You Know the Drill: Switching Gears to Drilling
Bill Pearson, president of Pearson Drilling Company in Lake City, Mich., grew up in a rural part of Missaukee County and spent his springs, summers and falls growing up driving tractors, baling hay and milking cows.
Though he had experience farming, he decided he wanted a future in engineering. He decided to go to Michigan State University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After graduation, he spent the majority of his summers working for his uncle at an oil drilling company — reworking oil, disposal, injection and gas storage wells.
Post-college, Pearson did a little bit of everything.
“I worked as a design engineer in plant engineering for a short period of time, then moved back to northern Michigan and worked for an oil drilling company for five years. I worked as a rig hand (roughneck), driller, safety director and then personnel director for 1.5 years,” he says.
Pearson then switched gears again, leaving the oilfield and starting work at a consulting firm doing engineering and surveying. Shortly after, he obtained his PE and his Michigan water well driller’s registration, became a project engineer and started to manage the drilling department of the firm.
That’s when inspiration hit. In 1989, he started his own drilling and consulting business, Pearson Drilling and Engineering Inc. Several years later, he filed a DBA for Pearson Drilling Company and changed the focus of his business to providing strictly drilling services.
Pearson — who has been married to his wife, Deb, for 38 years and has four children, seven grandchildren and one more on the way — has seen everything the drilling industry has to offer from every angle. He’s learned what it takes to run a successful business, and is open about sharing that advice with others.
Q. What do you do, and what keeps you coming back every day?
A: I own and manage a small business; that means I wear many hats. Running the business involves payroll, taxes, insurance, etc., which I have an office assistant that does most of it. On the project side, I bid work, order supplies, supervise/schedule crews, talk with clients and manage equipment needs. On the personnel side, I keep the crews supplied with work, supplies, equipment, supervision and encouragement.
What keeps me coming back every day is the people that work for Pearson Drilling, our reputation and I like what I do. All of our employees work very hard. One of our goals at PDC is to take good care of our employees. We pay well, sponsor a retirement plan, and provide a quality health insurance program for the employee and their family at very little cost to them.
Q: What does a typical work day involve?
A: Most days start at the office at 7 a.m. Our crews arrive, and I go over the projects with them. This involves the tasks they are to perform, supplies and equipment needed, and probably one of the most important discussions we have are the safety issues we may encounter with a specific project. While crews are loading out, I typically take a quick inventory of supplies then review the previous day’s work tickets. If a project is complete, I send the work tickets on for invoicing. Then phone calls and emails are taken care of. Often, I try to visit a potential jobsite, meet with the owner, gather well permit information and the information for project file setup. Lately, because of our work load, I have been running an additional crew and doing the majority of my office work in the evenings. I try to get home around 6 p.m., but my wife might not agree with this statement.
Q: What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A: The first thing that comes to mind is hard work for all involved. We are located in a rural area of Northern Michigan. We offer a variety of services, which keeps things interesting, busy and profitable, but requires a substantial amount of equipment. Our services include water well, geotechnical, geothermal, environmental and well service. We may install a 12-inch irrigation well one day and part of the crew may install a 1-inch piezometer using direct push the next day.
The secret to success is having the correct equipment and materials for the crews to leave with every day. If crews have to stop and pick up materials, or call in and have someone run materials to a jobsite, production and profitability suffer. A lot of our success comes from being efficient by preparing for each project.
Q: What do you wish you knew when you started?
A: I wish I had better people management/development skills. I had a lot of drilling knowledge and technical knowledge when I started my business, but looking back over the years, I wish I would have helped some people develop better skill sets.
Q: What tool can you not imagine working without?
A: Probably a computer and email. This comes from a guy who can remember a discussion with a geologist who stated they would rather have a fax machine than a telephone. I just gave away my age! In the early years of my career, you could tell how business was doing by how much the telephone rang. Nowadays, our phone may seldom ring, but we will be very busy with work coming in via email.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A: My accountant, who was a high school and college friend, told me to send invoices out before I worked on more proposals. I followed that rule, and it really helped during the lean years of building a business. One other piece of advice that I found to be very true was given to me by a friend and business mentor during the recession of 2008. As I was struggling with laying off some very good people, he mentioned, “It’s a lot more fun to grow a business than downsize one.” I found this to be a very true statement.
Q: How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A: I think our industry is doing well and it has a bright future. We provide a necessary service to meet a basic need in life: water. We have lots of work on the books. We have turned down several projects, which is hard to do, because we cannot get to them in a timely manner. And I know other contractors in our area and around the state who have excessively large workloads, too.
I do have concerns for our industry. We have lost several contractors to retirement and no one has been there to fill the void. It has expanded our water well division’s territory, but this also presents the challenge of finding help to meet the increased work load. This seems to be an industry-wide issue. The other challenge is educating consumers in our fast paced society that water well repair or replacement may not happen as quickly as they would like.