Soaking It All Up
Mary Grubbs leads LJS Waterproofing LLC with nod to innovation and inspiration
When a giant wastewater tank leaks near a public waterway and needs repair—or any number of other situations that require major waterproofing work— Mary Grubbs and the crew she leads tackle the problem head-on.
She is CEO and President and majority owner of LJS Waterproofing LLC (LJS), of Butler, New Jersey. LJS specializes in finding and fixing leaks in various structures by using chemical grout injection. General contractors, building owners, property managers and homeowners call LJS for a variety of problems with leaks in, but not limited to, water treatment facilities, parking garages, utility boxes, dams, elevators, pipes, culverts, tanks, tunnels, sea walls and basements.
Grubbs approaches such projects with a certain amount of inspiration, often rooted in quotes she finds and posts on social media—such as, “A strong woman looks a challenge dead in the eye and gives it a wink,” from filmmaker and music artist Gina Carey.
The difficult work that she and her crew perform—captured in their collection of watery before-and-after videos on the company’s Facebook page—stands in sharp contrast to the positive, light tone she embraces in other digital media posts.
“Go where you feel the most alive,” one of her posts reads.
Grubbs recently earned Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) status. Her story is one of grit and gumption. She tried other jobs before coming to LJS, and then worked her way into leadership—with no construction or waterproofing experience—while living with multiple sclerosis and raising two children as a single mom.
Another favorite quote of hers: “She needed a hero—so that’s what she became.” Grubbs works to find solutions outside the office, too. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she collected from donors a dozen unused iPhones and iPads to give to senior citizens who otherwise did not have the means to communicate with loved ones during quarantine conditions. She regularly participates in charitable fundraisers and plays the good Samaritan to those in crisis.
Growing up, Grubbs was a curious, hands-on girl who wanted to learn everything she could about the world around her. She once took a desktop computer apart to discover its inner workings and then put it back together.
Technology and networking continued to interest her, and so she eventually studied information systems at Seton Hall University. That led to a job installing customer relationship management software for a company for a while, and that led to LJS.
Conquering New Worlds
LJS was launched in 2015 by three partners whose combined initials made up the company name. Grubbs started with the company in 2017 as Office Manager, a position that gave her the opportunity to observe every aspect of the day-to-day operations.
“I’m the type person who wants to learn everything I can,” she says.
Two years later, when the company’s management was going through changes, Grubbs was uniquely positioned to take the role of Director of Operations and ensure the business survived and thrived. She became CEO and President and the 51 percent majority owner in September 2020.
“I proved I knew what I was doing, and everybody at LJS believed in me,” she says.
Brimming with determination, Grubbs has grabbed all the training and experiences she can. She goes on every job that she can and watches all the training videos that are available. She currently holds several certifications in areas such as OSHA 30-hour training, operating GPR (ground penetrating radar) technology, handling hazardous waste, environmental regulation compliance, and silica respiratory safety.
She is pursuing her next certification, a specialization in concrete.
Grubbs lives and leads by a code of respect for others, her colleagues say.
“Mary has the experience and intellect and is a great addition for us to think outside the box and get jobs done right,” says Lou Marques Jr., Project Manager and Personnel Manager with 35 years of construction experience.
Founder and Chief Operating Officer John Bierman is equally enthusiastic about Grubbs’ leadership. “She’s on top of her game,” says Bierman, who has 38 years in building maintenance and construction.
Grubbs says she makes an effort to ensure that employees are recognized for their hard work. “I provide them training, get them certified and team them up with on-the-ground training from Lou (Marques),” she says. “As a result, they feel valued and want to do well.”
Grubbs regularly consults Marques and Bierman to help with both big and small decisions. Their strategy increasingly includes providing services that improve infrastructures to prevent leakages that could happen in the future.
“We are evolving from doing crack repair and injection to void-filling and soil stabilization,” Bierman says.
Recently, that resulted in opening a second office. LJS has 14 employees who work out of the main facility in New Jersey serving the Tri-State area, as well as a new office in Capitol Heights, Maryland, positioned to serve the Washington, D.C., area. LJS landed a major project for the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority that created the opportunity and necessity for the second site.
For that project, LJS is performing a soil stabilization process and sea wall waterproofing at Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington. The Potomac River facility is relying on LJS’s expertise in soil stabilization along the riverbank so that wastewater does not seep into the river. The company injects polyurethane grout in various depths underground to solidify and stabilize the ground and the sea wall.
Another strategic decision has meant that LJS has invested in new, sophisticated equipment. Over the past six months, the company has spent an additional $120,000 for GPR technology, a high-powered injection pump, a cement pump and a customized geotechnical trailer.
“If we can do it better and more efficiently, it’s worth the money,” Grubbs says. “My guys can’t work without the proper equipment.”
The GPR technology means that LJS can scan a void in concrete to determine particulars such as its exact size and location, fill the void and then double-check to prove it’s totally filled. Additionally, GPR can explore 20 to 30 feet down into earth to identify utilities and other possible obstructions.
The right attitude goes a long way in delivering results, according to Grubbs. She and her employees believe in a thorough examination of problems followed by solution-based hard work that creates customer satisfaction.
Take, for example, recent work in New York City. LJS is wrapping up a three-year contract repairing 39 wastewater tanks, each 17 feet deep and 100 feet long. General contractor Jett Industries Inc. chose LJS to provide extensive chemical injections into tanks throughout a facility that serves 1 million residents in parts of the Bronx and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The aging concrete tanks, left unrepaired, threatened the East River, according to city environmentalists. LJS has dispatched three to nine employees there every weekday since June 2018. “One tank had 1,500 cracks,” Grubbs says. This has led to another contract to repair the digester tanks to begin spring 2021.
Other projects involve unique examples of what LJS can do, even for single-family homes. LJS solved a major foundation problem for a home in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where the owners had a second story added—but the foundation didn’t support it. The LJS crew thoroughly scanned the earth and discovered several 5- to 11-inch voids in the concrete. They performed extensive polyurethane injections and then re-leveled the foundation, thus helping the owner avoid other cost-prohibitive alternatives.
For the first time, LJS is helping a sports facility. The Department of Recreation and Parks in Rockville, Maryland, has called on LJS to determine why several outside pickleball and basketball courts are settling, resulting in uneven play surfaces—most likely due to structural cracks caused by water drainage.
Its growing list of accomplishments has even given LJS a new perspective on the extensive use of concrete in construction itself. The company has partnered with Surtreat Solutions, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to prioritize ways to preserve concrete in all buildings so that repairs can extend their uses, thereby decreasing the environmental impact of continual concrete production. Surtreat Solutions has created a concrete restoration solution that chemically stops corrosion and takes it to a pure state again, resulting in less repair over time, says Grubbs.
“We’ve partnered with them because of their cutting-edge concrete rehab solutions,” Bierman says. “We’re proud to be involved with them, reducing the carbon footprint.”
New directions and worthwhile challenges motivate Grubbs all the more. While she guides the company’s day-to-day efforts, she has long-term goals, too.
Where does Grubbs want to be in five years? “I want to be who the GCs look to when they need soil stabilization, chemical grout injection, etc.,” she says.