Alan Barnhart, president of Barnhart Crane & Rigging, will serve as president of the SC&RA in 2014. Mike Chalmers reports

May 6, 2014

Distinguished Leadership

With more than 20 branches across the United States, Barnhart Crane & Rigging enjoys a nationwide reputation for solving problems. The company's core values tell the story: Safety, Quality Service, Innovation, Continuous Improvement, Fairness and Profit With a Purpose. This mission has allowed Barnhart to commit itself to being the absolute best crane, rigging and heavy transport company it can be. Barnhart customers have come to expect one thing overall: the company will aggressively pursue innovative ways to lower project costs and improve safety. And this pursuit has allowed for consistent growth and relationship building on a level that distinguishes Barnhart as one of the premier companies in the industry.

Barnhart also boasts one of the strongest networks of rigging experts and equipment in the country, and the awards to prove it. Since the company's beginnings in 1969, Barnhart has stacked up SC&RA Rigging and Hauling Job of the Year awards that number into the double digits. One piece of recognition, however, highlights Barnhart's role in enhancing the industry, and in turn, shines a light on SC&RA. Alan Barnhart, the company's owner and president, is the new SC&RA President for 2014. The designation not only serves as a symbol of achievement for both Barnhart Crane & Rigging and its accomplished chief, but exemplifies the role that SC&RA plays in providing its members, as well as the industry, with proven, trusted and unsurpassed leadership.

In a recent SC&RA interview, Barnhart looks back on a long, satisfying career within the family enterprise, and looks ahead at the continued effort to help association members run more efficient businesses of their own, in his new role as SC&RA President.

Q. Your company goes back some 45 years. Can you walk us through how it began, and how it grew into what it is today?

A. Barnhart Construction began in 1969, when Richard and Nancy Barnhart started a steel erection company with a pickup truck, a welding machine and a ladder. The company headquarters was two bedrooms of our home for the first 17 years. My brother Eric and I started working for a dime an hour as kids. In the early seventies, the company started buying cranes. In 1974, we bought our first telescopic crane – a Grove TM-650. The company continued to erect steel, but branched into crane service and rigging. By the early eighties, the company had evolved into a crane and rigging company that occasionally did steel erection – the focus had shifted.

Q. As time passed, you and your brother assumed greater responsibility.

A. Yes, Eric and I both got degrees in civil engineering and joined the company full-time – Eric in 1982 and me in 1983. We both have boring resumes; we've been doing the same thing ever since. In 1986, my parents decided to fulfill a dream. The two of them bought a new sailboat and sailed around the world – an adventure that took most of the next seven years. When they left, Eric and I started Barnhart Crane & Rigging Co. It was a new corporation, but the same team (minus Mom and Dad) and the same fleet. We had eight cranes, up to 125 tons, and 12 people.

Q. When did your relationship with SC&RA begin, and how has it evolved over time?

A. We joined SC&RA in the eighties. Eric and I attended the Crane & Rigging Workshop several times before going to our first convention in 1991. We benefitted greatly from the interaction with leaders in the industry. Bill Heron, Brock Settlemier, Don Russell, Earl Johnson, George Bragg, Don Sicklesteel, Bill Sterett, Dan Bumby, John Williams and many others gave great advice and served as role models. We were a small company from Memphis and were amazed at the tools the 'big guys' had. I also enjoyed getting to know the young guys – Doug Williams, from North Carolina; Jim Taylor, from Kansas; Alan Ashlock, from Florida; Delynn Burkhalter, from Mississippi; George Young, from Philadelphia – and the crazy Settlemier boys from California. We are all still around, but not so young anymore. In 1998, I had the honor of serving as the chairman of the Crane & Rigging Group Governing Committee.

Q. As the leader of a company with jobs and offices spread out across the country, you no doubt find yourself managing numerous roles and responsibilities. As the newly elected SC&RA President, what are your goals for this year, and what issues do you feel are in need of attention?

A. SC&RA is a solid organization with a great staff. Many talented people have invested their efforts in making the organization a valuable force in our industry. I plan to continue to push the flywheel. Permit uniformity, safety standards, regulation and training have been valuable contributions of our organization, and we should continue to make strides in these areas.

Q. Forty-five years is a long time in any industry. How has the crane, rigging and transport business changed, better or worse, in your eyes over the decades, and where do you see it headed?

A. The industry is safer, more international and more competitive. The equipment is more sophisticated and customers' expectations are higher. I have seen massive changes, but the basics of safety, hard work, innovation and teamwork remain. In high school, my dad used a slide rule – I used a calculator. My kids use computers and smart phones. What tools will my grandchildren have? I bet we will laugh at our 'smart phones' when we look back in 20 years.

Q. It could be said that Barnhart's steady growth and current success is a testament to its internal values and mission statement. Would you agree?

A. God has blessed Barnhart. To say otherwise would be to take undue credit. He has assembled a great group of people and given each of us skills and gifts that we can use to meet challenges and serve customers. We are thankful. Our mission statement and core values help unify the team and guide our decisions.

Q. Describe some challenges that Barnhart, and similar companies, face in the modern construction industry – and how do you see your role as SC&RA President becoming vital to addressing and mitigating some of these challenges?

A. Well-meaning people often create laws, rules, processes and systems that do more harm than good. They create inefficiency, but more importantly, they frustrate good people who are striving to do the right thing. Our work should be meaningful and fulfilling. We need to continue to engage the process and to encourage change that improves the industry. My role will be small, but the role of SC&RA has been, and should continue to be, vital.

Q. Barnhart Crane & Rigging continues to represent one of the most reliable names in the industry. At this point, your reputation precedes you. Is there a secret to your success – and how do you continue to thrive within the marketplace?

A. Barnhart is successful because we have a great team. We have a bunch of people who are willing to answer the call when the weather is bad, to think when plans change, to look for a better way, to prevent problems and to train the next guy. My brother is a genius; our branches have good leadership teams; our Service Center serves and we strive to work as One Team. We have had a bunch of success, and some failure. We will flourish if we keep improving.

Q.: The Barnhart legacy is already adorned with numerous awards and accomplishments. Do you have any favorite jobs that rise to the surface when you think about how far your company has come?

A. My favorite job was the bridge made with K'Nex that my youngest two sons and I built recently. It had a 12-foot span, DVD cases as decking and withstood several trips of a remote control car. I do not think it will win Rigging Job of the Year.

Q. As incoming president, you've traveled the SC&RA inner circle for some time now. What words of wisdom, if any, have you received that might have had an impact on your view of this position, and the industry itself?

A. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Manage equipment, but lead people. Measure what matters. And say thank you.

Q. The life of an SC&RA president is a busy one. Will you be able to find any downtime, and if so, how do you unwind from the demands of your day-to-day?

A. I have an amazing wife and six children that keep me busy. I like backpacking with the Boy Scouts, playing Frisbee golf, flipping pancakes and sorting socks.

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