Doug Hermann’s Career is a Pathway More Young Mainers Should Follow
Wyman and Simpson President Honored with Major Achievement in Construction Award
Article By Matt Marks
Learning Construction Early
Douglas Hermann’s story is one that most construction leaders hope repeats itself with the next generation. Raised outside Sanford, Doug’s family lived in an 18th-century farmhouse in Alfred known as the “crooked house.” The home was located on the road to Alfred Gore, and in 1790 Eliphalet Griffin, a blacksmith who participated in the Revolutionary War, built his home to match the crook on the road. Doug’s father worked for American Cyanamid and was transferred to Maine from New York. Doug’s path from field engineer to President of Wyman and Simpson, one of the oldest construction firms in Maine is one filled with hard work, ingenuity and solid advice from industry leaders early in his career.
In a real test of the times we live in today, Doug began his interest in construction at the age of 14. A Maine engineer Stan Littlefield, who Doug said carried the honor of engineering number 34 in Maine, hired Doug and many other local kids to help with manual labor on water infrastructure projects. Stan was a civil engineer for the Maine Department of Transportation and surveyed the Sanford Regional Airport for the Naval Air Corps during World War II. Before the war, he was a private pilot, but he was also the superintendent of the Sanford Water District for 21 years and owned Middle Branch Engineering in Alfred until he retired. Stan put Doug to work learning surveying, digging trenches and repairing water main breaks. Doug recalled, “I was 16, and on Christmas Eve a water main break happened, and off I went to help.”
Throughout his education and early in his career, Stan’s influence helped guide, Doug. Stan, a UMaine graduate himself, encouraged Doug to enter a program that would lead to a civil engineering degree. During summer breaks he took a job with the Portland Water District working on system improvements near Back Bay with funding from the Federal Clean Water Act.
After graduating from the University of Maine’s Civil Engineering program in 1977, Doug started his career as a field engineer at Cianbro where he worked for three years. He left there in 1979 to become a project engineer at Neill and Gunter, Inc. designing industrial projects, including a chip screen system at Georgia Pacific’s Woodland mill.
In 1981 Doug joined Sullivan and Merritt, Inc. as the project superintendent and had the opportunity to see the Woodland mill job, which he worked designing at his previous job, to completion on the job site. He became close with owners Peter Sullivan and John Merritt. Peter, a graduate of Yale’s civil engineering program, used to work for Consolidated Constructors and Builders (CCB). John returned home from World War II and worked as a homebuilder with his father and brother until he and Peter founded Sullivan and Merritt in 1977.
During that time the paper industry remained stable, and Maine led the nation in paper production. Doug, new to the firm, was a young project engineer assigned to a shutdown with 150 seasoned workers. He said the advice of John Merritt, to take it all in stride helped with the pressure from his first major assignment. Seven years later, Doug and co-worker, Jon Lee had the option to buy the company. Doug became President in 1988 overseeing all business operations until his departure in 1991.
His first major project was design-build at Madison Paper. The mill was producing a lightweight, lower quality newsprint for the New York Times magazine who had an ownership stake in the plant. The $10 million job was critical to the success of the firm, and his first negotiation was with Madison Paper CEO Jack Chinn who agreed to pay weekly but required an owner on site three days a week. The equipment was manufactured in Finland and brought to Madison for installation and setup. This project led the two new owners to the Bucksport Mill where they secured work on a robotic roll wrapping system.
When the opportunity arose to purchase Wyman and Simpson in 1991 from Bob Simpson, Doug grasped the opportunity. The company had an incredible history in Maine and opened the door for different projects. One year later, in 1992, the construction company joined AGC Maine, and Doug became engaged in Chapter activities.
Building on Long History of Success
Maine-based Wyman & Simpson, Inc., has been building highways, bridges, utility, hydroelectric and water-front facilities throughout northern New England for over 90 years. Wyman & Simpson, Inc., was founded in 1924 by Maine highway engineer Walworth Simpson and A.P. Wyman. Walworth had returned from the war in 1917 and was welcomed back by the Maine State Highway Commission as an engineer. Abel Percival Wyman, from Skowhegan, was a 1907 graduate of UMaine with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. Although the firm was originally based in Augusta and Waterville, the company is now located in Richmond.
The firm tackled major infrastructure projects including the Augusta Reservoir, Railway at S.D. Warren in Cumberland Mills, Ticonic Bridge in Waterville and Augusta-Manchester Highway. In the 1930’s the firm traveled to Acadia to build the iconic arched bridges for the Rockefeller family on the recommendation of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s Chief Engineer Paul Simpson, brother of Walworth. The company finished the Jordan Pond Road Bridge in 1932.
The famed, controversial Dead River Dam was constructed by Wyman and Simpson in 1949. Doug told me stories that Bob Simpson shared, “He said that the guys hired to do that job traveled to the site and first had to build cabins to live in for the nine-month project. One of the carpenters became the chef of the camp after men complained about the food, and the carpenter was such a good cook that families of Central Maine Power executives would travel up for Sunday dinner.”
