Low Oil Loves Opportunity
- by Abigail Watson
Now that the price of crude oil has cratered to around $30 per barrel, Williston North Dakota’s population has returned to its natural levels. Only a couple of years ago, the state was the destination for as close to a gold rush as seen since the 1800s—this time being black gold. People and materiel were chasing the proverbial gusher that is the Bakken Formation. Largely through fracking, oil extraction in Bakken increased 150-fold starting in 2006. Now, the rig count in North Dakota is down to less than 40 from a high of just over 200 and oil production is down 25,000 barrels per day month over month.
That only makes it all the more remarkable that in 2015, three Wharton alumni found each other in the great Northern expanse. Actually, they called each other.
You see, all three— Thomas Logsdon, John Baltes and Jeremy Korth (all WG14)—were classmates in the East Coast Class 38 that graduated from the Wharton MBA for Executives Program back in May 2014. They must have forged a strong bond every other weekend on campus to have all three of them join forces at B&G Oilfield Services in an industry that many people were fleeing.
Either that, or Baltes is really convincing. He was the first to embrace the move out West. He joined the WEMBA program as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy, realizing that he had to “grow up and get a real job,” as he puts it. Professional contacts and On Campus Recruiting provided him that opportunity. He received offers in consulting, hedge funds, and with defense contractors, all on the East Coast. He had been on the East Coast for so long—eight years in the Washington, DC area—that when he came across an energy job in which he could do “something drastically different” than what he had thought he would do—all while marrying his Wharton analytical skills with the people and operational talents honed in the military—he could not resist. The opportunity for Baltes was so alluring that he interviewed with B&G on April 7 and started in North Dakota on April 17—having to travel back to Philadelphia to take exams and walk in graduation.
When Baltes, now the Executive Vice President of North Dakota operations, got out there, the Bakken was all about growth and getting market share. The company he joined had been in the Bakken for 50 years. But the pace, as he recounts, was still like they “were building the airplane while it was taking off.” Revenues increased 66% while profit increased 77% from 2013 to 2014.
Months later, he lured Logsdon. It was late 2014, and Logsdon was working his “dream job”—commodity risk management for a supply chain subsidiary of Yum! Brands. Baltes called him and explained that he was looking for someone to help run his divisions. Logsdon, chained to a desk, watching commodity markets and back-and-forthing on the phone all day, listened. He still couldn’t get over Baltes’ plan to move to the Bakken.
“I will never forget when John first told me he was moving to North Dakota,” says Logsdon.
Logsdon thought about his career—before Wharton he worked with Perdue Farms trading commodities—and he harkened back to his childhood growing up on a grain and poultry farm, and realized what he enjoyed most about the work—getting to work side by side with a skilled blue collar workforce. And the way Baltes explained it, Logsdon knew he would be in for a “challenge and an adventure at the same time.”
In March 2015, he also moved to the “Wild Wild West,” he explains. It was a decision made with $45 per barrel oil. He now serves as Vice President of the Hydro Excavation, Directional Drilling and Line Locating divisions.
Baltes actually picked him up at the local train station when he arrived in town—the first time they had seen each other since graduation.
Later that summer, they had Korth on the phone. Korth confesses that he took that first call out of courtesy to his classmates. He had a job he enjoyed with Buckeye Partners, a MLP pipeline company. He sat down with his wife after that call though, and somehow convinced her to move to North Dakota in August 2015, despite oil prices sinking even lower and mass layoffs occurring in the Bakken. Korth now serves as Director of Pipeline and Pigging operations.
Reunited, the three friends work long hours in the field and in offices located side by side. During the day, they’re all neck deep in operations. However, they have weekly dinners when they can sit back, reflect, and talk strategy.
Korth explains that Logsdon and Baltes have a plan out there—what better time to gain share than during the worst of times? What better time to recruit the top talent in the energy field than when most employers are not hiring?
“A strong company will continue to do well… you just have to go out and work harder to get that market share,” Korth says.
Strong companies by this definition don’t just need three Wharton MBAs running them. They need to be diligent with every deal, whether it’s a thousand-dollar deal or a multimillion-dollar deal. Whereas the majority of the industry tends to run on gut checks and rules of thumb, B&G is powered by data, rigorous analysis, and a proprietary IT system that gives them real-time visibility into their operations. They are focused on gaining efficiency and cutting out unnecessary processes. B&G is a portfolio company of a private equity firm that is also very fact based and data driven—something that would appeal to most any rigorous Whartonite.
While revenue was down roughly 30% in 2015, B&G delivered over 90% as much bottom-line profit from that, says Baltes. “Low-priced oil doesn’t necessarily mean dooms day; it also provides numerous opportunities for us.”
“When oil prices turn around, we’re going to be there and we will be well positioned” Korth says.
“When you throw talent and resources into a situation, you can create a lot of value,” Baltes says. “I love where we are at despite the price of oil,” he adds.
Post was originally written and researched by Matt Brodsky.