D. Loy Stewart, Jr.

President, Detyens Shipyards

By Tony Munoz 08-27-2014 04:27:00

(Article originally published in May/June 2014 edition.)

It’s not easy being the third generation of family leadership. In the case of Detyens Shipyards – not to worry.

Tell our readers about Detyens Shipyards.  

Detyens Shipyards is a family-owned business founded by my grandfather, Bill Detyens. He started his marine career as a wiper in the engine room when he was 14 years old. He sailed until the late 1950s and worked his way up to Chief Engineer in the merchant marine. It was then he decided that he wanted to stay ashore more. He and my grandmother, with very little money, started a shipyard. 

Detyens Shipyards was incorporated in 1962 and performed primarily U.S. Navy work. My mother and father met in college. After a stint in the Navy, my father came to work in the bowels of the shipyard. Shortly after starting he moved into the office as the Personnel Manager and then as the Secretary/Treasurer. In 1982 my grandfather had an offer to sell the shipyard. My father and his partner convinced him to sell the yard to them in a 100 percent cash deal. Remember, interest rates were around 17 percent back then, but they took the plunge anyway. 

In 1990 my father’s partner retired and sold his 50 percent share to my Dad. Five years later the closing of the Charleston Naval Shipyard was announced. My father and two other businessmen put together a plan to redevelop the yard, which was accepted by the Redevelopment Authority. This was in October of 1995. Detyens Shipyards was one of the first and largest tenants on the base. The rest is history. We celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2012.

What a great story. What types of vessels do you handle?  

We work on all types of government and commercial vessels – tankers, container ships, subsea vessels, seismic research vessels, LPG, Ro/Ro, AHTSs, oil/dry barges, tugs, dredges.  We are not partial to types of vessels but more the types of owners. Our business is primarily repeat customers who have the same goals we do: The ship has to leave on time and on or under budget. We are in the business of creating customers.

What is the mix between repair work and newbuilds?  

We are 98 percent repair/conversion. We do some new construction but don’t sell ourselves as a new construction yard. There are several reasons. As a redeveloped Navy base, the facility is not set up for efficient new construction. Also, our dedicated workforce is tailored to the repair business. It may seem crazy, but our guys get tired of the same vessel month after month. The duration of the repair/conversions that we do is on average from seven to 60 days. The quick repairs are key in keeping the work flowing in the yard.

How many employees are there? Can you give us an idea about revenues? 

We have roughly 500 full-time employees. The repair business is very cyclical. We may go from 200 to 800 at any given time. The surge is handled by both skilled and unskilled temporaries. The Detyens team is very loyal through the busy as well as the slow times.  During the occasional slow times, everyone is ready for a break anyway. I can’t remember the last time we had to lay off any employees. Our company is set up to operate on revenues in the range of $80 million to $150 million. The instability of the repair market forces us to be extremely flexible and reactive to the workload.

Tell us about the company’s motto, which is truly unique.  

CUSTOMER BEFORE COMPANY, EMPLOYEE BEFORE OWNER, FAMILY BEFORE SELF, SAFETY ABOVE ALL. I think the motto says it all. Safety will always be at the top of the list.  Customers, employees and families make Detyens the great place it is to come and work. Every year we shut the yard down for a day in May to have our annual Family Day. It’s a carnival atmosphere with plenty of food and games. Each shop puts together displays to show their families what they do at work. It’s all part of Detyens Shipyards being one big family.  

Is that what makes Detyens so special?  

Yes. It’s all about our people. Of our 500 employees, more than 200 have been here more than 10 years. They are committed to customer satisfaction. As a matter of fact, the annual bonuses of our hourly employees are based on the vessel leaving on time and the owner being happy regardless of the profitability of the job. They know every month what their bonus is for the end of the year. There is a deduction if the vessel leaves late or the customer is unhappy.  

This takes the focus away from profit and puts it on customer satisfaction. The discussion of profit is not even a topic until you reach the top forty managers in the company. I share all of the financials with this team every month. They know everything I know. No secrets. It makes life much easier when everyone is rowing in the same direction for the same cause.

