Bill Chambers Interview

Bill Chambers

Former Program Manager

When did you get started at Anvil and what were your roles?

I joined Anvil in 1980. There were just over 100 people at the time.  We worked mostly for our local petrochemical clients. I was with Anvil for 37 years. I started out in the Civil/Structural department doing mostly Structural work. For a short time, we had a materials testing lab. It was very interesting work. We would test concrete and steel to ensure uniformity to our designs and all that. So, I managed that for a short time then I managed the civil structural department. That was really a treat, I loved doing that. Then I became the BP Cherry Point Program Manager where I stayed until I retired.

What was Anvil like when you first started? How have things changed?

Well, we were certainly more locally focused. When I first started we did the majority of our work with local clients, both industrial clients and some commercial type clients. Our focus broadened and we started working in Alaska, opened an office in Alaska, and then opened an office in California. Since we had such a long standing, successful association with ARCO at the time, they asked us to propose for work down at their refinery in Southern California. So, we did and we got enough work to start an office there. The rest of the story just unfolds through the years.

The culture of the company didn’t change much, which is kind of amazing. I think it’s certainly a credit to Larry Levenson. He always stressed the same thing – whether we’re working for a small local client or a large multinational client, he had the same emphasis on attention to detail and honesty and integrity when dealing with all our clients. Although the work base expanded, the culture didn’t really change very much.

What are some of your best memories at Anvil?

The work was interesting. I’ve always said that’s one thing I was always thankful for. Larry and Ron allowed us to do interesting work. They paid us a living wage and they allowed us to live in Whatcom County. Those three things together meant a lot to me. The work was always interesting and really fulfilling as well.

My best memories were the relationships and the camaraderie that we built with the people we worked with every week. Our system is all set up as a team and integrated as a team. We took on full projects and we staffed them with different disciplines, all of whom were in the company, so there were hardly any jobs where you worked autonomously on your own. It was always a matter of integrating teams, getting people on board, and expecting that people would do their best work in contributing to the team effort. I didn’t notice a lot of egotism that comes to the surface at a lot of companies when people took personal credit for work that a team really did. I never felt that because I think everybody realized that if one or two people were dragging something down in the hole, the whole project would fail and would look bad on everybody. So, some of my best memories were working together with other team members for a successful conclusion to a project.

What do you think were some of Anvil’s defining moments?

I think getting the MAPCO job in Alaska. It came as a complete surprise to most of us. Larry had been working on it. And, of course, Larry had inroads into the petrochemical industry that were invaluable and hardly any of us knew it. He wasn’t one to brag about accomplishments but he was a very accomplished person and had a very reserved kind of mannerism. He wouldn’t tell you a lot of the stuff he did. One of the things that I loved was that the company treated us and recognized the intrinsic value and dignity of people. Larry would always have these Christmas parties to get people more in tune with each other. But anyway, it was after one of these Christmas parties and it was about nine or ten o’clock at night when he says, “well, I’m going to close up the party now because we’re going to go back to the office and start working on this MAPCO job we just got.” And, it turned out to be one of the largest jobs we’ve ever done. That is just how we all found out about it – at the end of this Christmas party.

Also, the BP dock expansion project was a defining moment for Anvil. We started that when the refinery was still ARCO. That was a big job for us at the time and very interesting because it was a marine related job. There are few people who can do those and that have the expertise and the whole thinking to do marine work. We had to assemble a team of experts to help with the geotechnical aspects, pile soil interactions, and all that kind of stuff. We even had a professor from the University of Texas that helped us. For me, that was a defining moment that we could engage people that I didn’t know existed to help us with some of these projects.

What do you think sets Anvil apart from other engineering companies?

I think you can get technical expertise in almost every company. But how people were treated at Anvil, I think that’s what sets us apart.

When I first started I was given a few assignments and I completed one so I went into Ron Vekved’s office and told him I was done with the assignment and ready for something else. He looked around and he told me we’re going to expand the campus and that he has a warehouse he wants me to design to put at the back of the campus. I spent several weeks designing the whole thing – cranes in the middle of it and the whole structural design to the whole thing. I turned it in and then was given some more work. I was telling somebody how cool it was I designed this warehouse and they told me I was about the fourth person to have designed that warehouse when they ran out of work. It was a job they gave just to keep people interested and focused. Rather than letting people go, they had them design the warehouse. It actually got built and it was a very well-designed warehouse. I think it tells you something about a company when they don’t take the easiest route.  When they have extra people, they don’t just get rid of them because there’s plenty more out there to take their place. I never felt that was the thinking. They found a way to keep people on and it seems to me it sets us apart from other companies.