Jim Wakefield Interview

Jim Wakefield

Former President & Board Member

How did you get started at Anvil and what were your roles throughout the years?

I started in September of 1993. I learned about Anvil while living in Kansas. Larry Nace, my good friend in college, was working for Anvil and over the years we kept in touch. Every time I talked to him, he would tout how wonderful it was to live in Whatcom County and how good of a company Anvil was. In 1993 I had a change in job position at the company I was working for and they were wanting to move me to Texas. My wife and I decided that we were going to go for quality of life instead of financial gain, and we didn’t want to go to Texas. So, I called Larry and told him I’d like to come out and do an interview. I came out and interviewed and got hired. I was a Chemical engineer and that’s what Larry was as well. Larry hired me as a Process engineer, but I hadn’t been doing Process engineering for seven or eight years, I’d been doing project management. Larry set me up in this pod with three other very good Process engineers. My skills were a little rusty and I can’t imagine what they reported back to Larry, but it didn’t take Anvil long to move me into more of a project role. They sent me down to Anacortes with a group of 20-30 people who were seconded there. So, along with doing process work, I was also spending two or three days a week in Anacortes. I didn’t stay in Larry’s group very long.

I started doing project work and by 1998 or 1999 was doing project management. When I started, Anvil would do project management with a person already on the team, so the Mechanical engineer would also be the project manager and they had dual roles. But as we got into larger jobs, we had to have a real project manager and that’s what I started doing. I think maybe the first job I did was one with BP Cherry Point. I did that for several years and then was part of starting the Project Management Department.

After that, I was Manager of Resources, in 2003 became Project Services Manager, and then became Anvil’s President in 2009. I retired from Anvil in January of 2016 and was on the Board of Directors until December of 2018.

It was a fun and exciting time. The reason I lasted so long was because they kept changing my job so I didn’t ever get bored.

How have things changed from when you started to when you retired?

Anvil became a much larger company and now employee owned. We have more branch offices than when I started, and we have a lot stronger process of doing work and a stronger Project Management and Project Controls group. We are organized much more structurally. We were able to grow and make the changes necessary and still maintain the family culture.

Change is hard and it was a lot of work, and we had to identify ways to maintain the culture. That effort was led largely by John Macpherson. I think equally important were the people that work behind the scenes that make things work, who have been at Anvil a long time and are still there. Those people are key to what we were able to do over the years and made my job much, much easier.

What do you think are Anvil’s greatest strengths?

I think our greatest strength is our strong, consistent workforce. For most of the work we do, our strength is being good neighbors. Clients still like working with local engineering contractors, especially on revamp kind of work. They like to have people that have been in their refineries and know their refineries well, sometimes better than their own people know them. We’re a high integrity company. We do what we say we’re going to do, and we own up to our mistakes.

The skill sets and the dedication of our employees are as good as any of our competitors. It really comes down to our employees. Our clients don’t hire the president of the company, they hire the structural engineer that is able to come up with a design for an existing facility that works. I’ve always told our employees that anybody could design a greenfield new facility, but only a few people can revamp things well. Our people think that what they do is normal and that anybody can do it. They don’t even know that they’re special.

What’s Anvil’s culture like?

To me, the culture really hasn’t changed. We’re an employee owned company now, but a lot of the things that were being done by Larry Levorsen when he was in charge are pretty much the same culture that we have now. When I first got here it was a much smaller group, but it was like family. People held dual roles, people worked overtime when the work needed to be done, and people took time off when there was not enough work. Cultural wise, I think it’s not a lot different now.

What do you think are Anvil’s biggest successes in the last 50 years? What moments stand out?

To me, the biggest success is that we’re still in Bellingham and we still employ hundreds of people. We had a lot of local competitors that are now gone and new competitors move in and set up shop but they haven’t really lasted for long.

I think a huge success over time has been the Billings, Montana office. For years and years and years it was 20-25 people and we changed that through lots of marketing and through getting into the gas transportation business.

The other thing that we’ve been very successful at is maintaining our staff. Over the years, Anvil’s turnover has been really low. I think that’s really part of our success. I’m proud to have been associated with Anvil for 25 years.

What one word would you use to describe Anvil?

I’ve thought about this, and lots of words came to mind, but I think I would choose integrity because I think that’s what buys and keeps customers.