A son carries on the family business
For J.R., Texan and entrepreneur, business has always been a matter of family – and faith. So is the future, even where he sees new roadblocks and new challenges.
Back in 1984, his mother and father started a company that would grow to include a portfolio of businesses ranging from security to telecommunications to oilfield services, with J.R. serving as GM since 1998.
“We sell a lot of different products, but at the end of the day our team treats them all as one because we approach them with the same mindset – customer service comes first,” J.R. says.
J.R. cut his teeth in various oilfield industry jobs, but came back to the family business, attracted by working closely with his family and for a company that counted Christian values and customer service at the heart of everything they do.
He’s almost a throwback, with his strong Texas accent and his unapologetic Christian faith. But J.R. firmly believes that faith – and the values that come from it – are exactly what’s made his family’s company successful, and what will carry them into an uncertain future.
“Our team is family, not just a bunch of employees,” J.R. says. “Most of them have been with us for a long time. I believe that our value proposition is our Christian core values; we try to take care of people as if they were our own.”
New business, new problems… unless you plan for them
In 2012, J.R. and his father added an oilfield services business to the family portfolio, taking over an existing business whose founder was experiencing health problems. At the time, oilfield fortunes were rapidly increasing in Texas; J.R.’s new company took advantage of that growth, providing services to the many new oilfields cropping up all around them.
Yet the company grew intentionally, keeping pace with cashflow, and in 2015, when things began slowing down (in oilfield veteran J.R.’s words, “back to normal”) a lot of companies failed or overextended themselves; not his. It was a small miracle in the oilfield industry, where everything is cyclical and the boom years are as good as the bust years are bad. But J.R.’s family had built to last, and with overhead lower since resources were shared among the family companies, they rode it out and are again growing in these leaner years.
“Any company that’s as old as we are, you start to see people getting comfortable,” J.R. says. “If you don’t have something to challenge people with, it gets boring. We try really hard to keep discussion open – so we stay creative.”
Asset-based lending solves a cashflow issue
When it became clear that they needed to even out their cashflow to maintain the slower growth, J.R. remembered a banker he’d met some time ago. His father had used factoring to get out of a bind in 2007, and liked the flexibility and the ability to keep cashflow steady while growing. They’d especially liked the banker who’d handled the deal, Cole Harmonson – who, of course, would go on to found Far West Capital, but who at the time was working at a different bank.
“Cole is one of those guys who has a very strong positive aura around him,” J.R. says. “I always learn from him; he’s always thinking out of the box. I look at where he started and where he is; like us, it’s not just because of him. It’s all the folks around him.”
The relationships that matter
J.R.’s first impression stayed with him, remembering the man who’d been so helpful back in 2007. Eventually, when they needed asset-based lending again last year, he gave Cole a call. For years, they’d banked with a big bank, but he was feeling ignored and unimportant – and missed the personal service he and his father had gotten from Cole back in the day.
They found a company whose values matched theirs – and where everyone they met was as committed to personal customer service as Cole had been, back at that other bank.
“It goes back to the way Cole built the team,” J.R. says. “Same energy, same innovative spirit. It’s a first class operation. It was very easy for us to justify having to spend a little more money to go this route – versus a traditional bank – because of our experiences in the past. What you get in return justifies the cost.”
For J.R., working with Far West Capital reminded him of the family environment he and his parents had built. Mom, dad, sister, and brother all work together, all in the same hallway. He counts his grandfather – who had an oilfield work-over company before he retired – as his most important mentor. And of course, he couldn’t do any of it without his wife – or his faith.
“We are blessed. A good man’s got a good woman behind him,” J.R. says, laughing – “and my wife pushes me out the door on Sundays. I need to stay humble.”
Humility is important to J.R. – so important that he’s built it into his management processes, especially team meetings.
“I don’t have all the answers; neither did my parents or my grandfather,” he says emphatically. “Other perspectives and input are very important to me. I bring an agenda to the table, but I’m always asking questions more than I’m giving information. I want each person on my team to run and have ownership over their division.”
“It’s not just a job – I want it to have a purpose. I want it to be a long term career, for everyone.”
The future of trade jobs: more help needed
Knowing J.R.’s focus on hiring and supporting good people, his biggest worry isn’t a surprise.
“We’re going to have trouble finding good people. We’re not yet, but I can see the signs of a labor force issue in the future. We’re just not educating them right.”
J.R. sees too many young people pushed into college, spending money they don’t have, and then unable to find jobs. He’d love more trade schools and more awareness of opportunities beyond college; in fact, he sits on the board of a trade school that just opened in his hometown.
“It’s not just an issue of schooling, either,” he says. “We need young people that are willing to work hard. The full 12-hour day – or even 8 – is something I see fewer and fewer young people prepared to do, especially when it’s physical work.”
In the future, J.R. says, trade school graduates willing to put in long, hard days will be able to command premium wages – even as technology reduces the number of them needed for some jobs. Already, even with some young people working for them, the median age of his family’s employees is 36 – and he expects that to keep going up.
“I’ve got two 14-year-old boys. I watch them and their friends. They play video games, read books, but when it comes to hard work, they don’t know what it is,” J.R. says ruefully.
Yet he’s confident in the future. Good, hard-working people will come, even if they get a bit harder to find. Good customers will be there as long as you take care of them. And Far West Capital too will be there for them – he’s confident in that. And for the last 34 years, J.R. & family’s core values and Christian faith has seen them through boom and bust – and in that, he has the most confidence of all.
“You shouldn’t be trying to predict the future; you should have a plan in place. For me, every time I walk out, I thank the Lord I was able to get dressed and go to work. If a person has a good relationship with the Lord, I’m a full believer in them. Any problem, that’s your guide. Hopefully we’ll continue down this path for another 30 years.”
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