Callan Marine Ltd. is an independently owned and operated dredging, marine, and coastal construction firm in Galveston, Texas, that serves the Gulf Coast area. Callan Marine provides a wide range of services including dredging, constructing and maintaining levees, and a host of innovative marine construction services. It also provides environmental construction services for projects such as reef creation and wetlands conservation and restoration. Construction in Focus spoke to Maxie McGuire, the president of Callan Marine, to learn more about this innovative and growing firm.
Callan Marine was founded in 2009 by brothers Todd, John, and William Sullivan in Galveston, Texas. The Sullivan Brothers come from a family that has lived in the Galveston Island area for over seven generations. All three are graduates of Texas A&M University; Todd earned a degree in petroleum engineering, John in construction management, and William (Billy) in finance. Their educations, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, led the brothers to buy a business that had its own dredge. Rather than simply use the dredge for themselves, they founded a business to provide dredging services to the Galveston area, and Callan Marine was born.
“As I understand it, Callan was going to be the name of Billy’s son. Billy has four beautiful daughters,” noted McGuire wryly. The Sullivan brothers, after founding Callan Marine, built a solid, one-dredge business from the ground up.
It is important to note that each of the Sullivan brothers is CEO of several businesses, all of which are part of a network of eleven companies owned by the Sullivan family.
When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, it was the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history in terms of the damage it did to coastal regions spanning twenty-four states. John Sullivan was drawn away to the northeastern United States by one of the other Sullivan companies, to undertake work created by the destruction created by Sandy. But John Sullivan’s relocation brought about Maxie McGuire’s entry into the company in 2013. McGuire brought to Callan a wealth of experience in the dredging and marine construction industry.
“At the time, I had sold a business of mine, and through a colleague had found Johnny [Sullivan], and we came together in 2013. In 2013, we established this vision of maturing and growing [Callan Marine’s business]. I got out of the Air Force, went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers and got into the dredging business in 1991, five years later, moving into the private dredging sector. I’ve taken that experience and tried to bring that to Callan to grow and mature it.”
After establishing a customer base, policies, and processes in the early years, since 2013, Callan Marine has tripled in size, through investment into existing equipment, construction of new, purpose-built, high-production dredges, and a host of outstanding support equipment. Part of McGuire’s focus on growing and maturing Callan Marine was to take advantage of its size and unique capabilities while maintaining a focus on safety, integrity, and quality.
The leadership at Callan realized that there was a void in the market of middle-sized firms. The very large firms in this industry range from $0.5 billion enterprises to over $1 billion. The small companies are $10 million or smaller, and cannot offer all of the services and equipment that might be needed for a mid-sized job from a big company that has more resources.
“We identified a spot in the market – middle market. We are more mature than the little guy, but we are smaller than the big guy, so there’s a lot of jobs that the big companies consider to be too small. For example, we could be working on a smaller project for a high-level client, an oil and gas company, federal, state, or local government, who really wants a great safety record; they want bonding capacity; they want all these things that a smaller company quite often can’t provide. We’ve found this niche in the middle market that is serving us well. We carved it out, and it’s got us to where we are today,” observes McGuire.
Callan Marine also capitalizes on its ability to deliver innovative solutions to its clients who come to Callan Marine when they have a problem that they do not know how to remedy. Callan Marine has built special equipment to solve particular problems – for example, smaller dredges but with extremely high horsepower. Callan’s equipment is purpose-built to work in confined areas, yet able to withstand the rigors of open waters, dredge to depths of over fifty-five feet, and outperform dredges of similar size.
In addition to dredging, Callan Marine has a division it calls ‘Innovative Marine Construction Solutions.” As McGuire states, “that box houses all the functions that are not dredging.” One of the unusual functions of this division is the construction of offshore artificial reefs.
“We got in this business four years ago and constructed some artificial reefs made out of concrete that are deployed to reefing sites off of the coast of Texas for divers and fishermen. Texas Park and Wildlife Department is the owner, and Callan Marine is in the final phases of completing the largest artificial reef project in the state of Texas,” says McGuire.
