When Bob Walsh and his brother, Tom, founded Walsh Construction Co. in Portland 52 years ago, they kept their accounting records in a shoe box and worked out of a 1947 Chevrolet van.
Next month, Bob Walsh will officially step down as president of the company, which now has more than 300 employees and offices in Portland, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.
Walsh will continue to play a role in the company as board chairman and manager of philanthropic efforts. Longtime Walsh Construction employee Matt Leeding will become president.
Walsh, 68, said he’s ready for the change.
“I’m getting older,” he said. “It just seemed logical. The time is right to make the next step. Transition around here has been in progress for a number of years. Exactly who was going to be my replacement was not set until recently.”
Walsh said he has confidence in Leeding’s ability to lead the company.
“Matt’s held virtually every job that’s available in this company,” Walsh said. “There really isn’t much that he hasn’t done, and every task that he’s done he’s done superbly.”
Leeding said he started working as a laborer for Walsh Construction’s Seattle office in 1980, shortly after graduating from Oregon State University. He has since worked up the ranks, serving as a project manager, senior project manager and safety manager. For the past six years, he has served as president of RDF Builders Co., a construction equipment company and a subsidiary of Walsh Construction.
A start from the bottom, Leeding said, provides insight that will serve him well as president of Walsh Construction.
“I’ve got to see all levels of the ship,” he said. “I can appreciate what others are going through.”
Leeding said one reason why he sought the president position is because he is committed to the company.
“It was believing that this was an opportunity to play a role that was needed,” he said. “Now I get to work with everyone. There is an amazing, talented group here. It’s going to be an adventure and a new opportunity to learn.”
Leeding acknowledged that because Walsh has led the company for so long, replacing him is a daunting task.
“One of my big goals is getting through the transition,” Leeding said. “It causes anxiety amongst people, but that happens with change.”
As president, Leeding expects to face challenges such as responding to an improving economy and an anticipated shortage of skilled construction labor.
“It’s just trying to adjust; I think everybody in our industry is dealing with that problem,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a taxing thing as we start back up as an industry.”
Also, the construction business is gaining complexity via new technology and advances in sustainable building methods, Leeding said.
“The codes are more complex than they were 20 years ago because we’ve learned more so that’s made more things we have to take into consideration,” he said.
Working on projects that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards is increasingly common, Leeding said.
“What used to be the exception has now become the norm, which is a good thing,” he said.
Walsh said he takes pride in how far Walsh Construction has come. Last year, the company’s gross billings were upwards of $232 million.
“I’m really proud of what collectively we’ve accomplished,” he said. “I take little personal responsibility. I’ve done nothing other than being smart about the people that work here. We have a really talented group of men and women.”
Walsh said the company’s selective hiring is a big reason why he is comfortable with the leadership transition.
“This group of younger people is very smart, very aggressive, very attuned to the challenges of our construction industry – and they are going to find new ways of doing things,” he said. “The confidence I have with our current management is extraordinarily high and the company is in superb hands. It will be fun to see what they do.”
Link to the article in the Daily Journal of Commerce