You Know the Drill: Business Booming for Texas Foundations Driller
Bobby Farmer is a third-generation Texas foundation driller who’s been associated with the business for virtually his entire life. Growing up, his grandfather, father and uncle owned one foundation drilling business — Farmer Foundation Drilling — and another uncle owned a different one — WW Foundation Drilling. After 10 years with Farmer, his grandfather passed away and the majority of the business was sold to WW, which he’s been with now for seven years. The Houston-based company serves as a subcontractor specializing in civil and commercial projects predominantly in the state of Texas. Common jobs include bridges, roads, high rises and other buildings. Farmer started out working in the field as a laborer and welder, and then moved up to an operator. Now, after nearly 20 years of foundations drilling experience, he works as operations manager for the company. “I think advice for someone is, start at the bottom and work your way up because then you know what everybody is actually dealing with,” Farmer says.
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. I do a little bit of everything. Mainly, I handle the day-to-day operations. We have a really good team of people that handles operations. I schedule crews, make sure that they have the right equipment for the job. I schedule the production with the contractor and make sure all their needs are being met. I also schedule the materials — the concrete and rebar — with the suppliers, and lots of problem solving. The challenges of the business make me enjoy going to work every day. At the end of the day, you’ve dealt with different problems and always new problems coming up. So, at the end of each day, you feel successful.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. The phone starts ringing at six o’clock; different crews all over the state calling and asking what’s going on, what additional do they need to know before they start their day. So my work day starts off pretty early taking phone calls, scheduling concrete pump trucks, just the logistics of one of our days. I normally take those calls as I’m driving to the office. I’m about 50/50 from the office to a job. Some jobs are more difficult, so I’ll spread my time to those jobs as well. We have 15 crews, so five of the crews work on difficult jobs and 10 of them easier. So I feel like where I’m needed the most is where I go that day, so wherever the biggest challenge is. Then I also attend meetings. I’ll do pre-construction meetings, scheduling meetings with our other office personnel, I meet with our suppliers and establish quotes for future projects, I estimate projects, so a little bit of everything.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. I think the number-one thing that leads toward success is a work ethic and also a work ethic in your employees. I think you need strong leadership at your company and the employees need to feel like they’re 100 percent of the team and not tackling these jobs alone. I feel like that comes from the management. Other than that, experience and a strong problem-solving attitude. Quitting can’t be an option in the drilling business. You’re going to encounter things that you haven’t encountered before and you have to figure out a way to solve it.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. Our business has changed quite a bit over the years. When I first started working, I wish I would’ve paid attention to what the older guys were telling me more. I did learn from them, but I wish I would’ve paid attention even more. In 1998 and even a little later, not everything was documented as well as it is today. So lots of information and strategy and problem solving was in the heads of the people that you were working with. … Experience is priceless in this business.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. We do a lot of slurry drill shafts. We do drill rock also, but predominantly we drill slurry drill shafts. I would say when the slurry auger became available it increased our production greatly on drilling slurry drill shafts. … I feel like having the slurry auger around nowadays increases our production and really makes a cleaner shaft.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Treat everyone with respect, whether it’s the laborer or the operator or the project manager that you’re working for, for the general contractor, to treat everyone the same. At the end of the day, your laborers and your operators are making the money for you. You can plan the job as well as you want and schedule everything perfectly, but at the end of the day, your employees are getting the job done for you.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. I feel like it’s good. I feel like it’s booming. There are lots of projects coming across our desk for bid. I feel like it’s not on the downturn. It’s been good for the last few years and our business does go up and down, like if you’re really, really busy and you kind of grow and then for a couple of years it’s slow and you have to downsize a little, whether you want to or not, and then it’s booming again. I feel like right now it’s busy and probably going to become busier. So the industry and the market is good. There are lots of jobs and people are building. I don’t feel like the economy has been affected as greatly in the Houston/Dallas area, and that’s where we do a lot of our work. So I feel like people are still building. We’re still drilling for commercial buildings and, in Texas, the roadways have not slowed down any. So I don’t think that we’re going to have a downturn soon. I think the industry is good.