Imperial Crane is an American success story that began in 1969 when John Bohne had the courage to buy a single, 25-ton crane and turn it into a booming business. Since his passing in 2003, John’s sons, B.J. and Lance, have taken the award-winning company to new heights. Under their leadership, Imperial Crane has grown to more than 500 employees, increased its fleet to more than 250 cranes, and quadrupled company revenues. Today, it’s one of the largest crane companies in the world.
Here’s Lance with a few insights on the company’s success and growth.
Let’s start with the basics. Tell us about Imperial Crane.
We specialize in crane rental and sales for the industrial market and the Chicago commercial market. With a focus on daily rentals and long-term heavy lift projects, we have extensive experience in refinery turnarounds, wind turbine erection, and maintenance work.
What led to your father’s decision to start the business?
My dad was a crane operator for a steel company and saw the demand for cranes in Chicago. He scraped together all the money he had to purchase one crane and grew the company from the ground up.
Describe him in a single word.
Why that word?
It was easy for my brother and me to get into the crane business — the company had already been built — but our dad took a huge risk. We often joke that he might have been a little crazy, but really, he saw an opportunity and didn’t let fear get in his way.
How did John prepare you for taking over the company?
BJ and I started our career at Imperial Crane in seventh grade, sweeping the shop floors and washing cranes. Once we were in high school, our dad helped us get our crane operators licenses. We spent every summer through college working at Imperial Crane — working so hard that we looked forward to going back to school for a break.
How long did you work at the company before taking a leadership role?
After graduating, BJ and I both had about 10 years working side-by-side with our dad before he let us start to take the reins.
Describe your organizational culture. We’re casual and informal but demanding when it comes to standards and safety. We’re a family business, and we view and treat our staff like part of our family.
To what do you attribute your success?
Diversifying our customer base. Years ago we started to grow outside of Illinois and into other markets.
What would most people be surprised to learn about Imperial Crane?
Before beginning a job, we develop a 3D lift plan that shows the impact of work on job sites and automatically lists appropriate cranes and configurations — very important when you’re working among skyscrapers in a downtown area.
Tell us about one of your most interesting projects.
We replaced the scoreboards at Soldier Field. The most important thing about the job was protecting the football field while driving two cranes — each weighing more than 200,000 pounds — over it. We put matting down to protect the irrigation system six inches below the grass.
Complete this sentence: Our customers appreciate…
Our responsiveness and commitment to safety.
What one pivotal moment in your history changed how you do business today?
We were bidding on a project for one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies but knew we’d need a larger fleet of cranes to even be considered for the work. We took a chance and bought 35 cranes — and eventually got the job. It established us as a key provider for major refinery work.
How do you measure success?
At work, having satisfied, repeat customers. At home, a happy family.
What’s your company’s greatest accomplishment?
Creating a legacy that’s being passed from generation to generation.
What’s the biggest challenge to running a family-owned business?
My brother and I shared bunk beds, went to high school and college together, and even bought neighboring vacation homes. We’re close, but we still disagree at work sometimes. We do our best to leave the disagreements at work and put family first.
Are there plans for the third generation to join Imperial Crane?
My step-daughter, a college student, currently works in our marketing department, and this summer my 13-year-old son will start in the shop, just like I did, sweeping floors and washing cranes.
How did you celebrate your 45th year in business?
We had an anniversary party attended by nearly 1,000 customers. We had our cranes and equipment on display and gave customers a chance to see our new technology.
What led to forming the Bohne Foundation?
We feel like we’ve been blessed personally and financially, and it’s only right to give something back. Through the Bohne Foundation, we’ve had the opportunity to help a lot of people. We gave kids at a local orphanage Christmas gifts, supported an anti-violence campaign, and even raised money to build wells in Africa.
What makes you proudest of the Bohne Foundation?
I’m really proud of the work we did with the orphanage. I actually took my kids there to help out, and we handed out gifts to more than 100 kids. It was really rewarding.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Our company has grown because of the values passed down by my father. We’re committed to providing an excellent service for a fair price, and following this philosophy has allowed us to become a leader in the industry.