On the Downturn

The seesaw is one of children’s simplest pastimes. It is also a wonderful, simple example of mechanics.

In the case of children playing, it takes two, preferably of similar weight. The starting point is even, but one side will push up, and the other goes down. Once one side is up, there will be a strong tendency for that side to come back down. If you’re up, you can try to stop the descent, but gravity will generally work against you. When you descend all the way to the ground, you can once again apply your strength to lift yourself back up. Seesaws are not much fun if both sides stay in mid air, feet planted, resisting movement. In fact, it is often the case that someone else will come along and apply additional pressures to make the seesaw move.

In 1984 I graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Petroleum Engineering. When I entered A&M at the height of the oil crisis, PE’s were a hot commodity. Drilling was up, oil prices were at an all time high ($44/barrel) and every PE that graduated had 10 job offers to choose from. Five years later, there was one job offer for every 10 PE’s that graduated. Damn seesaw.

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I had a brief stint in the world of oil, but when it hit $16 less than two years later, I got the boot. Through a series of events, and the generosity of my father-in-law, I ended up in the bottled water sector. It was just taking off globally and I got to go on the ride.

In October of 2013, I pulled the first Water Rig, Allison Lee, out to a drill rig site to put her into trial. After I had set up the system and brought it online, I remember standing on the pad looking at the drilling rig, Patterson 238. It occurred to me that I graduated with a PE degree 29 years earlier, and I had finally made it onto a drilling site. The reason I ended up there was a twisted path, but in the end, it was the idea that a problem could be solved, and my timing was right to solve it.

We are suddenly and dramatically at the bottom of the seesaw again, and there is a lot of uncertainty in the air. But my lesson in all of this was summed up by a new acquaintance. He has been on the seesaw a long time, and his advice to me was this:

Companies that have a quality product, dedicated people, a strong balance sheet and integrity through a down cycle usually find a way to gain strength when the business environment improves.

I want to be the company that this wise industry veteran describes. I want our current and future products to be based in solving real problems and to be offered with integrity. I am confident that what we have to offer is as viable in the down as it is in the up, maybe even more so right now.

I also believe that this industry has more than enough staying power to ride out the low and that strength will be built by the correction that will allow us to push back up. Meanwhile, in this chaotic and uncertain time, things beyond our control will influence the up side and the down. In the same way that the fall of 2014’s correction came out of nowhere, so will the next events that change the balance again.

So to you PE’s that are wondering what the hell just happened, I feel your pain. But, no pain, no gain, right?