Started by Donald Bollinger in 1946 as a machine shop on the banks of Bayou Lafourche that focused mainly on repair work, Bollinger Shipyards (Bollinger) has grown to become one of the leaders in vessel repairing, designing and building in the state— with 10 shipyards located throughout Louisiana that have access to the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River and the Intracoastal Waterway.
To achieve its tremendous growth over its 75 years of business, Bollinger had to diversify — starting new construction projects in the late 1950s with smaller boats, leading it to later acquire government contracts.
“The big transformation in the company started really in the mid-80s, during which a lot of companies down here transformed in an adverse way due to the crash of the oil and gas market,” said Ben Bordelon, Bollinger President and CEO.
“But at that point, we pivoted into doing government contracting work for the United States Coast Guard. And since then, they’ve been one of our main customers,” he continued.
To date, Bollinger has delivered over 165 vessels to the Coast Guard (six fast response cutters in 2020), not to mention the vessels the business has built for the Army and Navy as well.
“I think it’s a huge responsibility for us to perform and exceed expectations for the government,” Bordelon said. “When you deliver ships and you know you’re going to put service men and women on vessels and put them in harm’s way, we for sure need to be doing our job to build high-quality ships that are going to perform when they need to and last for decades. I like to say the U.S. Coast Guard or any customer we build for has the highest-quality ships that could compete anywhere in the world.”
In addition to its work for the military, Bollinger also specializes in ocean-going double hull barges, offshore oil field support vessels, tugboats, rigs, lift boats, inland waterways push boats, barges and other steel and aluminum products.
“I think that’s one of the things that helps keep our blade sharp — that we touch in a lot of different markets,” Bordelon noted. “It keeps us focused and really helps our employees have a broad stroke of exposure to different types of projects.”
Like virtually every company in Louisiana last year, Bollinger had to adapt to the new challenges the novel coronavirus brought.
Deemed an essential business, Bollinger was able to continue working throughout the pandemic while maintaining the COVID-19 protocols, Bordelon said, and still managed to deliver each of its ships and projects on schedule.
“Obviously there was not a manual for dealing with a pandemic, business-wise. So we definitely gathered up as a team and came up with a strategy and a plan of how to work through this and protect our employees during that time, which was obviously challenging,” he recalled.
“For us to maintain schedules during a pandemic, I think speaks volumes of the commitment of our workforce to deliver ships to our customers and work safely,” Bordelon added. “We were voted 15 years in a row for being the safest shipyard by the Shipbuilders Council of America, and essentially all that means is that we’re doing the right things and we care about our employees.”
A third-generation leader of the company, Bordelon said that the employees are the core of the family business.
“We have multi-generational families that work here, last names that have been around these facilities for a long time,” he said. “I always brag to folks that our sales guys and myself help get customers in the door, but it’s our employees that keep them. The quality products we produce help separate us from a lot of folks.”
Based on the culture and team at Bollinger, the growth of the company over its 75-year history doesn’t surprise him, Bordelon said, and he is grateful for its success. He emphasized, however, that he always aims for the business to reach new heights.
“You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse,” he said. “I think we have a great team that we continue to build from…I’m very thankful for where we are. And I’m really looking forward to 2021 and the upcoming years to see where are we going to take the company.” •