania.
“Mr. Wesley was looking for someone to pass the baton to and position AmQuip as a company that could live on forever, and I wanted to be that person,” says Bardonaro.
Last month in Munich at the Bauma trade show, Wesley, on the eve of his 70th birthday, passed that proverbial baton, announcing that Bardonaro would be the new president of the company that he and his wife Marion had started 40 years ago with one crane and their o. ce set up on their kitchen table.
“With that one crane and running the company out of their kitchen, they had a vision to build a company to serve their local Shift.
Community and with a concentration on taking care of their employees,” says Bardonaro. “They have taken that 'mom-and-pop' philosophy and nurtured it into the company we are today, and set up a succession plan that allows AmQuip to succeed for many generations to come.”
Today with a crawler, mobile and tower crane fleet that exceeds 750 cranes and hundreds of customers across the country, Bardonaro insists the company is still “a local company with a national footprint that follows its customers and believes in its employees.”
“We have the same philosophy Mr. and Mrs. Wesley started with: We'll rent bare cranes anywhere and we'll go wherever the work is if we can do so with the right machine, with the right price and with the right product support, we will do it,” he says. “It's a philosophy that has worked well for 40 years and it's one we will stick with.”
Since Bardonaro joined the company, things have changed. First of all, the company began its expansion during the tough times of 2001 and 2002. That positioned AmQuip favorably for the current robust economy and gave reason for expansion, both in fleet number and through organic and “Greenfield” expansion, Frank-ly he says.
I first met him at a SC&RA Crane and Rigging workshop in Houston a year and a half ago, and since that time he has become a trusted source for ACT articles, sharing his knowledge of cranes and market conditions, as well as an active member of the SC&RA. On the news of his promotion, the celebration of Wesley's 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of AmQuip, Bardonaro agreed that now was as good a time as any to talk about the business of cranes and his role in the industry.
What distinguishes AmQuip in the markets it serves? How do you envision the company 10 years from now?
The biggest difierence we have at AmQuip over nationally known crane rental companies is that we operate as a local company on a national basis. We make our employees a part of our day to day. We want to give our employees the tools and the knowledge to do every job successfully. We bring our employees in the loop at every level, including operating engineers. Our employees are a part of our business model. We o. er them incentives to motivate them to be part of our customer service philosophy, with the mental attitude to get the job done right. We make sure they have their own business cards. At every level, from shop mechanics to crane operators, sales and management teams, we instill the AmQuip customer service mentality. That way, we don't just have 25 to 30 salesmen selling our services; we have 500 salesmen helping to wave our flag. It's all about customer service and that starts with our employees. Anyone can rent cranes.
The company that takes care of its employees and customers will win in the long run. For several years we've been hearing that there will continue to be consolidation in the crane rental business, and we think AmQuip is positioned to be a leader. Through consolidation, we've grown, most recently partnering with Shaughnessy and Elliott. In the next 10 to 20 years we envision AmQuip being the foundation – the building block – for a solid group of local companies around the country. If the conditions are right, we will continue with strategic acquisition and new branch facilities that will enable us to work with our customers. As they expand and move into new regions and industries we can go with them. We see ourselves as a leader in being able to follow our customers and provide them with the safest and most state-of-the art lifting equipment available at all times.
What are the most memorable or spectacular moments in your career that come to mind?
The event that comes to mind, while it's not a fond memory, it's a memory that is very significant: It was right after the 9-11 attacks on America in New York City. Again it's one I will never forget. I was one of FEMA's crane and rigging specialists in the search and rescue e. ort at Ground Zero [for the Ohio division of FEMA]. It was a dark day, but one that showed how our country and, in particular, the crane, rigging, and iron-workers in this country, can rally together to help build and re-build the foundation of this great country. It's one of those life-altering experiences that will never be forgotten, and the heroism of those who were at Ground Zero can never really be expressed in film or words. I was proud to be part of it.
Aside from that, from a more pleasant standpoint, are the memories I have of being around so many great people in this industry. This industry is full of sincere and honorable people who work hard to do great things. I've been fortunate to have spent time with some legends in the industry who have given me the tremendous opportunity to learn from them and, in the process, enjoy what I do. I am able to work with people who have spent their whole lives in this industry and I like that. It's very satisfying for me. From being at the dismantlement of the Apollo 13 launch pad, to actually pushing the button to implode Philadelphia's Veteran's stadium compliments of O'Rourke Wrecking, I've had some great experiences.
