Wes Pixley has seen downturns. Now he’s starting a business in the middle of one.
Pixley, 55, is a tall, large man with a strong Louisiana drawl and a wide smile. One day last month, we met at a local deli. He wore a purple polo shirt and ordered a steak for lunch.
Pixley got laid off in January from well equipment supplier Team Oil Tools. Not two months later, he had the paperwork drafted to start his own tools company.
Prices had just hit $26 a barrel, their lowest in more than 10 years.
Pixley was not dissuaded, seeing advantages in starting up during a downturn: Lower materials costs. Fewer companies to compete with. An abundance of skilled workers looking for jobs.
Pixley grew up on a dairy farm in Athens, La., population 350. He went to Louisiana Tech University to major in petroleum engineering, but the program was taking too long, so he opted for an associate’s degree. In 1980, he went to work for Dresser Industries. In 1983, with oil prices sliding, he lost his first job, at age 22.
But a former Dresser manager hooked him up with another former employee who was starting a new oil drilling supply company, Marshland Packers. And Marshland gave him a small piece of the company. Seventeen years later, Marshland sold to Weatherford International, and Pixley made about $90,000, he said.
He paid off some debts, worked for Weatherford for a few years, and then used the rest of his Marshland profits, about $60,000, to start his own company, Completion Tools & Service, another well equipment supplier.
Five years later, in 2009, Pixley sold Completion to Team Oil for an undisclosed price. He stayed on as the company’s Eastern U.S. operations manager.
In February 2015, Team had its first layoff. About a year later, the company consolidated operations managers, and Pixley lost his job.
Half the staff was laid off that year, Pixley said.
“Everybody was cutting people,” he said.
In April, Pixley’s new company, Choice Completion Systems, worked its first job in the oil field. The company buys, sells, designs, installs and operates oil well plugs and valves, among other tools. Pixley started with three salesmen; he’s now hired 21 workers.
Start-up costs were low. Oil field activity is picking up. And his team, he said, is making sales well-by-well – most already had relationships in the industry before they joined Completion.
“If you have the right people, quality people – and they’re everywhere on the street now – there are opportunities out there,” Pixley said. “You just have to scratch and find them.”
And, if he does this right, Pixley figures, his new company will have its footprint in place when oil and gas prices, and the industry rebound.