Looking far and wide

25 April 2008

Doug Williams is the consummate problem solver. As president of the Buckner Companies in the US and the recently installed president of the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association, Williams enjoys the day-to-day challenges of the construction industry and gets great satisfaction from assessing all the avenues for solving a given problem and then determining the best way to get the desired result.

“I like figuring out how to do things in a different way, be it a technical nature like rigging a lift, or just figuring out how to approach something involving people, logistics and available equipment,” Williams says. “Almost every day is a series of assessing the challenges, prioritising them, and then and calmly working out the solution. I get satisfaction from this.”

Running the company that his father ran and that his grandfather founded is an honour, Williams says. Having worked his way through the ranks of the company, he knows the business from the ground up, and the occasions are few when he cannot draw on personal experience when faced with a particular challenge or issue. “The technical part of the business I learned hands-on in the field, actually doing the work.”

Williams attributes his successes in the industry to the guidance and mentoring by his father Eddie, who has been his role model throughout his career. “My father and I have an excellent, what might even be a rare, relationship for a father and son working together. He was always open to me taking on more responsibility. In the mid- 1980s, I became vice president and general manager, and started pulling together a team of managers that would go forward with me.”

Based in North Carolina on the US east coast, The Buckner Companies comprise Buckner Steel, Buckner HeavyLift and Buckner Crane & Rigging. Started in 1947 by Clyde Preston Buckner after his discharge from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the company made its mark in the steel erection business, completing large-scale jobs up and down the East Coast and today around the world. The company is consistently ranked by Engineering News-Record as one of the top 25 steel erectors in the US. It is well known for building large sports stadiums, convention centres and airports.

In addition to its prominence as a US steel erection contractor, Buckner has distinguished itself in the crane sector, owning one of the largest and most modern fleets in the US. Williams is credited with growing this side of the business, known as Buckner HeavyLift and Buckner Crane & Rigging.

“In the mid-1980s, we had a small fleet of cranes focused on our own steel erection work,” he says. “I started getting into larger cranes and more specialized cranes and eventually into the long-term and heavy lift rental market.”

Lifting fleet

While steel erection and pre-cast concrete erection is still the company's core business, Buckner Crane & Rigging accounts for about 30% of the business, he says. The company owns more than 60 cranes from eight to 1,000 US tons capacity, with an emphasis on lattice boom crawlers larger than 100 tons. Included are seven Liebherr LR 1400/1 crawler cranes with derrick attachments and luffing jibs.

Earlier in the year, Williams travelled to Germany to the Liebherr factory to see his newest LR 1400 come off the assembly line. “We bought the 100th one of these cranes, and we went over for the celebration,” Williams explains.

Williams thinks he is well suited for the construction business, and it offers him a good mixture of travel, office time and outdoor time. “I would be bored in a lot of careers and I can honestly say I've never been bored in this career,” he says. “I like this business because it is one where you can see progress, there's a physical product that when you leave the jobsite the project you are working on is taller than it was when you came in to work that morning. When I drive around and see buildings and structures that we helped build, that feels good to me.”

SC&RA president

Honoured to be at the helm of the SC&RA, Williams has been involved in the association for many years. “I am fortunate that I step into what is a very well run and stable association. Both the staff and the present and past officers have put SC&RA in a very strong position. There are really no major challenges or crisis situations.”

Volunteering time to an industry association comes naturally to Williams, whose father “role modelled” such involvement all his life. “Largely due to my father's approach, our company has always been very attuned and active in industry associations,” he says. “It would take me a while to name how many organizations we are members of. We have a lot of our salaried people who spend a portion of their time participating in different organizations, associations and societies. Because of my interest in cranes and rigging I joined the SC&RA back in the mid-1980s. I found it to be a very welcoming organization.”

In terms of priorities for SC&RA over the next year, Williams wants to make sure that the organization continues to grow and to assure that it does not get complacent due to the current “boom” in the construction industry.

“One of our goals will be to continue to pursue activities and efforts that bring more value to all of our members. And one of the ways [to do this] is to constantly remind members that we are the SC&RA. One of the things I want to do is to encourage people to get involved, to speak up and to participate and play a role in continuing to evolve the SC&RA into what we want it to be. This is a very easy organization to get involved in, to participate in. It just doesn't make sense for any of us not to take SC&RA anywhere we want it to go.”

On the organization's agenda over the next year will be to continue to improve the products and services to the membership and to develop the insurance programme for members. “With Special Risk Services merging with NBIS, and now being Turnkey Specialty Insurance Services, there is a big agenda item for this next year to continue to grow the markets, services and insurance options available to membership.” The organization will continue to maintain its strong position on regulatory issues, for example, regulatory uniformity.

Further afield

One of Williams' priorities, and what he hopes will be a hallmark of his leadership, is to improve and grow SC&RA's international participation, and make sure the organization is of value to international members. “One of the ways we will do that going forward is more participation in international expositions and more face to face involvement with our international members, rather than them just always coming to us. There are some plans for that type of participation. Through my business, I've always done quite a bit of international travel and the exposure to other ways of doing things and to other cultures and people and the relationships that have been built have been invaluable. So it will be very satisfying to take on that part of the agenda.”

SC&RA member companies operate in a global economy and Williams says that people and equipment need to be able to more easily move around the world. “Our equipment needs to be more universal and to be utilised as a part of the world resale market. When equipment finishes in one part of the world, it needs to go work in another part of the world, and it seems to me that one way to help achieve this is more interaction and communication between people.”

Through more international participation by SC&RA, Williams thinks that networking and sharing information can make the organization even more valuable to members. “Just last week our company experienced some benefits that date back to relationships we started building overseas 20 years ago. So I think there may be members on all sides of the oceans who may not realise the benefits of broadening their horizons from an international standpoint.”

Extending the organization's international scope will also allow an information exchange to stimulate better business practices, safety and similar aspects. “Things are changing so rapidly, and not just in equipment. We have people who work for our company who are from Ireland, from South Africa. I don't think you can reap the benefits of these valuable skill and knowledge pools if you are just focusing on your own little world.”

Williams expects he will be very busy over the next year, and thinks that achieving “balance” will be a constant challenge. “I see this for myself personally, and for our whole membership, achieving balance in terms of time, availability and work load.”

Downtime away from work is one way to achieve this balance, and it's something that Williams endorses for everyone. In his downtime, he spends as much time as he can with wife and two daughters, travelling and playing on the beach. When he's not with the family, he is perfecting his “hobby” - training for and participating in marathons and triathlons. Weekday mornings Williams can be found either running or swimming and he fits in cycling on the weekends. Last year he qualified for the national triathlon championships and eventually competed in the world competition in Hawaii. “It was a fluke really getting an invitation. I was not the fastest but I wasn't the slowest either. I can at least lie to my grandchildren and show them my Team USA uniform.”      •

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