AmQuip has expanded quickly in the last two or three years. How does the company approach expansion (acquiring companies and purchasing new cranes)?
How many locations does AmQuip operate and how do the different branches interact?
We run a couple of approaches to expansion. The first is where we can grow by going into new markets where that makes sense for us. This type of growth is usually determined by our customers needs. If a customer or contractors have needs, we will grow or expand slowly to meet those needs. This strategy takes more time and patience, but we have had success in many “Greenfield” markets.
On the acquisition side, we are strategic as well. We have seen a lot of companies go and acquire another company just for the sake of buying another company. We haven't seen that work well; we don't see that as the way to expand. We've focused on markets that have companies in which the owners have management teams and philosophies that are similar to those of AmQuip, and that the employees have the same values and beliefs and hard work ethic of AmQuip employees.
We have been successful going into markets with smaller companies that don't have all the tools and equipment and resources of AmQuip, and we have been able to partner with them in a positive manner. We look for companies that will bene. t the most from utilizing our knowledge and our equipment in their markets and in growing their markets.
We run about 14 locations right now and the interaction is daily via phone calls, conference calls and, from a technical standpoint, through a single computer system that allows us to know, when it comes to our equipment, who has what and when it's available on a real time basis. All of our branches are connected via this computer system. Technology has made our expansion, the acquisitions, much more e. ective. Our company is built on a foundation of strong communication at every level.
What are the geographic boundaries of AmQuip?
We focus primarily on a region that is east of the Mississippi River – the Eastern US. But at the same time, we have cranes in California, Texas, and even Puerto Rico. Wherever our customers go that we can provide the best equipment at the best price and we can do it pro. tably, we will go there. We are strongest in eastern US, but with long-term bare rentals, we can be competitive anywhere in North America and South America on certain types of large cranes and tower cranes, for that matter.
A few years back, AmQuip expanded into the tower crane market. How has that fared? What has fueled the demand for tower cranes in the US? How do you characterize your segment of the tower crane business?
The tower crane market is capital intensive and a tough market because of all the ancillary equipment needed to erect tower cranes and also the product support required. We ventured into this market with a few small local purchases and acquisitions. As the business started to grow, we were fortunate enough to get on board the person I consider the Number One tower crane guru in the country with Dennis Bates, who came out of early retirement to be our vice president. By getting him involved and then placing a large order right before the last ConExpo, we had the right mix. We secured 100 tower cranes and between Dennis, Scott Brandstandt and the rest of our sales team, we are keeping them all busy. Because we have the support equipment available, this enables us to perform a turn-key operation. We can usually bring in the cranes for piling, unloading steel, and erecting the tower cranes. With our resources, we can make a phone call and have all the expertise our customers need with the top tower crane experts in North America at their fingertips. We've grown our tower crane business not because we have tower cranes, but because we have the right people running the tower crane operation.
Many tower cranes have been brought into the US market over the past few years. Many of these are the smaller self-erecting units too.
We focus on the larger ones and the market has increased for these machines. With the crawler crane shortage in the world, we are seeing a lot more lift strategies at a job site designed around a tower crane because they are available.
Some of the things that had been done with a crawler are now being done with tower cranes, and vice versa. As we see expansion in inner city markets, such as Boston, Philadelphia, Nashville, Cincinnati, there's more building of taller buildings in more con. ned spaces, which has driven the demand for tower cranes. Even if the residential market slows down, we believe we have a strong enough market outside of the commercial market to at least stay on top or maintain the status quo for the next five to 10 years. Some of the larger crane rental companies have gotten into the tower business in order to give their customers more options, and that has helped strengthen the US tower crane market substantially. Previously, you had one or two major national players in the tower crane market and now you have six more. Now customers have more choices, more options of who they can call and, most importantly in my opinion, on the tower crane side, prior to AmQuip and a few others getting into the tower crane market, customers were up against not being able to work with a local tower crane provider. A local company would have to deal with a national company that basically rented the tower crane. We operated and maintained equipment from local business which allows customers to say, “I know AmQuip and they are here to back me up if I need it.” That's been a key to us getting work in the tower market, as well.
Describe the scope of AmQuip's fleet – from largest crane down to smallest.