Detyens is a leader in the use of ultra-high-pressure (UHP) water blasting instead of grit blasting. What are its advantages?  

I think it is safe to say that Detyens was the first yard in the U.S. to dive into UHP water blasting. I can remember it to this day. We had a U.S. Navy FFG in drydock, and a group from WOMA – a leader in high-pressure applications – brought their equipment in to show off. We were amazed at the finished product during the demo and purchased the machine right then.  That was in 1993. The technology has definitely improved since then but the techniques are the same. 

You always hear that “water is too slow” or “water doesn’t do as good.” Not exactly true. When you are able to work propulsion jobs at the same time as blasting you are saving time. I don’t know of any owner that would allow his stern tube seal to be opened up within 100 miles of grit-blasting operations. With water they can work in harmony. As far as preparation, the steel comes out cleaner and is much better for paint application. UHP is not only better for preparation but also for the environment. That is an added bonus.

The Detyens Medical Center is unique in the industry. Tell us about that.  

The birth of the Detyens Medical Center is a great story. My Mom was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) when I was in high school. Like most shipyard people, she hadn’t seen a doctor in years. A family doctor friend came over to check on her because she was having some respiratory issues. He told her she needed to go to the hospital, which didn’t go over well. She ran him out of the house. Fortunately, he brought another doctor friend of his over and after a few days she was admitted to ICU. His name was Bob Freeman, and he runs the Harvest Free Medical Clinic. 

At the time Harvest Free operated out of a double-wide trailer. Dr. Freeman came to the hospital and to the house every day for a year checking on my Mom. During those days he discussed the inner workings of the Harvest Free Clinic with my Dad. To set the stage, Detyens Shipyards is self-insured on our health care, and most employees didn’t have a primary care physician. My Dad was in the shower one morning and wondered, “Why can’t we do this for our employees?” Dr. Freeman agreed to oversee our Medical Center and in return we would provide him new space for Harvest Free.  

The Harvest Free Clinic opened on May 30, 2006, and the Detyens Medical Center opened on July 3 that same year. The Medical Center is for our employees and their families as a primary care facility. Along with the best doctors we also have a pharmacy available to them. All this is on site and absolutely free. It is without a doubt the best thing we have ever done.

Wow, another great story. So tell us about yourself. When did you become President?  

I grew up working weekends and summers at the shipyard. Anything from driving the delivery truck to cleaning tanks to overhauling engines. I went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and after an extended stay graduated in 1991 as a Marine Engineer. A month later I sailed out as a Third Engineer. I worked in various jobs at Detyens Shipyards until 2004. My father was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) at this time. It put everything into perspective. I was promoted to President in 2004. His reasoning was that he would still be around to make sure I didn’t screw up too bad. Fortunately he is still active, beating all the odds, and keeps me focused on our priorities.

What’s it like to be the third generation of family leadership? 

I am very honored to be able to continue the work my grandfather started and my father grew.  It is challenging because history reveals that the third generation is extremely tough to continue a family business, for many reasons. There is the never-ending flow of government regulations that make it increasingly hard to compete worldwide. Fortunately, our management culture is very environmentally and safety conscious. We do a lot of things because it is the right thing to do, not because of a government rule. Another big advantage is we have a lot of second and third-generation workers. I feel if we can keep this interest in the maritime industry not only will the leadership continue, the level of expertise on the deck plates will continue to grow as well. I will say that I am very fortunate to work with the best team anywhere.  

How would you describe yourself? 

I am a production guy in a management position. I would much rather be out with the guys getting my hands dirty on the ships. I am able to get out in the yard daily. They just won’t let me touch and feel as much as I would like.

What are your goals for the company?  

I want to see Detyens Shipyards continuing long after I am gone. We have positioned ourselves in a strong and varied market. I want customers to feel that this is their yard and they see the same faces every time they come into the yard. The work is hard enough. At the end of the day we are not going to fight over the job. We want the same as the customer – the ship fixed and back out making money so that we can get paid.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?  

I am a part-time farmer. Having a full-time job to support my habit is a necessity. I enjoy working on the farm with my two young boys. They realize where food actually comes from and learn a good work ethic in the process. Farming is hard work but it clears my mind. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.