John MacPherson Interview

John Macpherson

Former President & Current Chairman of the Board

When and how did you first get started at Anvil? What was it like back then?  

My older sister lived in Bellingham and was teaching at Western Washington University. My then girlfriend (later wife) Cheryl and I visited in the summer of 1971 and loved the town and environment. So, later that year we moved from California and rented a funky cabin at Emerald Lake near Bellingham.

I started in February 1972. I was 23 years old and recently graduated from UC Davis. I met Larry Levorsen via a state employment office request Jthat he had filed. The state employment officer said he had never seen a request for a young mechanical engineer. I said that’s me! I drove out to Ferndale, met with Larry at the Cedars Café, and that night got an offer of employment for the princely sum of $600 per month. We were ecstatic! We could survive in Bellingham.

What was the culture like at Anvil during your time there?  

It’s always been about doing quality work to forge long-term working relationships with customers to ensure we could continue to exist and thrive.

 What are some of your best memories of Anvil throughout the years?   

  • So many great people working closely together, taking great pride in our products, winning jobs, pleasing customers.
  • Working closely with Larry in those early years doing whatever we needed to do – from engineering to drafting to running prints and assembling drawing packages.
  • Long hours to meet deadlines but with much time listening to Larry’s “war stories” and about his many years as a Bechtel project manager all over the western hemisphere.
  • Working at Snelson-Anvil doing lots of little designs to support construction and becoming the loadout engineer planning how to load the sealift barges with huge modules bound for the Alaskan North Slope.
  • My first big job was to do a P&ID check of the entire (brand new) ARCO Cherry Point Refinery.  I walked every pipeline and climbed every tower learning a ton about refineries which helped me greatly going forward.
  • Advancing from engineer to project engineer to department manager to engineering manager to president to board chair.  Never a dull moment.
  • To our surprise, being awarded a large part of a major expansion to the MAPCO North Pole Refinery around 1985.  This caused us to grow dramatically for the first time and many of our best long-term staff joined us during that time, including our first piping designers.
  • Being awarded an alliance relationship with ARCO Alaska that lasted for 15 years and provided the basis for much of our growth.
  • Larry deciding to form an ESOP in 1996 to transfer his (and others) ownership to the staff rather than sell to a big engineering firm thus ensuring that Anvil could continue to exist in much the same form.

What sets Anvil apart from others? What do you believe are Anvil’s greatest strengths?  

Commitment to quality.  Commitment to each other.  Not accepting those who do not get it.

What are you most proud of during your time at Anvil?   

  • Becoming a licensed Professional Engineer.
  • Leading many successful project teams, working with so many like-minded people.
  • Helping design Anvil’s Quality System (PSQS).
  • Taking the company to full ESOP ownership.

What one word would you use to describe Anvil?  


Do you have any favorite memories or stories?

I had many successes and failures over the years in each of my roles. One near disaster happened around 1977 at the Snelson-Anvil module yard. I was the loadout engineer and in order to meet a tight schedule we had to the load the huge 100’x400’ seagoing barges on both falling and rising tides using skidways. To load on a falling tide, you must pump water out of the barge so it will rise to stay level with the dock. All went well until the last module was halfway onto the barge and the pumps ran dry. I had put the pumps on the wrong side of the barge which was listing in the wrong direction for the load at the time. This meant the barge was going to sink with the module still part way on the dock. I thought about it for a few seconds and realized that I didn’t have much choice – we had to go ahead.

So, I gave the order to keep pushing the module on to the barge which was now a foot or two below the dock. As the module moved forward the barge rose slowly as the weight moved toward the center of buoyancy. But as the rear skids came sliding over the edge of the dock, the barge was still a foot or two below the dock edge. As we continued pushing, the rear skids (big wide flanges) started bending as they moved closer and closer to the end. Finally, the module dropped onto the barge with a huge boom. At the time, I thought it might be the sound of my engineering career ending. We checked out the module and found no damage.

I never heard a word from any of the bosses. Somehow, we came out unscathed physically, but the mental lessons are burned in forever.