You Know the Drill: Being a Good Boss
Roddy Qualls, owner of Roddy Qualls Environmental Drilling LLC in Fort Worth, Texas, has been directly involved with the drilling business since 1990. Prior to that, he obtained a degree in petroleum technology from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. From there, he entered the oil business and worked with well site technology and mud logging among other things. Then the oil business slowed way down and he decided to seek opportunity elsewhere. He started by purchasing a used rig, hiring a driller and taking on mostly geotechnical projects. “Then the environmental started getting very hot, so we moved over into the environmental industry and we’ve been going ever since,” Qualls says.
He started what he calls RQ Drilling, for short, in 2012. The company does mainly environmental drilling with the help of one hollow-stem drilling rig and two Geoprobe rigs. They serve Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Kansas, specializing in hollow-stem auger, air rotary and direct-push drilling methods. Qualls says around 90 percent of his work comes from environmental consultants representing banks and land owners, and he’s quick to point out that he doesn’t do it alone. His wife Lorraine, vice president of the company, handles all of the business management end that he doesn’t, and he says he has loyal employees that have been with him for 20 years.
Holding onto crew members for so long is no accident; it’s all about treatment. Qualls makes it a point to offer them respect, competitive compensation and bonuses. “We’re small, we’re family oriented, we’ve got good men that appreciate their jobs and I think that reflects a good attitude out into the field. If you’ve got people that are frustrated and mad and not happy, then that’s going to come out in their job. So I feel like if I keep my guys happy they’ll do a better job for my customers and that’s the final result,” he says.
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. We’re an environmental drilling contractor. We drill for a nucleus of customers that I have built over the last 20 years and I keep coming back for my employees and I keep coming back for my customers. I have men that have been with me that time frame and they have wives and children, so I keep coming back for my employees and I keep coming back for my customers.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. I get up and I have an office at home and an office at my shop. … I come in and I answer the phone. My phone number is on the doors of all the rigs and I solely run this, with the exception of my wife who does payroll. She does everything I don’t want to do. But I bid the jobs and I log the checks in. She goes to the post office and does payroll. I pretty much do everything else. Then we have a CPA and bookkeeper that keep us in line on the dos and don’ts. Pretty much, I’m answering the phone and bidding jobs and talking to customers. Then on top of that I talk to drillers in the field. If they have a problem or an issue during the day, I may have to run out occasionally when we’re shorthanded and we may have somebody out sick or a funeral or a vacation or whatever. I’ll be out there with my hardhat and steel-toed boots being a helper on the rig. It’s not very often, but we’ve got to keep the jobs going and stay on schedule and if that means me out in the field, that means me out in the field.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. Just being consistent with your employees and being consistent with your customers. They know what they’re going to get when they call RQ Drilling. They’re going to get a fair day’s work for a fair price. Just being consistent and trying to keep your equipment maintained. Breakdowns really hurt our customers and it hurts us, so we just try to minimize breakdowns and be consistent.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. How to treat people. I’ve learned over the years you’ve got to have good people and treat them right and to do a good job and then take care of your equipment. At a young age I was just hardcore, go get them, get it done, let’s go, and you can’t overwork. I’ve learned over the years that you don’t overwork your guys and you support them and treat them well and let them know you’re behind them 150 percent. There was a time when I didn’t do that, and it takes experience and working with people on a daily basis and realizing life’s way too short. It’s way easier to have everybody on the same page and treat people well. That’s the main thing, is me learning over the years how to treat people and take care of them and get them to work for you.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. In the drilling world, everything ties together. If you don’t have a bit, the auger’s not going to drill. If you don’t have an auger, the bit’s not going to drill. If you don’t have the drill rig to turn the strings, then nothing’s going to work. I can’t really think of any one thing that I couldn’t imagine not having because it all ties together. You’ve got to have a power washer to keep everything clean. You’ve got to have shovels to shovel the dirt in the drums. Everything ties together and if the driller doesn’t get out there with everything he needs, you really can’t get the job done without all of it.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Take care of your customers. Be personable and understanding with your customers. You’ve got to be understanding and be flexible with your customers. That’s another problem I used to have. I would get frustrated they would cancel. My customer has a customer base and their customers sometimes book a job and then cancel at the last minute, which comes down on me and I lose days. You can’t get frustrated and irritated. You have to create a balance, I would say, with your customers, where they don’t just let their customers run over them, but you still have to be flexible with your customer and understanding and try to do the best you can to keep your rig busy daily. But if your customer cancels at the last minute, it is what it is.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. The industry as a whole is down just because of the oilfield. The oilfield is down and there are a lot of people out of work. But the environmental industry is pretty consistent. We have little peaks and valleys and ups and downs. Our industry’s based on real estate transactions and the bank loaning money on pieces of property and needing an environmental assessment done on a piece of property, which rolls into us coming out and doing the drilling for these environmental consultants. So it’s more stable and has been more stable for a number of years. We’re going into an election year and you never know if you’re going to see a little slowdown and people wait to see who’s going to get into the White House. That has affected it some over the years, but primarily it’s not as drastic of an up and down as the oil business is. It’s a lot more stable.