There’s no better way to build a business, and nowhere is that truer than in an industry as unpredictable and volatile as the oil and gas industry. But there’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time with the right idea and the drive to succeed. These factors all came together in 2012 for a growing industrial and marine services company located in the coastal town of Gregory, South Texas, called SR Trident.
Timing can be crucial in this part of the business world. 2012 was a boom year in South Texas. By then, the Eagle Ford shale region, 50 to 100 miles inland from the coast, had been booming for three years, and a similar, even bigger boom was developing in the huge Permian basin further west. Forecasts of massive volumes of new oil and natural gas production in Texas were in turn beginning to emphasize refining, natural gas processing and potential exports centralized in the state’s largest ports, including the Port of Houston and the Port of Corpus Christi (PortCC), as well as the pipelines that would need to be built to move that production across the state.
Two lifelong best friends who had grown up and worked together in the small communities of Portland and Ingleside in the 1980s and 1990s had gone their separate ways after graduating from college. Ryan Berthold, after hearing Bill O’Reilly describe the Navy Seals as “the tip of the spear” of American counterterrorism efforts shortly after the 9/11 attacks, decided a military career was for him.
“I didn’t even know what it was [the Navy Seals] was then,” he told me in a recent interview, “but he [O’Reilly] was talking about how they were the tip of the spear for this campaign. So, I started to double up and finished as fast as I could, and actually enlisted.
Steven Snyder, the son of a mother who taught for 34 years and a father who sat on the Ingleside School Board for a dozen years growing up, chose a different path. He became an educator himself and eventually headmaster of Ingleside Secondary School. “Education has always been important to our family,” he said. “I have always loved sports, so it made sense for me to become a coach. But once we started our family, it became apparent to me how much time it took to spend time with my kids, because I was spending so much time with other people’s kids. This is what led me to school administration.
Ultimately, however, the two friends knew they wanted to start a business together, and in 2012 they did. “It’s something we’ve talked about throughout our lives growing up together,” said company CEO Berthold (Snyder is COO). “We started in areas where there were opportunities and an easy way to make deals with sellers. Then over time we saw some niches in the industry where we were able to get a foothold, and we tried to model our business from where we saw others succeed and build relationships and clientele based on what we promised. could do.”
I asked if the Eagle Ford boom times and the growth then occurring in Port CC were major factors in the decision to start their joint venture in 2012? “It absolutely was. We saw what was happening here locally in the Eagle Ford, and our original aspiration was in building oil rigs and roads,” Berthold said. “But it’s so capital intensive , which we didn’t have, so we found a first opportunity to do some hot-shotting. It was such a need for everyone back then.
In the oilfield, the term “hot-shotting” refers to the sub-hiring of a truck and driver to facilitate emergency repairs, equipment transportation and deliveries. Both men had gained a lot of driving and transportation experience while working summer jobs during their school years working for the utility company of Berthold’s father who did a lot of work for what was then Southwestern Bell and later AT&T. “Times were just a little different back then,” laughed Berthold. “We were 16, 17 pulling a backhoe through downtown Corpus Christi, going from job to job. It just seems like something like that wouldn’t even be legal now – we weren’t even old enough to drive CDL back then.
Relationships are also the key to success. For a startup in the service industry, word of mouth can be the biggest driver of success. The two men described the company’s path of growth in those early years as one of making contacts and building relationships, a very common story in the American oilfields. Today, SR Trident provides a wide variety of industrial and marine services at some of the region’s key facilities, such as Enbridge Energy’s oil export terminal in Ingleside.
But again, Berthold pointed to the timing of the business start-up when they did as a major key to success. “I think if we had started earlier and gotten into the Eagle Ford, we might have found ourselves in some tough times,” he said. “Because a lot of these businesses that we saw along the way just blew up overnight and then when everything came crashing down, everything crashed around them. By getting into it when we did, we were able to grow it at a controllable pace.
Being located next to the CC port and all the expansion that has taken place in the largest energy exporting port in the country has also created an array of opportunities to get involved in the marine construction and maintenance. Berthold said this is an area of growing interest for SR Trident in terms of current projects and future plans to expand operations further along the Gulf Coast. It’s the kind of hybrid business that can only exist in certain parts of the United States.
Berthold and Snyder were also able to create and sustain a strong safety-focused corporate culture. Snyder told me that every meeting, whether in the office or in the field, starts with a moment of safety. Every job starts with a detailed safety briefing. “You take the time before you do a job to make sure everyone knows exactly what the potential hazards are, identifies them, and talks about how we’re dealing with each one,” he said. “We value our employees and want them to return home safely to their families every night.”
SR Trident’s safety efforts have been so successful that the company has won two National Safety Excellence Awards from the Builders and Contractors Association in recent years.
Talking to Berthold and Snyder reminded me of my first job in the oil and gas industry, working the summers on a pipeline construction crew for a South Texas oilfield construction company in the late 1900s. 1970s. It was a job in which, like so many things we were doing at the time, safety was not a big focus, to say the least.
But, as Berthold said, “Times were just a little different back then.” When it comes to security, the changes in the business over the past 40 years have been uniformly good.