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Exec who built crane business into one of the largest in Florida dies at 67

Dean Sims ‘had a passion for the simple life while driving in the fast lane.’

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 9:00 a.m. July 7, 2022
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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Dean Sims II was headed into a doctor’s appointment at Tampa General Hospital in late June with his dad, Dean Sims Sr., when the elder Sims started chatting up the parking lot attendants.

“I had to pull him off them,” says the younger Sims, so they could be on time for the appointment. “He enjoyed people that much.”

Sims Sr., who for 40 years oversaw one of the largest construction crane firms in the country, Tampa-based Sims Crane & Equipment, died June 28 after a brief illness. He was 67.  

“He had a passion for the simple life while driving in the fast lane, and he enjoyed every minute of the ride,” states Sims’ official obituary. “Whether it was one car or two that ended up in Lake Wire, who can remember, but Dean sure did have one hell of a time.”

Born and raised in Tampa, Sims got into the family crane business in the early 1980s. His father, Tommy Sims, founded the company in 1959, after suffering an injury as an ironworker. Sims Sr. helped guide the company to become a Florida and Southeast crane leader, with clients across Florida and some $60 million in annual sales by the mid to late 2000s. It currently has 600 employees. “Since the early 1980s, Sims Crane was synonymous with Dean Sims,” says Sims II, adding that he’s fielded condolence calls on his dad from construction executives across the Southeast.  

Sims Sr. retired as CEO a few years ago, but remained around the company, working with the board and others. Sims II says his dad was an astute and visionary entrepreneur who was adept at both the numbers side of a business and the softer skills side. On the numbers side, Sims restructured debt to get through several recessions and downturns, his son says, and was always thinking about innovative ways to find and keep customers.

Sims also prioritized making a company a great place to work — long before it was trendy. A self-taught cook, Sims Sr. made lunch for the entire company once a month to celebrate employees’ birthdays. He was something of a pit/smoker aficionado, grilling a variety of meats, but nothing in the kitchen fazed him. He made everything from lasagna to sushi, and one employee told Sims II his dad once brought over homemade ice cream.

Building and maintaining a strong company culture was the biggest lesson Sims II says he learned from his father, who he adds, “had a good old boy way of phrasing” things. “The most important thing to him was to take care of your people,” he says. “It wasn’t something he talked about, but something he did.”

Sims Sr. also put considerable effort into business succession, with four of his five adult children involved in some aspect of his businesses. (Part of that succession plan included naming Deborah Weber, not a Sims family member, CEO in April 2021; Weber was previously CFO of the company for seven years.)

“He hated funerals,” Sims II says, “because he thought nothing brought out the worst in people more than the loss of a family member. He thought so many families fought over trivial stuff.”

In addition to cooking and making friends, Sims Sr. had a host of other hobbies and pastimes, from golfing to gardening to sitting on the back porch of his ranch, watching the cows. He loved his rose garden outside the Sims Crane offices in Tampa, which was a Zen-like spot for him, his son says, when it came to solving a work issue. “He would go out there, smoke a cigarette and water his roses,” Sims II says. “That’s how he would think through things.”

And while Sims leaves a big legacy with the company that bears his name, he also leaves the people in his large orbit with an excess of memories. Sims Sr. loved to go to his hunting cabin in South Georgia, says his son, as much for the hunting as the camaraderie and cooking meals for friends.

“He had a genuine love for people and always made anyone he met feel important and special,” Sims says. “How many people do you know who have 50 best friends?”


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