Texas Park and Wildlife Department has had an artificial reef program since 1990, within its Coastal Fisheries Division. The cooler conditions and freshwater inflow of the Texas Gulf create conditions where natural coral reefs typically do not survive. Artificial reefs, constructed of concrete and other hard substances, give many species of plants and animals a hard surface to cling to and thrive upon, creating additional habitat and food sources for sea turtles and a variety of fish species such as snappers, groupers, mackerels, and sharks.
Callan has participated extensively in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Nearshore Reefing Program to install artificial reefs, consisting of large, concrete pyramids, each weighing approximately six thousand pounds, in the Gulf of Mexico – one near Freeport, one near Port O’Connor, and another near Matagorda County. Callan was awarded these projects through a competitive bidding process.
The projects create hundreds of acres of artificial reef through the deployment of the concrete pyramids onto the sandy substrate. The Freeport Artificial Reef Project enhances an existing artificial reef that is provided by a sunken ship, the George Vancouver. The Matagorda County reef project represents the biggest artificial reef in the state, and the Port O’Connor project consists of two separate artificial reefs constructed out of nearly seven hundred concrete pyramids, enhancing fishing prospects in the area as well as creating recreational opportunities for divers.
Callan Marine also does many other forms of essential work in the Gulf area, such as post-storm cleanup and debris removal. “When Hurricane Ike hit, a lot of sailboats and fishing boats ended up scattered across Texas. Our job was to go out and pick up these boats that end up in the middle of a marsh with no name or no owner and remove them. It’s not glamorous, but it keeps our world pretty,” says McGuire.
Companies like Callan Marine can find it challenging to find the skilled, technical workers that are needed to get the job done well and safely. This is why Callan has an active internship program to draw talent from nearby universities.
“We sit right across the ship channel from Texas A&M Galveston, so we have a good relationship with that school, and we recruit young managers and engineers from them to intern with us. Specifically, we recruit young professionals that we believe we can turn into project managers. Our latest success is Ryan McDonald, who interned with us over two summers and a winter break. He just graduated at the top of his class in ocean engineering from Texas A&M University (College Station) and has recently started his full-time career as a project engineer,” notes McGuire.
McGuire observes that Callan’s recruitment strategy is challenging as there are no post-secondary programs specifically focusing on dredging – learning this business must happen on the job. But Callan’s top-tier health plan with Blue Cross/Blue Shield that is affordable for its employees and its top quality matching 401K program provide additional incentives for the most talented job seekers to join the company.
“As a small company, we are providing so many benefits [to our employees]. We’ve got sick leave, holidays, bonus structure; we’ve got all the benefits that any of the larger companies have, and our benefits are superior to other small and middle-market companies. I think that really helps us with recruiting and retention,” notes McGuire.
Callan Marine is also an active participant in DCA (Dredging Contractors of America), and several of its employees are participants in WEDA (Western Dredging Association). In 2016, McGuire served as the Gulf Coast chapter president for the Western Dredging Association (WEDA). WEDA is a key industry association for companies in the dredging sector, and it seeks to promote the exchange of knowledge in fields related to dredging, navigation, marine engineering, and construction.
For the first time in its history, the annual WEDA conference for the Gulf Coast Chapter was held in Galveston, where a record number of attendees came to the area to share in the WEDA mission, hospitality, and participate in some recreational activities.
What does the future hold for this dynamic company? McGuire suggests that Callan Marine will continue to invest in its core marine business units, expanding services regionally.
“Growth is definitely our focus, but we can continue to provide the middle market with our services. When we grow, we would continue to build the same size of equipment; we would just expand geographically, going east from Texas into Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and then going north in the rivers and waterways. We have tripled the size of Callan since I got here, and our quest is to add more equipment and more people as we go,” says McGuire.
Ultimately, Callan Marine’s success stems from being the right size, having innovative purpose-built equipment, and focusing closely on providing quality service with integrity and with an intense focus on safety.
The company motto is “large enough to matter…small enough to care,” and the company provides attentive, cost-effective, and customized services for private and public sector clients alike.
“We are that small business that can provide top-tier service. We’ve been accident-free for over four years. We have quality managers engineers on staff, as well as first rate crews. We do a lot of things that you would find in a larger company – that you would not find in a small entrepreneurial enterprise. We excel in setting a high standard, providing quality work and enhancing customer satisfaction,” says McGuire proudly.