Signal Looks To Rebuild Mobile's Bender Shipyard

Staff Reporter
02 FEB 2010–Signal

   Signal International Inc., which recently moved its headquarters to the RSA Battle House Tower in Mobile, now looks to rebuild one of the city's long-time shipyards.
   It purchased Bender Shipbuilding & Repair Inc. out of bankruptcy in January, saying it would triple employment to 400-500 people within 18 months at a facility it will call Signal Ship Repair.
   It has 500 workers at a Pascagoula shipyard, and 150 people at facilities in Texas.
   Signal President and Chief Executive Officer Dick Marler sat down with The Press-Register recently to talk about what happens now.
   Q: Were any former Bender employees let go, and was management kept in place?
   A: We started that process early this month when we hired 125 (former Bender employees). Obviously, where we had duplication we had to let people go. We've laid off 10 people, mainly in administration.
   Some of the management remains in place. Bob Beckmann (a former Bender vice president) and his management team as well as the craft supervisors over there are on our payroll. Beckmann is senior vice president and general manager of Signal and will report directly to me. (Former Bender President) Tom Bender is not with Signal.
   Q: Your business in Pascagoula is primarily rig repair, while the Mobile yard will handle vessel overhaul and repair, most for commercial clients. How do the two businesses mesh?
   A: If you are replacing wasted steel on a hull that's rusted vs. wasted steel in a rig that's rusted, it's the same skill set. It's similar enough that we feel confident that we know how to manage the process,

Dick Marler,
chief execuitive officer of Bender's new owner, Signal International, is pictured Jan. 27 at Signal's headquarters in RSA Tower in downtown Mobile.
and obviously we're relying heavily on a lot of people that remain on the payroll at Bender.
   (The Bender acquisition) will eventually add revenue and profitability to our company. It gives us diversity and means we're not just tied to the oil and gas industry.
   Q: What is RSA's ownership share and what is ACON's?
   A: RSA's is 46 percent and ACON's about 25 percent. The remainder is held by a variety of New York investment funds.
   Q: What is the investors' exit strategy?
   A: Basically, to grow the company and eventually perhaps go public, if we get large enough. There is always the possibility of merging with a company that's larger or smaller. These investors are patient. In the case of RSA, they are obviously encouraging investment in activities connected to promoting the economy in Alabama and Mobile. We feel very good about this acquisition because it achieves that goal.
Q: What's in store for Signal Ship Repair?

A: We're going to quickly restore capability by investing about $5 million on dock repairs and dredging. I think it shows our commitment to quickly get it operating, and I believe we'll be successful.
I met with the sales staff and was very impressed with their knowledge of the customer base. Clearly, the bankruptcy has kept some customers from coming to the yard because they were concerned about their ships somehow getting caught up in some kind of lien situation.
   We're excited about this acquisition. We feel like it's not just good for Signal, it's good for Mobile. I think you'll find that we're excellent corporate citizens. We have a long-term interest in the yard, in restoring its capability to what historically it once was. As we have done in Pascagoula, we're going to put a big focus on safety and quality, and we're hoping we can build a book of business that provides continuity and helps us avoid the ups and downs that are experienced in this industry.