One of the most hazardous occupations in the world is a maritime salvage diver. Ron Warren never let that slow him down to quash his dream of being the owner of his own diving company. In fact, he has been providing salvage diving services for everyone from the United States Coast Guard to Chinese shipping companies since 1985. Whether it’s raising the hull of a sunken barge in the Los Angeles Harbor or retrieving a launched rocket off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base, Warren has navigated his small San Pedro business for more than 30 years, braving the challenging choppy waters, frigid temperatures and dangerous conditions. While it’s certainly not the business for everyone, Warren wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did you start your business?
I am a certified diver and Captain. I started out running a charter boat company on Catalina Island, but I soon learned that I could make a lot more money as a diver. I had a family to support and so I opened Warren Diving in 1985.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
I started off with a small loan from a bank. That helped me get a small shop opened and buy some equipment. After that, it was all me. I have a really good reputation and that’s been more valuable than money.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
Well, I remember that my first dive business specialized in cleaning the bottom of boats. It was a year-round service, like cleaning your pool. It was hard work because you were scraping and prying stuff off the bottom of a hull. It was a good days work for a good days pay. But one day the Los Angeles Harbor Police approached me and asked if I could help raise a sunken boat. After that, I started getting more salvage dives. There are a lot of dive companies, but very few specialize in salvage operations. It’s either too dangerous or they don’t have the background.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
Geeze, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I guess the most fundamental mistake I made when I first started out as a 22 year-old was I did my own bookkeeping. That was a mistake. I didn’t know anything about bookkeeping. I was a diver and my focus was on staying alive. I tried to do everything myself and probably spend more than double the cost it would have been to hire a bookkeeper.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
The smartest thing I ever did was to open this operation. There are about seven other diving companies in the area, but nobody specializes in salvage operations like I do. They try it for a while and then they realize it’s too dangerous or they can’t do it well.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
I put in a solid days work and I get a solid days pay. I work hard. I mean really hard. It’s heavy lifting and takes a lot of arm strength. But when I get my check from a customer, I know that they got their money’s worth and I feel good about that. It’s an honest living. I’m very proud about that.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
It’s dangerous man. On the list of most hazardous occupations, salvage diving is number two, behind crab fishing in Alaska. If you don’t know what you’re doing you can easily be crushed or blown up. You don’t want just anybody doing this kind of work.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
There’s not much. I learned how to dive a long time ago and learned everything I can — the old fashioned way — by trial and error.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
A company called Titan Salvage. They are the company that raised the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy. It was the most sophisticated diving operation in the history of the world. The owners of the ship paid more than $800,000 to raise that ship and they only lost one man. They used the most modern equipment and computerized models. It was amazing. I really admire that company.
What I’ve Learned
If you could go back to when you were starting your business, what advice would you give yourself?
I would probably get more help for the office work and the phone calls. It was never my strength and I know I lost business trying to do it all myself.
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I never went to school and so I learned everything myself. The only thing I wish I knew more about was Internet marketing. You know, like making websites and promoting myself. I don’t want to get much bigger, but my son will be coming onboard to help out and he will need to learn the technology stuff. He’ll have to bring me into the 21st Century.
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About the Author — Vincent Aviani has been a professional observer of life for nearly 30 years. Starting out his career as a reporter, and then as a community banking communications officer and public relations executive, Vincent has spent his career listening to personal stories and conveying the histories and wisdom within each story to his receptive audience. For the past four years, he has been running his own small business as a professional communications consultant and storyteller.