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Head of Walsh Equipment Named One of Pittsburgh’s Smart 50

Charlie Walsh of Walsh Equipment in Pennsylvania was recently named a recipient of Pittsburgh’s 2017 Smart 50 Award.

Bestowed by Smart Business Pittsburgh magazine, the honor is given to top executives who make a positive impact on the region’s economic success by being innovative and contributing to the area’s ongoing sustainability.

“As the third generation of a family business, sustainability is very important to me for the sake of our employees and customers, and for leaving a legacy that had previously been established by the prior two generations for 85 years,” Walsh said. “(The award is) a nice acknowledgment of my career so far, that in 10 years my leadership has made a difference.”

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Started in 1932 by Walsh’s grandfather, Walsh Equipment originally focused on the corrugated metal pipe business. The company eventually expanded to include construction, road maintenance and truck equipment, with Walsh’s dad, Mike, taking over in the early 1980s.

“I grew up in the company, grew up working on Saturdays and during the summers,” Walsh recalls. “It was a small family business and very much a passion for us. It was the key to providing for our family and the families of our employees.”

After finishing law school, Walsh officially returned in 2007 to help grow the business, working closely with his dad.

“I worked with the sales guys and learned the blocking and tackling of construction equipment – first sales and then operations,” he said. “The market dictated some of our growth. I came into the business in ’07, and then ’08 and ’09 were very challenging years. So we worked doggedly not to participate in the recession.”

As luck would have it, the energy business came to western Pennsylvania in 2010-2011, which sent the company’s growth into overdrive. By 2017, Walsh Equipment had two stores in western and central Pennsylvania.

Walsh worked closely with his father the first few years to learn the ropes and eventually took over the day-to-day management of the business. He was named president of the dealership in 2012, with Mike remaining for a few years to make sure everything stayed on track.

“We worked very hard and diligently with our employees, manufacturers and our customers, Walsh said. “We were a real success story. We were fortunate, entrepreneurial and hardworking.”

With his dad ready to fully exit the business in 2017, Walsh decided to think outside the box about the company’s next phase.

“We began to look at what would be best for our stakeholders – the employees, ownership, and customers,” Walsh said. “As we looked at it, we realized we had hit a critical size where we could either continue growing on our own organically at our own pace, trying to add additional product lines and territories, or we could find a strategic merger that made sense and accomplished our goals for the business more quickly.”

In the summer of 2017, Walsh Equipment became part of Stephenson Equipment Inc., based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“We’ve known Stephenson for 30-40 years and represented many of the same manufacturers,” Walsh said. “They were in eastern Pennsylvania with a lot of the same lines. We started having conversations with them and things started to fall into place. They had crane territory already in Pittsburgh and western PA where we hold construction equipment territory. As we talked through it, we thought it would be a win-win situation, and it’s proven to be for our customers, our employees and the OEMS.”

While his dad has officially retired, Walsh remains as a board member of Stephenson, as the vice president in charge of the Walsh division, and as a minority shareholder.

“We’re looking for opportunities to merge our processes, and our employees are very much on board,” Walsh said. “They’ve been enthusiastic and helpful. Culturally, the two businesses are very aligned. SEI is full of great, hardworking people who support the customer, which is the backbone of a great dealership. They have tremendous talent with some of the best and smartest people I’ve met in the industry.”

Unlike with some mergers, there were no redundancies when Walsh Equipment and Stephenson got together. Collectively, the company now has eight locations with 185 employees and is actively looking to hire more people.

“It’s absolutely a growth play, a strategic alignment between the two dealerships; and it will continue to grow,” Walsh said. “A key consideration from the beginning has been the legacy Walsh employees, and this will provide them with a lot more opportunities.”

As for his Smart 50 Award, Walsh looks at it as a milestone to commemorate his first decade in the family business.

“I see it as a benchmark for the first chapter of my career,” he said. “Now I have the opportunity to continue that legacy of innovation and growth, caring for employees and customers.”

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