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PileDriver Magazine: One for All
March 06, 2019
By Jess Campbell
Balfour Beatty’s Keith Casper loves to work, but he loves being there for his employees and his family even more
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming you know someone else’s story. Especially when they’re successful in their work and in life, you might find yourself assuming their success was achieved easily, that they didn’t work hard for what they have. The reality is not everyone has that quintessential climb into the upper heights of their career. Many of the most successful people have achieved their success by overcoming some incredible obstacles; sometimes, those obstacles are so big that no one else in the room will ever face them in their own lifetime. As for the people who do? Overcoming those obstacles may make for an incredible story, but it also makes them who they are – a person of extraordinary strength, drive and courage. Keith Casper of Balfour Beatty is one of those people.
Working for a living
Attending and graduating from high school is one thing. Attending and graduating high school while attending college and working is entirely another, yet that’s what Casper decided to do. Having been raised by an entrepreneurial mother who, to this day, owns a successful cleaning business in Greenville, N.C., Casper had hard work and commitment instilled in him from the very beginning. Those values were planted and stayed with him, even through tragedy.
“I did work on the weekends, when I wasn’t going to school, things like (providing a) tree service and whatever else was around that needed doing. My father was killed by a drunk driver when I was nine years old. But in a short time, he taught me a lot. My father was more into mechanical things; welding and cranes, things like that. So, I wanted to take that route.”
After high school, Casper was working as an electrician’s apprentice for a local business and at a hog farm, which helped him to make a good living for himself at the time. Then life changed, both personally and professionally. “Around age 21, I had my daughter, Kylie. One day, we were at a friend’s house and I met a guy who worked in bridges. He said his company was hiring and I liked the sound of what he said they were doing. So, I said I was interested. A couple of weeks later, he called me and asked if I was still interested in the job, and I said I was. That’s how I started working in bridges.”
For the next four years, Casper worked for Skanska, building up his experience and learning everything he possibly could, right from the very first job. “It was a start-to-finish bridge over a river. I started out as a laborer; the very first crew they put me on was pile driving. I got to learn from a really experienced guy, Mike Ewell. We were working off a barge with old friction rigs at first. But every couple of weeks, he’d switch me to a different crew. He said the way to be the most valuable and most successful in this business is to know a little bit of everything.”
As a single father with a young child at home, driving over an hour to work and back wasn’t exactly ideal. However, Casper knew it was the right thing for himself and his daughter, even though it was hard. “I took that job because I had a daughter and I wanted her to live with me, so I changed. I wanted to do something better. That job, it fit perfectly into my life at the time. I was making more money, I had benefits, 401K and it was fun. There was a lot of action involved; cranes, barges, pouring concrete. I just loved it.”
A taste for driving pile
Not only was Casper gaining practical experience on the job, he was also moving quickly up the ranks. By the end of his work with Skanska, he had worked up to a foreman position and decided to follow his colleague and teacher, Mike Ewell, to Balfour Beatty.
The first job took Casper and his daughter to Jacksonville, N.C., only to send them on to Wilmington just over a year later. Moving around so much isn’t easy for anyone, specially with a young child. However, Casper is quick to mention his gratitude for the help he always had. “I wasn’t alone that whole time. My family always was there to make sure we were okay.”
Luckily, the help had allowed Casper to fully utilize his potential while at work with Balfour Beatty and fall completely in love with pile driving. “I was able to use what I’d learned on previous jobs on the next job, but it was completely different. It was the same concept – build a bridge – but the pile driving was crazy.
“They were 36-inch pile, and 100 feet long and weighed 100,000 pounds. We were working on bigger barges with bigger cranes. You could not hold the pile and hammer together. You’d have to stab the piles in the mud with a single-stage template, try to go 20 or 30 feet down. We’d run into running sand, but had to try and get them standing there. Then we ended up trying to beat the fish moratorium. We were working seven days a week in a river with a four-foot tidal change. That was the first moratorium I’d been part of, and we beat it. I’ve been in four since then, and we have beat them all.”
Pride in work and life
Casper says he’ll stay in pile driving for as long as he can, working with the incredible team he’s helped assemble at Balfour Beatty. “Why I get to work early and stay late – now that my little girl is older, she’s 10 – is because of the team we’ve built here. When we first started, this job was tough because there was nobody who applied who had the skills to build bridges.
“So, we ended up going through a temp agency and hired all temp employees. I brought two experienced people with me from another job and we had 30 temp employees. We just started training them and weeding through them all; we went through about 60 people. Now, two and a half years later, we have such a strong team that’s setting pars across the board in the Southeast region for Balfour Beatty. They’re all Balfour Beatty employees now. We have a very high safety rating and one of the highest production records. The team, that’s what keeps me coming to work.”
It seems Casper feels a sense of quiet pride for the work he’s been able to do throughout his career so far. “When I drive across this bridge one day, with my family, when it’s all said and done, I believe I’ll shed a tear. Most people, they have no idea what it takes to make a bridge like that.”
Together with his wife, Shannon, Casper continues to raise his daughter alongside his three step-children and will welcome a fifth child this year. While he counts his wife as his top supporter and cheerleader as he continues to build his career, the longevity of his motivation and drive come from the same source as when he first started out. “I admire my mother and the way she is, still to this day, and the values and work ethic she instilled in me. But is that why I get up every morning and go to work? No. That’d be my little girl. That’s where it all started; the only reason I ended up in bridges was because of my daughter. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”
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