Mark: Hey, it’s Mark LaCour with modalpoint, and this is The EnergyMakers Show. We’re sitting here with our guest today, David Reid. How are you doing today, David?
David: I’m doing good, Mark. Thanks for having me.
Mark: Welcome to The EnergyMakers Show. In case anybody’s wondering, we ran Russ off, so we’re just taking the show over ourselves. So, David, you an I’ve known each other for a while. We actually met through some social media work for you-alls shrimp broil. It’s been a great friendship since then. You have a fascinating background. Before we jump into your fascinating background though, you work for National Oilwell. Can you give us the 5,000-foot view of what National Oilwell does?
David: National Oilwell Varco is a collection of companies that, over time, that began with many companies buying each other and trying to survive through downturns. It began as their rhythm of acquisition, and so we really started in the drilling space, making machines, and the machine designers eventually pulled together and over time we just kept expanding. So, from the machines themselves, into the drilling equipment. We build complete rigs, we build the drill pipe, the BHE, everything that goes into the well and into the drilling, and that’s our wellbore group. And then finally we’ve moved into completion and production. So, we’re working FPSOs, we work in a lot of the completion equipment tool systems, coal tubing. So, it’s a wide array of product, and what you find is if someone’s drilling and completing a well it’s going to have our equipment on it.
Mark: So National Oilwell is one of the premium service companies in upstream, globally, right? Y’all’s supply chain, y’all’s logistics are probably the best out there. And I know a lot of companies out there. Now let’s go forward; so, your background is absolutely fascinating. You don’t actually sound like you’re from Texas.
David: Maybe East Texas. No, I’m from Scotland originally.
Mark: And how did you get in the industry?
David: Well, I was working in architecture, strangely enough, and I moved from California back to Scotland, and came up with some crazy designs, and our architects, and they let me go immediately. So, maybe too crazy. So, I needed work and someone offered me a job and told me that anybody can do QAs, so sorry, QA people. It was good money, so I did that for a year, still looking for other work, not sure what to do. And then a guy from Varco met me socially and started picking my brain on how I thought about things. I had been in the industry and I also had studied construction of US companies in the UK, and so I really had a mind for how things could be done differently. So, what was happening then was, much of London was being built by and designed by American companies for a fraction of the price of UK companies, and so I was very interested in that interaction. And he is an American in the UK who was trying to work out how to cause change in their industry and application. And so, he hired me into a repair shop, which was very odd for me. But very quickly, I found my experience of the States, understanding of management systems there, and being in the UK matched really well. And so I started taking risks with what I was doing and pushing into areas that were a bit beyond what people thought I should be doing. Slowly but surely that became a career path that I really hadn’t expected, but once I got on drilling rigs with an architectural mind, I asked a lot more questions and started questioning things and looking at new designs, and quickly got involved in the pipe handling systems and how they were developing, and that became a core. They moved me, after three years, into California to work on pipe handling, and that got me into rig design, and from rig design that took me all over the world looking at rigs and systems.
Mark: So from an architect point of view, I bet it was fascinating to actually walk on a rig and see all the places where you could actually change the architecture to drive efficiencies.
David: It was huge, and this is a common problem where people were fixing small problems. They all understood their niches but nobody looked at the total impact to the people. There were some obvious clues that things weren’t right, but there also was a distance between design in offices and people doing the work, and so there was a lot of room for improvement. I found it amazing that this much heavy steel was being pushed around by human beings and that the risk was unreasonable, really. So, I quite enjoyed that this was a problem that needed to be fixed. That continued as a direction. What I really enjoyed was the kind of people I worked for. So, they recognized what I brought to the table and gave me opportunity, and they were really open for change, and so I liked that. The company, Varco at the time, was really innovative. And so, there was a lot of things about them that drew me in. Mostly, early, was their love of computers as a company.
Mark: Yeah, that was before computers were actually anywhere.
David: That’s right. They all had Mac computers, which was hilarious. We’d only seen, no Windows yet, so we’d only seen these green screens and so when I first saw, in fact, at the interview stage I saw that everyone had these Mac computers I’d never seen. It looked like paper on a screen, I’d thought at the time. And I asked them, ‘Does everyone get those computers?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, everybody has one on their desk and we will fund you to have a personal computer at home.’ So they were very visionary in how they thought. They wanted people to be engaged with computing.
Mark: Very forward thinking for that time. So, we fast forward to now, and now you’re the Chief Marketing Officer at National Oilwell.
