Waterman Industries acquired by McWane, Inc.
Birmingham-based pipe manufacturer promises to invest in Exeter plant, but has history of safety violations
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
EXETER – The company that made Exeter a household name in international irrigation was acquired by one of the world’s leading manufacturers of water and sewer pipes.
On March 6, Waterman Industries announced its sale to McWane, Inc., a privately-held diversified manufacturing company. McWane Inc., the nation’s largest pipe manufacturing company, regularly makes Fortune magazine’s list of the 500 largest privately owned companies in the U.S. Its iron foundries stretch across 10 U.S. states and Canada, generate an estimated $2 billion in annual revenues and employ more than 6,000 people. Details of the sale were not disclosed.
Waterman is a recognized leader in water control products for water treatment, wastewater, agriculture, rural water delivery, hydro-power and flood control management. Waterman is a leading domestic manufacturer of both cast iron and fabricated stainless steel water control gates. The company was founded in Exeter in 1912 by W.A. Waterman and initially manufactured agricultural irrigation equipment for Central Valley farms out of a small brick building near City Hall before moving to its foundry at F and Maple streets. In 1953, the company expanded into water control infrastructure products including large and complex cast iron sluice gates, fabricated slide gates and radial gates. Waterman also has operations in Lubbock, Texas and Nampa, Idaho. In 2015, Waterman was Central Valley Fund (CVF) in a $5 million deal with the current managers.
Birmingham, Ala.-based McWane has been in the valve industry for more than 150 years. As part of the backbone of our nation’s water infrastructure, McWane products help deliver safe, clean drinking water.
Waterman’s product offering complements and expands McWane’s product portfolio, and enables customers to do business with a single industry-leading supplier.
In a released statement, McWane said it will invest in Waterman’s production facility in Exeter, Calif., to modernize operations with new equipment and best-in-class manufacturing processes to improve productivity, product delivery times, and team member safety. The company will also focus on improving communication and strengthening relationships with its customers, channel partners, and suppliers. McWane will integrate Waterman team members into its focused training, development, and commitment to people (each a critical component of The McWane Way) to develop their skills, capabilities and careers.
“McWane is excited to join the Exeter community with our purchase of Waterman, a recognized local leader for over 100 years,” said Olivier Marietta, Waterman’s new general manager. “We will strengthen Waterman’s commitment to be a cornerstone of the local community, a respected and leading employer, and a loyal long-term partner to our customers and channel partners.”
The McWane Way
At each of its manufacturing locations, McWane’s relationship with team members is built on a foundation of excellence called The McWane Way, first established by J.R. McWane in 1920. By investing in the business, team members, and communities, McWane creates a successful business where team members enjoy stable, rewarding careers. The McWane Way establishes high performance standards for Safety, Environment, Leadership, Accountability, Excellence, Trust, Teamwork, and Communication.
But the McWane way hasn’t always been synonymous with excellence. In 2003, McWane was the focus of a joint investigative journalism piece between PBS’ Frontline, the New York Times and CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) titled “Dangerous Business.” The reports state that in its relentless pursuit of productivity, McWane often sacrificed worker safety. According to Frontline, “McWane Inc. has amassed more safety violations than their six major competitors combined … nine McWane workers have been killed and at least 4,600 have been injured on the job” between 1995-2002.
In 1999, an inspector from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) described conditions at one of its foundry plants in Texas as, “Many workers have scars or disfigurements which are noticeable from several feet away. Burns and amputations are frequent.”
McWane claimed that they were already working on solving the issues at those plants and that they were isolated incidents. However, the company admitted to Frontline in a 2008 follow up that the articles “accelerated” the process to correct the issues.
In news reports throughout the nation, McWane argues that those issues are behind the company. Local news outlets in Phillipsburg, N.J. have reported that McWane Ductile New Jersey is the safest it has been in years thanks to improvements made by McWane after purchasing it in 1975, including $30 million in safety, production and environmental improvements, recycling all its water safety reminder signs in both English and Spanish.