The inaugural Jensen Precast Icon Award is presented to Walter B. Hahne in recognition of his 60 years of service in the precast concrete industry, including the past 23 years with Jensen Precast.
Over the past 60 years precast concrete manufacturing in the United States has grown from a loose affiliation of plants scattered around the country to an integral component of the construction and infrastructure building industry. The leaders of this movement forward displayed an entrepreneurial spirit, a hunger to innovate, and a hands on approach that forged a multibillion dollar industry central to the nation’s infrastructure and building trades. Walter B. Hahne is one of those leaders.
Wally’s career parallels the growth of the industry. He began pursuing what would become a lifelong profession at the dawn of the modern precast concrete industry. In 1960 he joined Associated Concrete Products (ACP). In 1998 he joined Jensen Precast. Over six decades in the industry, Wally has had many titles: president, vice president, CEO, general manager. His current title is Senior Vice President of Business Development for Jensen Precast. But the one title he deserves most perhaps is this: precast pioneer.
Jensen Precast CEO/Founder Donald Jensen concurs.
“I’d say Wally is one of the highest level people ever to come into the precast industry,” Don says. “His influence on the whole industry—from forming and production to yard layout and delivery logistics—is at the top of all the people who have ever done it. He’s the man.”
Don first met Wally in 1973, just five years into starting Jensen Precast. Wally was already an executive at ACP, where he was working on this new idea of franchising a product they had developed—underground utility vaults. Don traveled to Southern California to check on the possibility of a franchise.
“When I was first introduced to him, Wally was crawling around inside a machine, literally, with wrenches and grease on his hands working on an injection molding machine,” Don says. Wally typically was not the guy twisting wrenches on the plant floor, but he did not shy away from it either. Don decided to pass on the franchise idea that day. “But I did buy a boom truck from him,” he says.
Putting Two and Two Together
Today precast concrete dominates the underground infrastructure market, but back then manholes were made in the field brick by brick. Same with utility structures. Wally’s group at ACP started working with Pacific Bell to demonstrate the advantages of transitioning to precast. What works for manholes would obviously work for utility boxes.
“They started to put two and two together with these utility companies,” Jensen Precast President Eric Jensen says, “They purport to have invented the underground utility vault as we know it today. Wally was not only in the thick of it, I’d say he was at the head of it.”
When those utility vaults started coming out of the precast plant, they needed to be loaded, transported, and lowered into the ground. At the time there was not a lifting device ideally suited for that type of work. And so the boom truck was born. Guess who was in the middle of that movement?
“Wally was instrumental in getting the boom truck theory put together,” Don says. “We needed a way to set these pieces in the ground because they’re too heavy for contractors to deal with.”
Wally and his group got together and formed a crane manufacturing company called Duramet to develop a truck mounted boom for the precast concrete industry. Duramet eventually became Devault of California and later morphed into QMC Cranes, which is now the premier brand used by precast concrete producers across North America.
“A precast pioneer? 100 percent true. That’s how I think of Wally,” Eric says. “A lot of the current applications of precast concrete comes from the creative thinking brought to bear by Wally. The Associated Concrete Products group did a lot of pioneer thinking in my view, and he kind of set a standard for even how plants to this day are laid out.”
A Mentor for the Ages
While Wally can certainly be considered one of the industry’s pioneers, his co-workers over the years have another expression for him: mentor.
After a 38 year career with the ACP group and being what Don calls a “friendly competitor” for 30 years, Wally came to work for Jensen Precast in 1998. Some of his longtime employees also ended up here. Like Dave Bargsten, General Manager for Jensen Precast in Fontana, California.
Dave started working with Wally at ACP in the early 1970s when he was still in school. He began as a laborer and advanced to engineering assistant. “Wally has always been a quiet, unassuming man,” Dave says. “He’s always thinking about ways to improve the business and what he calls ‘product plusses’ for the customer. Everything he did was customer centric. That’s Wally.”
Dave was thinking about a career in dentistry when he first started working for the precast pioneer. Wally encouraged Dave to study engineering after Dennis Graves, then Chief Engineer at ACP, saw something promising in him during his tenure as an assistant. Dave proved them both correct. Wally eventually tapped Dave to run a small ACP plant in Santa Paula, California, along with Fred Franks.
“I went in as the Engineering Manager, and Fred went in as the General Manager,” Dave says. Both Dave and Fred ended up with Jensen Precast in Fontana.
“Wally was instrumental in giving me my first big break,” Dave says. “I cannot say enough about what he has meant in my career. He’s a really good mentor. He is always been loyal to those who worked for him and with him.”
