Cresting to the Top
Performing with integrity propels Walters Marine Construction for over 30 years
The construction industry is characterized by a broad range of projects and specializations. One unique discipline within the industry is marine construction. Bill Walters, President of Walters Marine Construction, Inc., explains the type of work his team does: “We do heavy highway construction and also shore protection, meaning ocean outfalls, stone jetty walls, revetment walls and bulkheads. We also do bridges and dams.”
The company in Ocean View, New Jersey, performs marine-based infrastructure work along the state’s coastline and also in rivers and lakes. This expert crew also specializes in deep foundations, mechanical and hydraulic dredging, and underwater inspections and surveys.
Built for This
Bill, along with brother Ron Walters, co-owner and Vice President, founded the business in 1988. They were born and raised in New Jersey’s southernmost county, which is flanked by Delaware Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
Thus, the brothers naturally developed an affection for all things aquatic. “There is saltwater in our veins. I’m on the water every day either on the ocean or the bay. We just love it,” Bill declares.
When the Walters first entered the construction industry, their focus was on residential projects. However, by combining their love for marine life with their passion for building, they found the niche that worked best for them. The transition to marine construction came with their project to erect the 91st St. jetty in Sea Isle City, which was funded by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. From that point on, they expanded their business through various projects for the State of New Jersey Army Corps of Engineers, the New Jersey Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The Walters brothers have shown over the past three decades that their company has endurance, much like the matriarch of the family, Shirley Saduk, who assists in the company’s office. Shirley hasn’t let stereotypical expectations regarding age push her into retirement. At 77, she still goes into the office every day, Bill says, bringing with her a positive energy and caring attitude.
Overcoming the Unknown
There’s another mother who has a big impact on the Walters’ business: Mother Nature. Construction workers may feel at times she’s their archenemy, as inclement weather conditions can abruptly halt project activities or even destroy the work they’ve completed.
Bill explains unpredictable aspects of the job, like weather, make Walters Marine Construction’s work most difficult. “When we are doing anything on water, our biggest challenges are the tides and storms that come and go,” he says.
Other obstacles may lie far beneath the water’s surface. “You can commit to a project and think it’s going to be a breeze, but the next thing you know you run into an old railroad track or something,” he adds.
When unforeseen circumstances arise, Walters Marine Construction addresses the issues right away in collaboration with the client. No matter the impediments, this contractor is always up for the challenge.
It’s situations like these where having decision-makers out in the field makes a big difference.
Field and Family
After more than 30 years at the helm of this business, one might think the Walters would be content to oversee field work from their headquarters. But that’s not Bill and Ron’s style. Instead, you’ll usually find them out in the elements with their team.
Bill shares, “I used to manage my office, do all the bidding and run a crew. Then I said I’ll find someone who can run a crew and I’ll just stay in the office.” However, Bill knew having an owner in the field was crucial to expediting progress, so he came up with a different strategy. Eight years ago, he hired David Southard, senior estimator/project manager, to manage the office so he could focus on the field. David oversees all procurement for the company and is responsible for project management.
“David’s my right-hand man; he runs my entire office, all the bidding, everything,” Bill says. He isn’t entirely removed from the managerial aspects of the job, however, as he works closely with David to go over the bids. Ron and Bill are both working operators in addition to overseeing daily operations in the field.
David was a welcome addition to the Walters’ 30-person corporate family, which includes team members who have worked together for decades. Bill is proud that most employees have been with the company for at least 25 years. Nearly half of their team are blood related—including siblings, brothers-in-law, cousins, nephews and several other relatives—making Walters a true family business.
Employees Are Essential
For Bill and Ron, taking care of staff is an essential part of their business. Bill explains, “When you work for me, you become family. If there’s a problem, we’ll help.”
Occasionally employees have to take time off to address personal concerns. The Walters are supportive when this happens, allowing employees the flexibility to handle urgent matters without worrying about job security or income.
“For instance, if an employee’s wife has a baby, he’s automatically off for a week with pay. We want him to be at home with his family,” Bill says. “If there’s a death in the family, we let employees do what they need to do for their families. They don’t have to worry about their paychecks. I’m all about family.”
Spirit of Integrity
The Walters see this leadership style as their way of doing right by their staff. They use a similar approach to take care of their customers—by making sure the job is done right and handling finances with integrity.
“There are people in our industry who will take a deposit and you’ll never see them again. We don’t do that,” Bill says. “When you sign a contract with Walters Marine Construction, you don’t give us any money until the materials and equipment are on-site and then we get half. When we are halfway done we get another fourth, and then when we are completely done—and the property owner is satisfied—they pay us the remainder of the bill. Nobody else does that. They get half down before the project starts, then the remaining balance when they are halfway done.”
Honesty is another important principle for this company. Bill provides an example: “I once got a call from an 85-year-old woman saying she needed her 50-foot-long bulkhead replaced. She was told by two of our competitors she needed a new bulkhead, and they gave her quotes.”
He explains that a bulkhead costs anywhere from $700 per foot to $1,200 per foot. So, a 50-foot bulkhead could cost up to $60,000. Ultimately, after surveying her situation, he determined she did not need a new bulkhead; rather, some of the stone simply needed to be replaced.
“She loved me; she couldn’t believe it. We are honest. If you don’t need something fixed or replaced, we’ll be truthful about it,” Bill says.
A Focus on Community
Treating others well extends to the community, too. “We’re all about giving back to the areas where we live and work. We live in Dennis Township, which was a very poor township when we were growing up. So, we donate to many causes here,” Bill notes.
When the baseball field at Dennis Township Elementary School had no lights to illuminate nighttime games, Walters Marine Construction donated funds and installed the telephone poles for the lighting.
Bill says they’ve also contributed to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America as well as local community sports teams like Little League, Tee Ball, soccer and basketball. “If there is a death somewhere in the township and they are doing a benefit, we donate to those types of things, too,” he adds.
Navigating the Future
As the Walters look to the future, they recognize they will have to make changes to stay up to date with the latest industry innovations. Each year, Bill and David attend multiple expositions to stay abreast of the trends. “If you don’t stay updated, then others in the industry will surpass you. You also have to have the right equipment, which represents a major investment,” Bill says.
Although they may adjust their team’s techniques or equipment, these brothers will remain steadfast in their trend of performing projects with integrity and meeting the needs of others.