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Barnhart Crane Quietly Celebrates 50 Years Of Growth, Service 

In 1969, Barnhart Crane & Rigging Company was founded by Dick and Nancy Barnhart in Memphis, Tenn. It operated as a small family-owned company in the early years. “For years, the company’s international headquarters was two bedrooms in the family home,” remembers Alan Barnhart, who joined his parents’ company with his brother Eric. “My parents were very open with involving my brother and me in the business and asking our opinions. That was my M.B.A. program.”

Today, Dick and Nancy Barnhart have seen Barnhart, still headquartered in Memphis, grow into a nationally prominent heavy lift, logistics, construction services and crane service company with 1,500 employees and 50 branches in 40 states. It regularly wins major awards from industry groups for its heavy lift and rigging jobs. It remains family-owned, however, and the values that guided its early growth continue to operate today.

As part of its 50-year celebration, the company commissioned a professionally-produced and directed documentary on the company’s growth, highlighting its values. One might say Barnhart was a purpose-driven company long before the term became a fashionable business buzzword. The founders determined that growth and business success, while welcome, should not be ends in themselves, but should serve a higher purpose of service. The company is quietly involved in many initiatives throughout the world that help spread its success to others. Employees have many opportunities to volunteer in these efforts, “sharing the fruits of God’s gifts,” as David Wills, president of the National Christian Foundation and a long-time friend of the Barnharts, puts it in the film.

The company’s celebrations have been internally focused, in keeping with its focus on partnership with employees. The film includes interviews with key early employees like J.T. Hill, whom the Barnharts promoted to foreman from apprentice as a young man, recognizing his potential and encouraging him to perform to his best level.

A key transition point for the company came in the mid-1990s, when the company grew and hired at a rapid pace, helping to build gas turbine plants around the country. That growth also brought challenges, as Alan Barnhart acknowledges in the film. Informal processes that had worked well earlier in the close-knit company had to be replaced by more formal processes and rigorous safety assessments and training. It was a process of company culture development similar to that of many barge companies as they developed safety plans as part of Subchapter M. 

Speaking of barging, Chris Teague, Barnhart’s marketing director, says water transport is key to most of Barnhart’s businesses. Not only does Barnhart regularly use barging as part of its Heavy Transport service offering, and own small fleet of barges, but the company regularly works with the Corps of Engineers and other companies on repairing the infrastructure of the waterway system’s locks and dams.

Today, Barnhart works across a range of heavy industries—refineries, construction, nuclear plants, wind turbine arrays and many other energy-related projects, as well as light manufacturing facilities.

Barnhart provides expert rigging, logistics and haulage services; rents crane and other heavy equipment; builds bridges and develops innovative solutions for accelerated bridge-construction; and has built an impressive resume in both construction and maintenance of nuclear power plants, as well and conventional power plants and chemical plants.

That growth and success fits into the continued focus of the company on service; as one motto in the film has it, the reward for work well done is more work.

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