This coming Thursday will be my last day working for Schlumberger (Slb) after 24 years. When you hear people say “it went in a blink of an eye”, I can’t tell you how much of an understatement that is. It truly seems like last week I started my career here. In the future, I’m sure I can fill a couple of these with stories of my career, but I think I’ll keep this to a short (relatively) recap.
I graduated from University in 1992 when I was 32 years old. I had decided to go back to school when I got out of the Navy in 1988 and entered the workforce 4 years later with an engineering degree, competing for jobs with smart energetic young 22 year-olds. It probably didn’t hurt that I was an energetic 32 year old with great grades and a impressive sounding military background. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but it was hard for the kids to compete with “I spent the last 8 years running, training people on, and then supervising the operation of nuclear power plants in the US Navy.” I will say that when the Slb recruiter told everyone what the job was like at a recruiting information session I was invited to, that jobs that could sometimes last over 24 hours in duration with the engineer having to be awake for the entire job, I didn’t really think they were interested in a 32 year old (my personal record when I was in the field was between 50 and 52 hours awake on a single job). So I took the opportunity to drink their free beer, not realizing that I was drinking with the Slb guy making the hiring decisions. Because hey, university student with access to free beer? It was like I was in heaven. Anyway, after a lengthy recruiting process I ended up being hired in Feb of 1992 and started my career in June of the same year.
After 6 months or so of training, I worked as a field engineer for 4 years. Which basically means I was away from home about 2/3 of the time, and in a pretty constant state of exhaustion. During that time my wife and I had our 3 kids, with Jackie as pretty much a single parent. I can’t imagine going back to that life, but I did make some great and lasting friendships. In many ways it was like the military in that your workmates are also your best friends and the people you do everything with, or at least for all the young single folks. Being married and older (not that my age was ever an issue) put me slightly out of that scene.
After my field career ended (because my wife said it needed to end!) I had an 18 month management stint in Edmonton. Back in those days they tried to limit the front line management jobs to 18-24 months because of burnout. They found that if they left people in those jobs more than a couple of years they started to quit in large numbers. I think I peaked at around 60 people working for me. You basically lived life with a phone welded to your ear. Our office had 3 phone lines and it was in no way uncommon for all three lines to be for me, plus my cell. Add to that midnight calls to come in to work to load tools for one of your crews on a jobsite and it makes for another job where sleep was a scarce commodity. But I gotta say it was oddly satisfying. I think in the entire time I was there, I had less than a handful of people quit, and the operation grew in size every year. I do think I single-handedly improved the profit margin of the du maurier tobacco company.
From there we hit the first downturn and I was beyond lucky to get transferred to one of our product centers in Houston, very near my home town and my family. I did everything from run an assembly lab for some very cool new tools, operations support, equipment qualification and testing, and became an “expert” in facilitating reliability and failure mode studies. I use “expert” in a somewhat sarcastic sense. Really, you only have to do something one or two times to be the expert if no one else has ever done it. I did learn that if you say things with a force of conviction people believe you, even if you are totally making it up as you go along. And no, I didn’t teach that to Trump-though he is the master at it now.
As I changed jobs within the product center, I seemed to gravitate to jobs that were new to my company. I also consistently ended up in jobs where I was a department of one in some ways. This tended to mean I had no one reporting to me, which I loved, with bosses that didn’t really know what is was I was doing, which I really, really loved. I’ve never been the best at being managed, I’m too opinionated and convinced I know the best way to do anything to allow a boss to tell me what to do, even though I rarely actually know the best way. Fortunately, as long as I got results, the boss left me alone. (I did have an appraisal once that said: “tends to ignore objectives, but makes up his own”) So I became accustomed to being mostly autonomous within a big (we were around 80K employees at the time I think) bureaucratic organization. I was lucky enough to pretty much stay out of the bureaucracy, which I loved most of all. But after 7 years of working only with internal Slb issues, I wanted to get back in contact with the field and the customer, without actually going back to the field. In 2005 I took a transfer to sales here in Calgary, reluctantly leaving my Texas family, but looking forward to the new challenges, mostly.
To say I was apprehensive about sales would be another massive understatement. Like most of us, I didn’t have the most favorable image of what sales was. I was not sure I would look good in a Herb Tarlek suit! Around the same time, I was somewhat concerned about not only my bald head, but my prematurely gray head (and really, I still am pretty choked at my Creator over that. Seriously Dude, prematurely bald and prematurely gray? Don’t You think that is a bit mean, not to mention not that creative?) . Who would buy from a old looking bald gray guy. So I decided to dye my hair, which is a whole other story. End of the story was I only did it once, and allowed myself to revert back to bald and gray instead of bald and ugly brown dye. Honestly, I could do multiple articles on me and my lack of hair over the years. Maybe I’ll do that next.
To get back on track, I got to Calgary not 100% sure I had made the right choice. I was wrong. As it turned out, sales has been the perfect job for me. Nobody reporting to you. If you are good at it, management leaves you almost completely alone. As you are in the role longer, you become the sage adviser (work mates reading this are spitting out their cheerios about now at the thought of me being “sage”) to both your customers and to your organization. As management gets transferred in and out, you become the institutional knowledge. You get to influence decisions on the direction of your company without any of the pesky responsibility. Keep the money coming in and everyone is happy. Oh, and trust me, there is little better in life than a generous expense account.
That and you get to work with the best people imaginable. Smart, dedicated, and above all, funny! I don’t know what it is about the sales job, but most everyone has a sense of humor. I’ve never been anywhere that people laugh more, at least since I was young in the Navy. I have worked with great people in all my incarnations in Slb, but sales has been by far my favorite. I honestly cannot imagine working with a better group of people, even though so few of them are left.
I don’t want to sound like I’m whining about the fate of the oil industry. It will mostly fall on deaf ears for those of you not involved. It does me no good to tell you how hard we all work because our image is being constantly tarnished, sometimes legitimately, more often not. What I can tell you is that while the good times can be good (and I would be stupid to deny that!), the bad times are equally bad. In this downturn, we have lost abut 80% of our sales force. I don’t know the exact numbers, but we were somewhere around 25-30 sales people on my floor at the latest peak. With me being let go, we are down to 5. I don’t know many industries who cope with that sort of staffing change. It is truly sad to be a part of. Some very, very good people are out there looking for work in a city built on oil. Not the best prospects.
I have nothing but great things to say about how my company handled this. While I wish I was staying, I totally understand the decision. They were down to letting the old guy with all the contacts and experience go, who at the best would be here for another 6 or 7 years, or letting go one of the much younger but still very effective sales people. I would likely had made the same decision. We have nothing but the best left here. There were no good choices and I feel sorry for the guys left making these decisions.
So to all my coworkers past and present-thank you. I’m not going to lie and say I loved every minute of it, but I loved a vast majority of the minutes. I know everyone says they got to work for and with the best people. Most of them are just saying that. I’m not, I really did get to work with the best people. And who knows, when this thing turns around I’m sure I’ll turn up somewhere. I’m way to young to call it quits.
In the meantime, I look forward to my adventures over the next several months. I know a Belize trip will be in there. I’m in discussions on a job at a golf course. Minimum wage, but free golf! Bow River fish should be concerned as they will be getting a log of my attention. My daughter wants to hike. I have a couple of bike trips planned. My wife is waiting to give me “the list”. I did make her promise to wait a few weeks. Not sure if I’ll like this retirement thing, but I plan to give it an effort. But I will be hedging my bet somewhat and forming a consulting company. I do need a name…….