Paving the West
Utah’s W.W. Clyde extends its values-based philosophy into a new century to complete some of the West’s toughest projects
By Tom Nicholson
A video on Springville, Utah-based W.W. Clyde & Co.’s Website depicts the firm’s history by showing horse-drawn equipment used when the contractor first began building roads in the 1920s.
Since then, the highways and infrastructure in the Utah region, where W.W. Clyde’s work is centered, have grown with the population and commercial development. W.W. Clyde has been there every step of the way.
A lot has changed in the more than 80 years since the firm started. Not only have horses been replaced by modern machinery, but also the scope, complexity and cost of projects have continued to grow year by year.
In that time, five presidents have headed the firm, and it has grown from a small family-owned business to one employing about 450 people as one of the largest heavy/highway contractors in the West. But while W.W. Clyde has evolved and grown with the changing times, the firm’s core values have not changed.
President Paul Clyde points to the company’s founder, his grandfather Wilford W. Clyde, when he talks about the firm’s values. "My grandfather was a very astute businessman but also believed in values," he says. "When people ask how this company has lasted, I always talk about our core values. We value people. Our word is our bond. Quality service at the best value. Always give a full measure."
Clyde says those are not marketing platitudes, but the cornerstones of the firm’s success. "We believe in providing the best quality," he says. "Everyone talks about quality, but talking and doing are two different things. Those are not just slogans but how we actually do business."
The firm has a long legacy of projects in the Utah region. It has constructed more miles of Interstate highway in Utah than any other contractor. Notable projects include the St. George and Salt Lake airports in the 1940s; Salt Lake’s State Street and the Glen Canyon Dam access road in the 1950s; Willard Dam and Starvation Bridge in the 1960s; the Mormon Church office building and Utah Power & Light plant and substation in the 1970s; the Green River Bridge and Interstate 215 belt route in the 1980s; Barney’s Canyon Pipeline and South Towne Mall in the 1990s; and projects for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Rather than extol the engineering skills those jobs demanded or the awards the firm has garnered, employees at W.W. Clyde seem more proud of the human qualities that made those projects possible.
"People," says David Hale, the firm’s executive vice president. "This firm has thrived because we surround ourselves with good people. If you do that, then everything else follows."
The firm continues working on major infrastructure projects which include construction of a 14-mile, bridge-intensive segment of Legacy Parkway in Utah; a power station at Jordanell Dam, near Heber City, Utah; and a 2.3-mile-long, 96-in.-dia welded steel pipeline in Spanish Fork Canyon, Utah.
"As a fourth-generation company, we have a lot of long-term employees here," says Clyde, who started work at the firm when he was eight years old, digging ditches. "But we have experienced rapid growth. We have had 25 acquisitions in the past 15 years and have really expanded. As a result, we have had to hire many who did not start at ground level with the company. We have to teach them our culture, our values."
Hale says, "I started at this company in 1970 as a flagman. In that time, the company has gone from a strictly family-run business to a part of a larger company in which the family is not involved as much as it once was."
The firm has had to change with an evolving industry that has "gone from a hard-driving, bare-knuckles approach to a more politically correct environment," Hale adds. "We recruit at nine colleges and have a long interview process with job candidates. When we hire new employees, we put them with experienced people who know our work culture. We look for a work ethic. That’s why we often recruit workers from dairy farms. They know how to work."
Tackling the Tough Ones
The Utah Dept. of Transportation and W.W. Clyde have partnered on countless highway projects over the years. "Our success is in the partnering we do with contractors on projects," says Todd Jensen, the department’s project director on the Legacy Parkway. "Partnering is something W.W. Clyde does very well."
The $685-million project is nearly complete. It involves construction of three 1,300-ft bridges on the parkway which will extend from I-215 in Salt Lake City to U.S. 89 in Farmington, Utah.
The project includes "some of the most challenging environmental requirements I’ve ever seen," Jensen says. "But that’s what they are known for, doing the tough projects. It’s the toughest of the three segments on this project, and that’s why W.W. Clyde was chosen for it."
Hale says the firm takes pride in doing difficult jobs. "Our goal is to leave things in good shape," he adds. "When you leave town, you leave with your reputation."
In typical fashion, the firm is currently leading one of the most difficult projects in the state: a $3-billion, 2.3-mile, 96-in. water pipeline for Central Utah Water Conservation District, which was rocked when diesel prices shot from about $1 per gallon to more than $3 per gallon this year.
"We encountered some sticky problems," says Don A. Christiansen, general manager for the utility. "But they sat down with us and explained the problem, with never a disagreeable word, to find a solution."
Christiansen, who has worked with W.W. Clyde for the past 20 years, says the human element of the firm is something "I have come to love. They will look you in the eye. There is no problem they can’t address."