During the start of World War II, the company was building the drawbridge near Martin’s Point. Challenges mounted quickly as the US Economy adapted to wartime business needs. Laborer rates jumped dramatically as factories hired for more money and material costs rose. After Pearl Harbor, the firm had to change from steel to wood to complete the bridge. After the war, AP Wyman split from the company, and while he did bid against his former partner, he focused primarily on vertical structures.
By the time Doug Hermann purchased the firm in 1991 the company had already been in business 67 years. He continued the company’s tradition of tackling tough bridge jobs with new materials and innovation. As the firm looked to expand the market Doug pursued a fish elevator project at the Saco River dam. Central Maine Power was reluctant with new owners and required both a bond and letter of credit to make sure the project was done by the December 1st deadline. That project helped establish the new ownership of Wyman and Simpson in the marketplace when they met their project goals.
In 2011 the firm built the nation’s first multi-span hybrid composite beam bridge, a 540-foot long by 32-foot wide Knickerbocker Bridge that spans the Back River, a tidal area in Boothbay Harbor. The bridge construction earned accolades from Maine Department of Transportation, a Build Maine Award and most importantly impressive commendations from residents. 64 locally fabricated composite beams were used in the construction.
The company also completed two “bridges in a backpack” – the innovative composite beam bridge system recently developed by the University of Maine’s AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
Under Doug’s leadership, the firm also earned recognition for the Greenville Wharf construction in 2009-2010. The company was awarded a Municipal Division Build Maine Award for complete reconstruction of the 1880 wharf that was and is vital to the area. In a challenging job before it even started the company used innovated techniques to adapt to the environmental and financial constraints. One of the major impediments to the timeline was finding out the wharf was hallow underneath, something never specified, required significant fill, creating delays. The town and surrounding community applauded Wyman and Simpson for designing a solution every step of the way within their budget.
Doug laughed about a recent exchange he had when he stopped by to see how the wharf was and spotted a local fisherman, “this guy was fishing off the wharf, being proud of our work, of course, I asked what he thought of the result, the fisherman replied he thought it stinks because fish used to hang out underneath because it was hallow and now they can’t. I wondered where he was during the design phase!”
Shortly after becoming a member of AGC Maine Doug became active in committees and issues. He joined several transportation committees including the Joint MaineDOT Bridge and Highway Committee, the AGC Maine/Maine Turnpike Committee, Bridge Concrete Subcommittee that worked on details of the 502 specifications and the Chapter Board of Directors in 2011. In 2004 Doug offered to help with the Chapter’s expansion of the parking lot at the AGC Maine office in Augusta to accommodate the growing interest in construction training. Wyman and Simpson provided equipment and operators.
Doug also served as President of Maine Better Transportation Association in 2012. As an advocate for the industry, he worked to increase public awareness of transportation challenges to secure more funding for roads and bridges in Maine. That wasn’t a new role for Doug; he also participated as a Board member of the Maine Transportation Trust with colleagues Herb Sargent and Bud Cianchette. The MTT worked for over a decade to increase funding for outreach and education to Mainers on the vital role infrastructure played in commerce, recreation, and life. That included participation with the National Transportation Research Group known as TRIP.
In a 2013 article for MBTA Doug said, “Some things we don’t have control over, such as torrential rain or ship breaking loose from its moorings. But we do have the option to be responsible for making smarter choices. We need to take better care of our infrastructure and find sustainable funding alternatives. Because just-in-time isn’t working very well for our roads and bridges.”
Doug is working towards retirement with two young owners taking the helm, Kim Suhr, and Brent Chesley. Brent joined Wyman and Simpson in 1991 after college at UMaine as the construction layout engineer and field engineer. Kim gained experience at competitor CPM Constructors and joined the firm in 2006. Today Wyman and Simpson continues to grow with 70 employees.
Doug is enjoying more time with his wife Linda who he met when he was sixteen. Linda summered with her family at Square Lake in Acton. Doug remained close with her family including her brother who was a roommate at college. Later in life, Doug and Linda, who was working as a nurse, reconnected marrying in 1993. Today they spend time at their home on Cousin’s Island where they are nearby their five grandchildren. Doug, an avid hiker, mountain biker, and skier, is on the Board of Maine Adaptive Sports. He helps with Royal River Conservation Trust and the Appalachian Mountain Club.
I asked Doug what he thought was better in the industry today and he shared “technology; we’ve improved technology so much, and while that has increased some of the demand on the firm to deliver faster, adding more pressure, it is amazing.” When I asked what can be improved he said, “broaden the opportunity to help more people learn the craft so they can become the next generation of skilled workers.”
Congratulations to Doug, his family, and friends. We are hoping more Mainers see this path as an inspiration to success; we are proud and thankful for his engagement with Associated General Contractors of Maine, the construction industry, and his community.