Linking Customers to Concrete
Designing creative solutions to tough operational problems: Masterlink Concrete Pumping goes high and long
Steve Slater earned a B.S. degree in psychology from Calvin College, now called Calvin University, and followed that up with a law degree from Valparaiso University. But unlike many other newly minted lawyers, he left the legal field and instead chose to embark on a career in business, which ultimately led him to start Masterlink Concrete Pumping (Masterlink), a material placement and concrete pumping company.
Steve did well in law school and describes himself as someone who can think and communicate clearly. He wanted an advanced degree “because I think law is both fascinating and intellectually demanding,” he explains.
But why would he scrap law as a career in order to start a concrete pumping business? He says he’s a dedicated entrepreneur who has a nose for opportunity. So, after obtaining his law degree, he landed several management jobs in the waste management business. Then, he discovered there was a growing market in concrete pumping. He dove right in and started Masterlink, and he quickly discovered that he really liked the industry—a career switch he’s never regretted.
“Mostly, I’m a business-oriented guy who went into the concrete pumping business,” he says. “As with other businesses I’ve started, I believe excellent customer service is the foundation, regardless of the service being provided. At Masterlink, we work every day to meet our customers’ needs.”
Mike Lakie, Masterlink’s Operations Manager, worked as a 911 dispatcher for more than nine years before joining the concrete pumping company six years ago.
“Developing customer service skills requires us to be very detail oriented. We wanted to incorporate that skill in Masterlink’s customer service processes,” Mike says. “It’s important at Masterlink that we answer every phone call and provide top service to the best of our abilities.”
Steve started Masterlink in 2004 and serves as its Owner and President. In those early days, the company performed residential pumping before it began acquiring commercial work assignments in the Chicagoland area. Today, half of Masterlink’s work is commercial, about 40 percent is residential and another 10 percent is comprised of highway work and miscellaneous assignments.
When the business began to decline during the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, Steve learned how to perform all of the company’s various work roles. “Those experiences taught me a lot about what my employees face in their daily work assignments. It made me appreciate them and the skills they apply to their jobs,” he adds.
Concrete Pumping is Much Safer
Steve stresses that concrete pumping is far less labor intensive than moving concrete by hand, a process he says is rarely used these days.
“Using hand labor to move concrete is also more expensive and dangerous because wheelbarrows are quite heavy when filled with concrete. Besides, moving concrete by boom pumps, line pumps and line dragons allows us to easily place it in more difficult to reach spots,” he adds.
There are hundreds of different mix designs for concrete, and many of them are difficult to pump.
“What we’re pumping and how high and far it needs to go make up most of our challenges,” Steve explains. “Some of our jobs can be technically demanding—jobs that other concrete pumping companies might not want to do.
“From our knowledge of the business and our desire to effectively serve our customers, we work to ensure our jobs are done flawlessly. We like to set up our team for success. We make sure they know where they’re going and what they’ll be up against so that they’re prepared before they arrive at a job site,” Steve says.
As a commercial provider, Masterlink primarily serves health care, such as surgical centers and hospitals; heavy manufacturing, like oil refineries and steel plants; commercial developers; and industrial and highway contractors.
Adjectives Define the Company Culture
Mike and Steve offer five adjectives they believe define the company’s approach to customer service: friendly, available, affordable, dependable and experienced.
“Our approach is let’s work together by being friendly and results oriented. We think we’re easy to get along with,” Steve says. “We also pride ourselves on being available 24 hours a day for customers.
“We have a wide range of the best equipment made by Putzmeister, the leading concrete pump manufacturer, which helps ensure our availability. Because our equipment is up-to-date, with the average age being three years or less, this means there are fewer breakdowns and we’re more available to our customers,” he says.
Steve also stresses he’s confident that his crews are dependable—they will show up and arrive at the appointed time for jobs.
“The experience of our nine-employee team helps set us apart, too,” Steve adds. “Two of our operators have 15 years of experience with Masterlink, while the others have served as operators for five to seven years,” he adds. “Importantly, our operators are certified by the American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA).”
Its ACPA-certified operators and use of a wide variety of different-sized, well-maintained Putzmeister boom pumps and conveyers were primary reasons Masterlink was selected by Kiewit to provide backfill and concrete placement services for the construction of St. Joseph Energy Center in rural Indiana in 2016. Masterlink pumped 25,000 cubic yards of concrete for the energy plant’s first phase of construction.
Magnetation Pour Was a Stretch
Another noteworthy project was Masterlink’s work for the construction of a Magnetation iron ore pellet plant in Reynolds, Indiana, in 2014. Iron ore tailings are used at the facility to produce iron ore pellets, which are a critical raw material in steel manufacturing. In total, Masterlink pumped more than 90,000 cubic yards of concrete and conveyed thousands of tons of stone on the project.
Among Masterlink’s challenges on the assignment was to place concrete for a 15,000-square-foot rotary rail dump pit foundation. The company developed a master plan to set up a concrete boom pump and delivery system to reach the farthest point of the concrete mat pour. The difficult-to-reach foundation was poured in a deep hole and required pumping 3,500 cubic yards of concrete over a distance of more than two football fields.
“This pour was a great accomplishment to have on our resume, and it was definitely the most challenging pour we’d accomplished at that point in our company’s history,” Steve adds.
“We will pump any kind of job, from massive infrastructure jobs to commercial and residential work, as well as residential work for homeowners. Small projects are something we do, too,” Steve says. “At our core, we are simply a customer service company that does concrete pumping. Designing creative solutions to tough operational problems is just what we do.”
To Steve and his team, the word Masterlink has two meanings.
“First, in the temporal, we are an important part of a concrete pour when needed. In fact, we connect, or link, the concrete to the customer. Without us, it would be very difficult. Just as a Masterlink in a chain holds the item together, we hold the project together when needed.
“And, in the spiritual, we are all linked to the Master. As owner, I am a man of faith and many of our employees are, as well. That guides us in our day-to-day interactions and decisions,” he says.