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Customer Story: Vic's Crane & Heavy Haul

12.10.19
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Vic’s Crane and Heavy Haul is headquartered in Rosemount, Minnesota, directly across the street from where Vic and Bernice Wenzel, newly married, started their business together in 1951. For more than 20 years, Vic and Bernice worked side-by-side, raising their three daughters - Carol, Conny and Chris - and operating Vic's Arc & Gas Welding, which supplied certified welding crews to petrochemical and municipal power plants, including the Great Northern Oil Company (now Pine Bend Refinery).

But, as the needs of their clients evolved in the 1970s and 1980s, Vic and Bernice — and their daughters, who were now sharing company leadership responsibilities with their parents — saw an opportunity to expand, and ultimately transition, their business. They invested in a variety of cranes and transportation equipment and surrounded themselves with experts in engineering, safety, quality control, project management and crane dispatching. VP Josh Horsch, who is also Vic’s and Bernice’s grandson, believes this approach to talent is a hallmark of Vic’s success. Josh asserts, “My grandpa believed in surrounding himself with really smart people, never wanting to be the smartest person in the room.”

Having the right talent in the company is foundational to the company’s safety culture as well. In Josh’s view, Vic’s has the best crane operators in the country. He says, “A true safety culture takes years to embed, but Vic’s has incorporated routines to keep safety top of mind. Through “Toolbox Talks” and weekly safety meetings with employees, we underscore the importance of maintaining our impeccable safety rating.” Company leaders also regularly remind everyone that safety is paramount to Vic’s large industrial, refinery and commercial customers. Without a sufficiently high safety rating, Vic’s won’t be awarded the work, so safety becomes a bottom-line issue for the company and the Vic’s team.

In addition to safety, Vic, Bernice, Carol, Conny and Chris were aligned and unwavering in their commitment to “doing things right,” a philosophy that permeates all aspects of their business. Bernice, who still comes to the office every day and has never shied away from voicing her opinion, strongly contends, “You have to be good to your employees and treat them well, because if you don’t have good people in your business, you don’t have a business!” She also makes clear, in a manner that is more endearing than judgmental, that she and Vic grew their business by reinvesting their profits, “rather than buying a Cadillac or going to Las Vegas,” and as if to reinforce her point, Bernice shares that she and Vic lived in a “basement house” until 1980.

“Doing things right” was also a factor for Conny, during her tenure as Vic’s president, as she considered business succession options, following her sisters’ retirements. Without an heir apparent at the time, Conny, along with her son, Josh, who admits he was not ready to take the helm, Vic’s CFO Jim Dutcher and CEO Tim Harty, met with private equity firms and investment bankers to explore the possibility of selling the company. However, it quickly became obvious that a transaction of this nature would undermine the culture and legacy of Vic’s, and potentially damage their trust-based relationships with customers and employees. So instead, Conny decided to preserve and honor the company’s sense of family, create an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and sell the company to employees, many of whom had worked at the company for decades and contributed to its tremendous success. In the spring of 2016, knowing she had “done the right thing,” Conny retired.

Today, Vic’s Crane and Heavy Haul is a well-respected regional crane and hauling operation, with 67 cranes in varying sizes, ranging from 3.5 tons to 660 tons. With its strong safety record, operating expertise and broad equipment capabilities, the company supports major projects throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North and South Dakota, as well as a few projects in Nebraska and Michigan’s upper peninsula. During the past 15 years alone, Vic’s has participated in highly visible projects such as: Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Mariucci and Ridder Arenas and TCF Bank Stadium at University of Minnesota, Interstate 35W Bridge rebuild, Target Field, U.S. Bank Stadium, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Haymarket Park at the University of Nebraska and Kinnick Stadium at University of Iowa. CEO Tim Harty attributes the company’s continued success to its differentiated approach to talent and capital investment. “Our engineering and project planning are among the best in the industry,” said Harty with both pride and humility. “In addition, we have the right piece of equipment for every scenario, and unlike some competitors, we are a full-service operation, not simply a crane rental company.”

In reflecting on the success of the business his grandparents started, Josh highlights his grandfather’s “tenacity” and “mechanical genius” and lovingly suggests that his grandmother was “the glue that held it all together.” Bremer, too, played an important role. For the past 40 years, Vic’s has enjoyed what Tim and Jim call a “true partnership” with Bremer – reflecting immense mutual respect and trust. As proof of the unique relationship, Vic’s has only had three relationship managers during this entire tenure: Steve Kane, Laura Helmueller, and Vic’s current banker, Jane Naughtin, who has worked with the company for nearly 13 years. Not only has Bremer provided capital for Vic’s annual crane purchases, but Jim is particularly appreciative of Bremer’s willingness to provide working capital on turnaround projects. Tim and Jim also credit Bremer with helping improve Vic’s cashflow by encouraging more automated processes, and they greatly valued Bremer’s assistance in funding the ESOP transition in May 2016.

Conny sums up Vic’s appreciation for their partnership with Bremer the best: “Starting a business in the 1950’s that grows and prospers for 67 plus years is truly an achievement. While we praise and thank our dedicated employees, we do not forget the backing of our friends at Bremer Bank. For the past 40 years, Bremer has believed in Vic’s and supported its very large purchases of cranes, equipment and properties with a confidence that kept Vic’s always moving forward. The relationship between Bremer and Vic’s has always been a key to our success! Our thanks to Bremer for seeing Vic’s from a small company to a very large crane and heavy hauling corporation and now to an ESOP for our deserving employees.”