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Monday, May 16, 2022

Maxie McGuire

President, Callan Marine

Posted 4/14/2022 4:03:29 PM

Maxie McGuire (Photo: Callan Marine)

By Greg Trauthwein

Maxie, how did you end up with a career in dredging?
After discharge from the Air Force and a tour from Desert Storm, I found a job with the Corps of Engineers, starting at the bottom in the training program. I started there, and part of the mission of the Corps of Engineers, is navigation and flood control, naturally with a heavy emphasis on dredging. I spent a lot of time on dredges around the country, and as our family started developing, I found better business opportunities in the private sector. So I left for a career with one of the largest dredging companies in the nation at the time, and from there I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of great colleagues and have opportunities come my way.

Can you give us a by the numbers look at Callan Marine today?
We're operating four dredgers today, and we have a fifth joining (soon with) two others under construction (and due for delivery in 2022), and today we are about 250 employees after starting with 14 employees 10 years ago. Our customers are federal, state, and local governments as well as a very large private customer base along the Gulf Coast in the oil and gas industries. All of our staff comes from seasoned positions, and about 75% of our management team, we’ve worked together somewhere along the line in my career. Behind the walls here where we are family oriented, we are people-centric and that makes chasing the vision that much easier.

That sounds like the marine business: everybody knows somebody, has worked with somebody, or went to school with somebody.
That's our mantra here; everyone is hand-picked. 

Can you take a deeper dive into the fleet, in regards to age and capabilities?
I'm very proud that we have one of the newest fleets in the industry. Our oldest dredge is 11-years-old, so we have a nice modern, new fleet, which really helps us in our performance. We’re an all cutter suction dredge fleet today, and we've got a hopper dredge in design. We're broadening our horizons and continuing to try to build to what the market needs.

Regarding the new dredger coming into your fleet, is that a hopper dredge or CSD?
We've got three cutter suction dredges that will enter the fleet. General Bradley will enter the fleet next month (March 2022), followed by the General Marshall and the General Arnold. The Admiral Nimitz is the hopper dredge and it's under design. It's a giant dredge, a ship that sails offshore to dispose of materials. Our cutter suction dredges are named after generals, and our hopper dredge fleet will be named after admirals.

Aside from the ones that you have on order and that are being built, are there any plans to order new equipment this year?
Yes. We also have a host of support equipment, tugboats, barges, and the like under construction to support the dredges.

By all appearances, the last few years seem to have been some of the strongest ever for the US dredging market.How do you see it?
It's been a good market, and I think we have a great outlook in the future. We have these ‘deepening’ cycles that come through every 10 or 15 years, keeping up with the nation's need to serve larger ships. Everything we can do helps our economy. 
Congress and the Administrations have set the table for funding to invest in our infrastructure, part of which is navigation and flood control, along with very healthy programs with the likes of the state of Louisiana with, with the Coastal Resources and Protection administration in Louisiana. We see very healthy budgets, which gives us a great outlook anda well-funded future.

What are the biggest drivers for your business today?
The size and number of ships, barges, and tugs moving on our waterways creates the demand to have full depth and full width of channels to support commerce. The Corps of Engineers and owners understand that a full draft equals a fully loaded ship, which is the most effective and efficient movement of our commerce.

Can you provide a brief overview of the different parts of your business and how each contribute?
Marine construction was a natural path for us, and a fair amount of our dredging work supports marine construction. We've aligned with a few colleagues through the years, and decided we had to make that a place of investment. We've added several crane barges to our fleet. We've got a good backlog and we are, in a lot of respects, calling on the same customer base as the dredgers. So that was a natural move.
For the environmental piece we talk about marsh reclamation, beach construction, and other things. We've done post-storm clean-up activities; we've executed several reef projects, including the largest artificial reef project in the state of Texas. Basically, if it's on the water, it is within our capabilities. We're entrepreneurial; we focus on our core businesses, but nothing is ‘out of the box’ if it makes sense.