We operate purely a crane rental business. We don't get involved with manlifts, excavation equipment, etc. If a customer has any type crane rental need, they know they can make one call to AmQuip and it will be handled. Our fleet starts at a six ton capacity carry deck crane to a 600 ton capacity crane. We just placed order for two Liebherr 1600s and a Liebherr LR 1400, and we have several [Manitowoc] 2250s with Max-ers as well as a few 550 ton capacity all terrain cranes. Any crane don't have above that size we have strategic relationships with specialty competitors, that if we don't have what is needed above 600 ton class, we have a relationships with people who do. A customer can call us to get what they need and we will provide it. We have motto at AmQuip: No one is allowed to say 'no.' If a customer has a lift, we will find a way to get it done safely and meet their budgets.
You have been promoted to president of AmQuip. What are the biggest challenges for you in running the company?
I think obviously the biggest challenge for me is to continue the success and growth Mr. Wesley has created for 40 years and to do for the next 40 years. Also to stay strong when the down-cycles come, and we all know they will come, to be able to stay pro. table. That's the biggest key. We will do that by keeping the right management team in place and keeping our employees as partners, keeping them happy. Being president means you have to make everyone happy.
The challenge for me is to operate this company with the passion that Joseph L. Wesley did for the past 40 years. On May 5, AmQuip celebrated its 40th anniversary. That's quite an accomplishment for any company in any industry. Forty years of business with one owner, one entrepreneur, in our industry – not too many people can say that. It's a huge challenge for me to continue that tradition of excellence.
What is it about the crane industry that keeps you intrigued?
I think the answer is the same for everyone who is in this business. It's a passion. It's the people. It's either in you or it's not, and once it's in you can't get it out. I've been in this industry for almost 30 years, and it's intriguing from the standpoint that you get to be a part of so many things. Generations from now people will look at a building, a stadium, a bridge and say “wow.” I like knowing that we are building the infrastructure of this country. It's a neat experience for people in this industry at every level, whether you are operating the crane or running the crane company. It's a good feeling to wake up every day and to be excited to go to work.
Do you have a mentor in this business?
I've been fortunate to have several mentors in my career. My father, Frank Bardonaro, Sr., has been the most in. uential person in my life growing up and watching his work ethic was a good experience. He never had anyone say a negative word about him – he was a strong leader with a firm but fair approach, and I try ” to use that in my work.
From the crane-specific mentors, I've been able to work with legends in the business. When I was a kid, being able to be around the people my father worked with was very good for me. From a sales standpoint, Mr. Hoffman, was a mentor. I learned how to take care of customers and Gary was one of the best at being able to make everyone in the room feel appreciated.
Obviously, the biggest mentor I've had at this level has been Mr. Wesley, who is the epitome of an entrepreneur and who started this great company. He has showed me how to watch the cash box, so to speak, and has allowed me the flexibility to let the rope out enough to make mistakes and learn from my mistakes but still not hang myself. Mr. Wesley has introduced me to people and allowed me to be around people in this business who are legends. People like Bud Elliott, Jack Shaughnessy, Mike Caparco, Heinz Schiller, Mr. Liebherr and other industry leaders. We really try to work with some of the strongest players in the industry at a level that is competitive, yet enables both AmQuip and our competitor to work together. The industry has some great people, and most of the people in our industry are willing to help a brother 'crainy' whenever they can. We like to work with people and competitors, not against them.
But I've also been fortunate enough to be around some of the brightest crane minds in the US from the manufacturer to the rental side. I've tried to learn what I could. It's really neat to be around and see guys like Glen Tellock (who was recently promoted to CEO of Manitowoc Corporation). Congratulations to him for taking over the largest crane manufacturer in the US. It's neat that guys I've grown up with in this industry are now running their respective companies. If you look around our industry, it's pretty much the same people I've known and worked with for the past 10 years now managing their respective companies. It's a neat dynamic to be a part of, and one that should make the next 40 years just as exciting as the first 40.
When you are not working, what do you do in your leisure time?
Ask my daughter, Alexys – that's the time I spend with her. When we are together, she's the one who will reach over and turn off my cell phone. (Then I put it on silent so I can still see who calls during the movies!) Any time I can get free, I spend it with her. That's what it's all about. None of this matters without the time with our families. She and I do everything we can together ... She loves American Girl doll stores and Broadway shows and shopping in New York. But we also spend down time together ... like just sitting on the couch talking and eating the one of the three cakes she made me bake with her. And, of course, she's my toughest critic. If we drive by a jobsite and it's not a red, white and blue AmQuip crane, I always get asked, “Daddy, why isn't that an AmQuip Crane?” Fortunately, she likes to bake cakes more than drive around and look at jobsites, at least for now.