It's always a pleasure to highlight the amazing work that Sarens' talented men and women are doing out in the field and around the globe. This month, we're putting the spotlight on Mike Hussey, Regional Director for North America.
Mike and his team are based in Houston, where Hurricane Harvey recently left large portions of the city underwater. The storm hit right after this interview was conducted, so Sarens followed up with Mike to make sure everyone on the team was safe and sheltered.
"Hurricane Harvey was definitely a big blow to Houston," he says. "But fortunately everyone on our team is safe and things are starting to get back to normal at the office, which is still open and serving our clients. We hope that all those who have been impacted by this powerful storm are able to recover and rebuild as quickly as possible, and we are all doing what we can to help our community get back on its feet."
Sarens would like to thank Mike and the team in Houston for their dedication and teamwork, and wish them a quick return to normalcy. Read on for more about this special division.
Could you give us some background on the North American division?
Sarens entered both Canada and the US by acquiring local businesses. In the United States, we purchased a company principally focused on container crane upgrades and specialized nuclear component change outs, while in Canada our acquisition operated a dozen cranes in the province of Alberta.
Today, these businesses have grown to offer the full scope of Sarens services including cranes, over the road and onsite transport, jacking, rigging, skidding and specialized lift systems. In the past twelve months we have even completed our first barge-based projects in both countries!
Our employees typically number as many as 400 and the region includes over 100 cranes in all size categories, even a 1,600-tonne capacity Demag CC8800. For transport, we have over 350 axle lines and our inventory includes specialized lifting and skidding systems.
The region has changed dramatically in the last several years. When I joined Sarens, North America had less than 100 employees and less than 15 cranes. We have grown by more than five times and don't see our growth ending there. We have, however, remained a company focused on the individual: the individual employee and customer.
Could you tell us about your business model, and how you've adopted it?
In both Canada and the US we have focused on the development of a strong base: in Canada, it has been Alberta and in the US it is the Gulf Coast.
We then looked for opportunities to expand our offering to specific projects where Sarens offers a unique solution. Both Canada and the US are very large countries and we cannot be successful if we try to be "everything to everyone".
Instead, we have focused on projects where we truly feel we can make a difference. In some cases this is by offering a complete or unique solution. In other cases, this has been by providing our customer with superior attention and service or by supplementing a local crane supplier on a project where they need a few large capacity cranes to allow them to fully supply a project.
What have been the division's major recent projects?
A few of the major projects that we have completed in North America include:
Can you tell us more about the Champlain Bridge Project and its challenges?
The Champlain Bridge Project was challenging from the start. A special installation vessel had to be designed because standard lifting systems could not handle the combination of the following factors:
With these specific factors in mind, we designed the Sarens FFI (Floating Foundation Installer). The following systems were incorporated in the design to cope with the above-mentioned factors:
With the addition of a global team of operational specialists, we were able to flawlessly position all footings safely and within the required tolerances.
We recently shot the first of its kind virtual reality video to showcase the Champlain Bridge Project. How do you envision the response?
I think this video is an excellent opportunity for viewers to "step inside" the application of a new installation technology developed by Sarens.
Interesting projects such as these led me to pursue my engineering degree and ultimately led me to a career in the heavy lift and heavy haul industry. I like to think that the next generation of construction innovators will be inspired by this immersive experience!
How do you visualize the existing market and its future outlook?
The past three years have been difficult, with decreased pricing for the major commodities driving a decrease in our customers' capital spending budgets. This has driven a trend toward investment in sustaining maintenance projects and smaller capital projects. With decreased numbers of oil and gas-related projects, we see future opportunities in large infrastructure and alternative energy projects.
What challenges do you foresee in this business?
The main challenges facing our industry are related to uncertainty surrounding project approvals and then short timeline between the owner's financial investment decision and the commencement of work. Both these challenges are driven by the uncertain investment climate and increased due diligence required by owners.
We are now being awarded large crane contracts for projects that start within weeks or months, whereas as recently as a few of years ago we were receiving a year or more notice. This puts a lot of stress on an organization's planning and processes. Fortunately, our position as one the largest heavy lift and heavy haul suppliers gives us the personnel and equipment to deal with rapidly changing operating environments.
Which sector do you think drives the growth of heavy lifting and transport business in North America?
Unfortunately, is very difficult question to address! Several years ago the answer was simple: large oil and gas-related projects. The current reality is that there are a number of drivers. While oil and gas projects remain important, we have had to focus on alternative sectors such as infrastructure or alternative energy projects.
What do you believe is Sarens' key strength?
The key is really Sarens' ability to visualize a complete solution to a customer's problem using multiple combinations of in-house techniques or equipment. We do not immediately assume that a crane is the only solution to a problem. By considering a number of options we are able to develop the safest and most economical solution for our customers.
Have you participated in any community initiatives?
We support many initiatives each year to demonstrate our commitment to the community we live in. These initiatives include environmental sustainability projects, health promotion, social welfare initiatives and many others.
Some specific examples include:
Thank you, Mike Hussey, for sharing your insights on the North American region. Sarens is proud to have you as part of our greater global team!