David: Yeah, strange.
Mark: I actually think you do a fantastic job because you see the bigger picture. One of the things we struggle with in our industry, and even right now in this low crude price environment, we still are struggling with it, is people want to keep doing things the way they’ve always done it before. But our industry is changing underneath our feet, and you see that.
David: Well, I think that, I mean even though my title is Marketing I work a lot with the technology and the development of the technology. The changes, I mean I started with these big pipe handling machines that are common now, but it’s the same with the potential for digital in our space; not just in Marketing, but actually on the machines themselves, and the devices that we’re building, and the closed loop potential for machine learning gets very exciting. It’s always been exciting, but we’re on this brink where the industry is ready to adopt. The technology exists, we just have to adopt it, and so we always had this cultural barrier, and so the opportunity now as we see a lot of people retiring, and this happens in every wave as people retire, an openness to new technology comes. At this point it’s not really about an openness, it’s a win or lose. People will win who understand, and if you can understand how to apply and adopt technology that exists with a lot less fear than people usually have, then the game is yours up ahead. It’s going to be fun.
Mark: I agree with you. And it’s an exciting future coming, and I’ve been waiting for it. But there’s another part of it where you talk about culture. The culture of our industry is changing, right? I’ve gotta be real careful because I was getting ready to say the old guys, and I’m now that age. A lot of the people who have taken packs retired, and the people that are coming in are much younger, and they fundamentally think differently. And I think that’s a great thing. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
David: Well, it’s an openness. It’s almost a requirement for people to even stay engaged in their jobs, but I don’t think it’s just thinking differently, I think it’s the ability to know how to manage people who think differently. Most people always are trying to be restraining with new employees or people growing up in the business, and the key is not to restrain. The key is to guide, but not restrain. So, if you can do that well enough and keep people engaged, give them the tools, and give them some room to learn, it’s amazing what we can do. I think there’s a lot of things that are really simple, easy wins, but for a lot of people managing those up and coming leaders, it’s really giving them the space without, with just enough rope. Not so much that they cause big disasters. There’s a moment in history when structures were being built; fantastic structures around the world, in the 1800s, and near the end of that period there was a transition where the structures started collapsing. And what had happened was there wasn’t a good hand over from people who understood the stretching of the structural design, to younger people coming in wanting to make them more fantastic. And so there’s actually a balance of how you interact people with experience with the people who have an easy adoption of the new technology. So, I think it’s a combination that’s going to really work.
Mark: Changing that culture is always the hardest part of any organization, and I think you’ve done an excellent job. You have a Chief Storyteller. You’re the only service company I know of who has a Chief Storyteller. Now, the cool thing is he does a great job. He tells the story of National Oilwell, a lot of times, in film. Is that something that you thought of ahead of time, or did it just happen?
David: Well, it sort of happened; it’s back to being open. He was designing shale shakers at the time, and wasn’t enjoying it, but we had a small side project and he thought he was a hobbyist at moviemaking. And so, he came and did a small project, and you could see in the project that this guy has gone the wrong way in his choice for life. Because he was a fairly good engineer, but he is an amazing storyteller. He writes the music, every component. There’s about ten pieces to the puzzle of making a great movie work, and we’ve tested it out in Hollywood with him and they all say, the people we’ve talked to, that he’s a unique talent combining everything. And so, the reason we went there was, the company was growing fast, and I was working for Pete Miller, who was our CEO at the time, and I pointed out to him that we can’t keep expecting to talk to everybody in the company. We need another method, and Pete was very open. He just still wanted to keep meeting everyone, but I pointed out that we had a HSE conference the day before with 500 people in it, and I said, ‘I knew maybe 5 people, and I think you knew 4.’ And he smiled and said, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s right.’ I said we need another way. And at that time, I just met Paul, who does that work, and we just started playing with it, started giving him room to learn, funding him. I think the first little film he made, suddenly we realized the power of being able to communicate through video. And his ability to also know the business and connect with people when he interviewed. It was a very powerful way to build morale to connect people, and to use a medium that we should use more. It’s not an expensive thing to develop, but finding the talent was the key and keeping him engaged. Keeping him so he wants to be here when he could go do all sorts of things with his career. So, we had learned that over the years that making a fun work environment is critical.
Mark: What a great story. So, David, I want to thank you for being on the show. So, that wraps up my discussion with David Reid, CMO of National Oilwell Varco. I’m Mark LaCour, and this is The EnergyMakers Show.
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