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Waugh Construction builds for the future

Waugh Construction builds for the future

Freeport firm continues family legacy in Grand Bahama

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The Bahamas Investor Magazine
December 8, 2010
December 8, 2010
Gillian Beckett

For the past 45 years, Grand Bahama-based Waugh Construction (Bahamas) Ltd, founded in 1965 by patriarch Harold “Sonny” Waugh, has weathered many an economic storm.

“Our family values and our ability to get the job done is what sets us apart,” says son Godfrey, vice president and president of the firm’s contracting division, explaining the firm’s longevity. “Part of being able to deal with a slow economy is our willingness to do just about anything.”

The family business has come a long way since it started “with one little tractor and one operator,” now chalking up an average annual turnover of around $5-$7 million.

Winning contracts on projects such as the multi-million-dollar BORCO oil storage terminal expansion and the Ginn Sur Mer resort development in West End, Grand Bahama, is testament to the firm’s flexibility and ability to react quickly to market forces. The company’s portfolio includes road construction, subdivision development, airport construction and repaving, waste water treatment plants, and underground excavation and trenching, among others.

In addition, Waugh Construction is also the exclusive distributor of UK-registered Permastore Tanks & Silos for The Bahamas and the surrounding Caribbean region including Aruba, Belize, Curaçao, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, the US Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands.

From dentist to developer
The success of the company is made even more remarkable when considering its founder once aspired to be a dentist.

Born Harold Ricardo Hardesty Waugh to Corinne Waugh née deGregory and Harold Hardesty Waugh on January 31, 1928, in Nassau, Sonny spent his formative years at the tail-end of the Great Depression. He attended St Francis Xavier’s Academy then Government High School where he was awarded a scholarship based on his diligence and good grades.

At 16, Sonny was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania where he planned to study to become a dentist. However, his goal was dashed when the university became overwhelmed with the enrollment of American servicemen and women following the end of World War II and he had to withdraw.

However, never one to shy away from hard work, Sonny found employment in his hometown of Nassau as a hotel desk clerk, restaurant and bar manager and then worked briefly with Esso Standard Oil before joining Standard Plumbing as an accountant.

In the mid-1950s, the young Waugh, by then a family man with a wife and four children, decided to move from Nassau to West End in Grand Bahama where he developed an Esso Standard Oil Distributorship, trading as the West End Service Centre and Yacht Haven.

Sonny’s interest in construction was piqued during development of the service centre’s docking facilities. In 1962, he entered into a joint venture with fellow business entrepreneur Juan Fernandez and formed West End Construction Ltd. However, in 1964, Sonny sold his shares in the company and formed Waugh Construction the following year.

“I founded Waugh Construction for the purpose of land clearing and road construction on Grand Bahama and throughout the Family Islands,” says Sonny, whose company marked its forty-fifth anniversary with the opening of new head offices in Freeport last year. “Today, I’m happy to say that we are not only clearing land and building roads, but also provide a full spectrum of civil construction services.”

Family affair
The company has grown to accommodate a large proportion of the Waugh clan. Along with Godfrey there is Brian, vice president; Gregg, also vice president; daughter Lee, company board secretary and treasurer; grandson Kevin, a project manager; and brother Douglas Prudden, director.

Waugh Construction’s activities spread across the length and breadth of the archipelago from building the airstrip at Treasure Cay in 1980, and the reconstruction of San Andros airport including installation of lighting and runway repairs to road construction from Congo Town to Mars Bay on Andros Island. The company was also responsible for the installation of a potable water system in Little Grand Cay, Abaco, and potable water mains and road reconstruction in Exuma.

“We’ve worked on just about every island [in The Bahamas],” says Godfrey.

One project that Sonny is particularly proud of is the construction of two tower bases for the Bahamas Telecommunications Company in the remote Acklins and Crooked Island.

“We had a company plane and were able to move crews around quickly,” adds Sonny. “You know how they say on that TV show, The A-Team–‘I love it when a plan comes together’–that’s how I felt about that job.”

Waugh Construction also had joint ventures with large offshore construction firms Garney Companies of Kansas City and New Jersey-based Spinello Construction to complete an extensive water and sewerage project in Nassau, installing 30,000 ft of potable water mains and 15,000 ft of gravity sewer lines, and construct 65 manholes. Furthermore, it was Waugh Construction that installed Permastore glass fused-to-steel water storage tanks for Atlantis Paradise Island’s fire system.

Future legacy
More recently, Waugh Construction has been busy with Freeport-based projects, namely building environmentally friendly bond walls on the $100-million-plus BORCO terminal expansion.

Additionally, Waugh Construction’s staff of 72 are busy working on jobs of all sorts, from road paving to building basketball and tennis courts.

“We don’t restrict ourselves to the big jobs. We’ll take on the small ones as well, because when times are slow you need to be able to do just about anything,” says Godfrey.

“One of the strengths of our company is [that the employees] know they have to be ‘jacks of all trades,’” he adds. “With our staff they know we’ll give them their eight hours when they show up to the gate–it’s our responsibility to find work for them.”

It is that ideology that has kept many staff loyal to the family firm for several decades. For example, long-term operator Bertram Nixon has been with the company for 38 years and his father was Sonny’s first employee.

Sonny, who at 82 is still very active in running the company, says he’s optimistic that the Waugh Construction legacy will continue well into the future.

Adds Godfrey: “Of course we have our moments as a family, but business has certainly been good for us and I think Dad is glad that the family has come into the company … he knows that the company will continue into the future.”

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