When Jensen Precast bought the Brooks Products Fontana plant in 1997, Wally became its General Manager. “He pretty much rebuilt that plant,” Dave says. “You walk around that plant and it has Wally’s earmarks all over it. He’s a guy who always has his finger on the pulse of the business. He just has a sense of what will work and what won’t work.”
No Nonsense Kind of Guy
With his vast knowledge of the industry, Wally has always worked on top tier projects for Jensen Precast, according to Don Jensen. “He worked on plant designs, layouts, acquisitions, plant engineering, production equipment purchasing, those type of things.”
He was at the Jensen Precast facility in Lockeford, California, when he met up with Ron Beck, Lockeford Maintenance Manager, in 2000. Ron has been with Jensen Precast for 30 years, working alongside Wally for the past 20.
“He’s a no nonsense kind of guy,” Ron says. “Wally sees everything,” When he’s on a jobsite and has an issue or a question, Ron will take a picture of the situation and send it to Wally. “I’ll send him a photo, and he’ll see the challenge right away,” Ron says. “He’s that kind of guy. One time I sent him a picture of an old beat up mixer. I said, ‘Wally, do you want me to scrap out this thing?’ Trust me, it was junk. He says, ‘Ron, did you bump your head?’ To everybody else, it was scrap. To Wally it was something he could do something with. He just sees things others do not see.”
Tom Elliott, Jensen Precast Manager of Product Design, came to the company on Wally’s recommendation. Tom started with Wally in 1987 at ACP, where they worked on special projects. One was a massive utility buildout in San Antonio, Texas, supplying 40 cellular telephone concrete structures located in electrical utility switching stations.
“These were probably the largest transportable precast buildings you could do,” Tom says. “They were approximately 34 feet long, 14 feet wide, weighing about 143,000 pounds each, and sold for around $150,000 in 1994 dollars. Those buildings were quite unique. They had fiberoptic splice panels and all kinds of state of the art equipment. The concrete shell was minor compared with the outfitting of the building. When it left our plant, basically all they had to do was set it on the foundation and plug it in. It was one of those special projects that Wally was unbelievable at doing. Not just anyone could have pulled that thing together.”
Wally left for Jensen Precast while Tom stayed at the ACP Texas plant, which was eventually purchased by Oldcastle Precast.
“Oldcastle didn’t really have a place for me,” Tom says. “So I called Wally, and he got me hired on by Don Jensen in 2004. Wally has been a great mentor to me. Big time.”
Wally’s experience at ACP helped Jensen Precast open a market in Hawaii. At ACP he traveled with Bruce Johnson to Hawaii when Bruce was in charge of the Hawaiian division for the company.
“Number one, Wally’s a very smart guy,” says Bruce, now Sales Manager for Western North America at HawkeyePedershaab. “Number two, he can take an idea, visualize it, then put it into practice in terms of machinery, production methods, that kind of thing. That’s his strong suit, I would say.”
When Wally came to Jensen Precast, his Hawaiian connections came in handy. Wally and Rick Oliver, former Vice President of Wastewater Products for Jensen Precast, were instrumental in starting the operation on the Island of Oahu in 2003. Wally tapped Garret Lau to help launch the facility.
“Wally and Rick had the vision and saw the untapped potential of the Hawaiian Islands,” Garret says. “Wally held my hand the entire way, teaching me and sharing with me how to be successful in the precast industry and as a person. His work ethic and knowledge are unmatched. I am so blessed to work alongside of him, but more important I am truly blessed to be able to call Wally my friend.”
Wally’s contributions to the industry have been recognized before. In 2011 he was presented with the Robert G. Evans Lifetime Service Award by the California Precast Concrete Association. A past president of the association, he played an instrumental role in the founding and growth of CPCA. Wally also served the National Precast Concrete Association as a member of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Utility Committee.
His name appears on a few patents as well, including Self-Cleaning Ledge Construction for Meter Boxes, Mold for Making Meter Box Covers, Locking Subgrade Vault, Industrial Vault, Elastomeric Gasket for Sealing a Glass Fiber Reinforced Cover to a Vault, Utility Vault Cover Seal, and Highway Barrier with Level Internal Ducts and Construction Method.
Wally has always been willing to share his perspective and support others in the industry. Ron has a quote from Wally that he often refers to: “The best part of life is enjoying what you do and making contributions to your part of the world and its success.”
Ron sometimes calls Wally on his long drives between Reno and Las Vegas. They’ll talk about work issues and life and whatever. He often looks to Wally for advice. Ron describes himself as a “rough cut” guy who might occasionally think about doing things his own way rather than following procedure. Wally calls it “going cowboy.” Ron will get out on a limb, and Wally will always reel him in, saying, “Ron, don’t go cowboy. Be professional.”