Do you expect the mix of your business to essentially stay the same in the coming year or two years? 
I think it ebbs and flows inside of the core. I think we'll always be a dredge-centric business at Callan and depending on funding and the needs, I think over the next handful of years, the deepening and widening cycles will happen. When that slows a bit, it'll be replaced with maintenance dredging and beach re-nourishments in the Gulf and on the Atlantic side. We're not too much a West coast bunch, but we will go for the right project. 

Obviously there's been a recent infusion for infrastructure from the federal level. Do you see this having a positive impact on your business?
Absolutely. Our country is getting old for the first time, and if you look at some of the older places in the world, they've rebuilt their country several times. It's time to pay attention to our infrastructure (to fix and rebuild it).

Can you point to a technology as having the greatest positive impact on running a safe and efficient dredge operation?
(Safety of our crews and efficiency of our fleet are drivers). The newer dredges are diesel electric, so it helps us (be more efficient as)fuel burn is one of our largest cost items. Less fuel burned is also good for the environment. When we look at our people, we invest in automation systems to help with fatigue, while also buying them the latest gear and providing the creature comforts on the dredges: full internet, satellite TVs, exercise rooms, individual bathrooms, and just about all the food that they want to eat.

Finding and retaining people has been a problem for many companies, many industries. What’s the situation at Callan Marine?
(Finding people lately has been) a strain, but we're solving our problems. First and foremost, we network; everyone is connected to someone, and the culture pollinates itself. I've never worked with a better group of people in my life. Our retention rate is very good, and I attribute that to creating and maintain a great culture. Our families know each other; we communicate the best we can and try to understand each other. Some will make a change for a small amount of money, but in my experience many times they will leave and find out it is not so green on the other side, so they come back to us. 

There are obvious pressures in the maritime world to reduce emissions. Can you discuss how Callan Marine is investing in technology or technique to help minimize its environmental footprint?
Every time we build a new boat, every time we remodel something, we invest in efficiencies and things to be a better steward of our environment, to be a better steward of our employees, whether it's mitigating noise or emissions.

What do you consider to be the greatest challenge to Callan Marine, to run a safe, efficient, and profitable dredging operation today?
A hundred percent it's about the people. First you build the right equipment, and we've done that. Once we build the right piece of equipment, after that it's 100% about the people, giving them the tools, the confidence, and the culture to create the success.
I've come through the ranks, and I find myself being a champion of the people. I spend a fair portion of my mornings each day, sticking my head in people's offices to see how they’re doing, and it’s not just ‘lip service’. We know each other's families and kids and we hope it comes through that we care. (Don’t get me wrong), we do have a business to run; but I think we sincerely support our employees.

That is particularly important, I would imagine, in navigating the last two years defined by COVID.
We managed the best we could through COVID. We didn't miss a day of work. We got people off of the dredges and put them in hotel rooms or got them home. But we haven't had to shut down any office or any piece of equipment, making sure we could do our best if we're short staffed. We might have slowed down but we didn’t quit. And we've gotten through it without having to lay anyone off. 

Can you discuss a project that was particularly interesting, particularly challenging, or just a project that you think best illustrates Callan Marine's capabilities?
We made a step change with the addition of the (General) MacArthur (based on its size and capabilities). We won a job from the U.S. Fish Wildlife to re-nourish Breton Island, which is offshore in Breton Sound south of New Orleans. So we had this big job to rebuild, I think the second oldest wildlife sanctuary in our country working offshore with the brand-new dredge; so it was quite the challenge with all hands on deck. 

Looking ahead by market sector, by geographic region or by both, where do you see the greatest opportunities for Callan Marine in the coming 12 to 24 months?
We're a pretty mobile bunch, and we tend to move from the Gulf to the East coast regularly. It depends on where the projects happen and the time of year. There's a ‘turtle (nesting) window’ on the east coast, so rebuilding beaches tends to happen in the winter months. Overall, I think work is going to continue to focus around (dredging) our waterways and harbors to work on the infrastructure. And I don't see a pause in the beach re-nourishments because that's frontline protection for everyone.