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100 Best: Walsh builds success on shared values

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Thursday, March 01, 2007



Assistant superintendent Bennett Barnwell, left, and Andrew Beyer, Oregon GM, survey a Vancouver senior housing project.

Photo by Leah Nash

Bright morning sun is streaming through the three-story-tall lobby windows of Walsh Construction’s Portland headquarters. Outside, a sculpture of two hammers forms a gateway to the front door.

Inside, the lobby of the 7-year-old building is more than just a visual feast of sun-dappled concrete, wood, and steel; it’s an homage to the wide-ranging skills of the company and its employees.

The lobby is also full of the sound of construction as workers in a nearby room add walls for more offices — project managers, estimators and the IT department all need more space. “When we built this building, it was supposed to be big enough for the next 30 years,” Kim Lane, business development manager, says with a shake of her head.

Lane shouts “hi” to two tow-headed girls — daughters of an employee — as they run past the construction site and into the lobby. That’s the same lobby where, one Monday a month, an espresso company sets up shop and serves unlimited free drinks to employees and guests. Come Christmas, it’s where the company has the tree-trimming party. One floor up are training and lunch rooms, home to the holiday cookie exchange, birthday potlucks, holiday parties and free soda, juice and tea the rest of the year.

Walsh — which has more than 270 employees in Oregon, branches in Washington and California, and is projected to do nearly $300 million in sales companywide by the end of its fiscal year in June — doesn’t stop there: For salaried employees, there’s the company picnic, the appreciation dinner, the fiscal year-end party, the luncheons, the golf tournament, the all-expenses-paid retreat, and the summer afternoon barbecues in the backyard behind the company office. And to encourage working off some of that merrymaking, there’s money for anyone who belongs to a gym.

The shower and locker room the company provides for its workout-minded workers just may be chief estimator Bob Trapa’s favorite perk. “I come to work after working out and I feel so energized,” he says.

Like many other businesses at the top of the 100 Best list, Walsh’s hiring process is intensive, which impressed Trapa, who went through four separate interviews before he was offered a job three years ago. Because of details like that, it’s not by luck that the company has happy employees. Trapa says top management, from co-founder and president Bob Walsh down, are as interested in finding qualified people as they are in making sure they fit into the existing culture.

When describing life at Walsh, employees point to their shared work ethic and sense of fun as examples of that culture. Few mention the perks, and instead use words like family, caring, teamwork and commitment. But it’s clear they also share a strong sense of values. They’re deeply proud of the work the 45-year-old company does, whether it is its philanthropic donations, volunteer work events, its support of nonprofits or the projects it takes on.


No. 1 large: U.S. Cellular leads the pack — again...

No. 1 small: River City Travel, freedom isn't just a concept...

No. 6 large: Evanta gives employees "everything"...

No. 2 small: Columbia Printing nurtures a growing

No. 7 large: Walsh builds success on
shared values...

No. 10 small: Quango, a place for
hard work — ­­and naps...


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The company considers multi-million-dollar mixed-use residential projects its bread and butter. And while it also builds destination resorts and condos, there’s a long list of other projects that inspire excited descriptions from its staff. New Columbia, a $155 million low-income and senior public-housing project. The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center in Portland’s Pearl District, a renovated warehouse with a gold LEED certification. A school for at-risk students. Housing for the deaf.

Lane thinks the company’s working environment is driven by a simple, almost cyclical process that has surprisingly little to do with parties and dinners. People at Walsh embody community-minded values, which the company culture then reflects, which in turn draws more people with those values.

“We’ve never gotten too far away from the fact that we’re builders. You can look out the window [from these offices] at a $92 million project we’re building,” she says. “We like the excitement of construction. It’s rewarding. When you look at what you’ve done at the end of the day, you have a sense of pride. That’s what keeps people here.”

— Abraham Hyatt

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