Working quickly paying dividends for local oilfield services company

The itinerary was impressive by anyone’s standards.

Strata Energy Services equipment in Australia; the Red Deer company has operations and equipment in countries around the world; inset

The itinerary was impressive by anyone’s standards.

Last Sunday, Ken Travis flew to Toronto for the Profit 100 CEO Awards Summit. On Wednesday, he continued on to Indonesia, where he planned to remain for a week before jetting off to the United Arab Emirates.

Such business travel, shrugged the president and CEO of Strata Energy Services Inc., isn’t bad when compared to his obligations of a few years ago.

“In the past, I was gone all the time — South America, North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East. Now, we have a few more bodies, so my international travel is a little more strategic.”

Strategy has been key for Strata, an oilfield services company based in the Blindman Industrial Park just north of Red Deer. Travis and his business partner Lyle Filliol decided soon after they founded the business in 2003 that they wanted to be fully integrated and operate internationally.

By doing so, they positioned Strata to prosper in a tough economic climate that has claimed other oilpatch companies.

“We continue to see our productivity go up,” said Travis. “We’re going have another record year this year.”

In addition to earning the number 36 ranking on the 2009 Profit 100 list of Canada’s fastest-growing companies, Strata last year grabbed second spot on Alberta Venture magazine’s Fast 50 list of fastest-growing companies with 2006 revenues of under $20 million.

The company specializes in “performance drilling,” which includes both managed pressure and underbalanced drilling. Performance drilling offers a number of benefits, said Travis, but speed is a big one.

“Plain and simple, you drill faster.”

That reduces costs — an important consideration in today’s tight market.

“Everyone’s trying to get their well costs down, anything they can do to save days on rig time,” confirmed Mike Hudon, Strata’s general manager.

As a fully integrated drilling service provider, Stratra is among an elite group of companies that also consists of Halliburton, Weatherford and Schlumberger.

“So we’re truly playing with the big dogs,” said Travis.

In fact, pointed out Hudon, Halliburton relies on Strata for drilling services and uses equipment manufactured by Strata.

“There are a lot of other service providers that don’t use their competition as a way to earn income, whereas we’ve turned them into our allies,” he said.

“That’s helped us expand into other regions as well,” added Travis.

“It took our name and our product into regions all over the planet that we simply couldn’t be at this point.”

Strata also has a client-competitor relationship with Schlumberger.

Another important alliance is with EnCana. The giant oil and gas producer is relying on Strata’s managed pressure expertise to develop the promising Horn River Basin shale gas formation in northeastern British Columbia.

“We were fortunate to get in there at the right time,” said Travis. “We seem to be kind of the provider of choice up there.”

That’s likely to attract attention around the world, with calls already coming in.

“It’s kind of ironic that in the slow times we’re actually getting more interest than we ever have,” said Travis.

In addition to Canada, Strata — which employs 80 to 90 people — has operations in the United States, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia and Dubai.

“Probably 60 per cent of our revenue is derived from outside of Canada now,” said Travis.

Although international work can be rewarding, it brings challenges, said Hudon.

“Every different place has got a different culture,” he said, listing labour laws, salaries, taxes, operating methods and culture as variables that change from country to country.

“There’s a lot of research to be done in each.”

Travis, who grew up in Red Deer, worked for a service company in Edmonton for about 10 years. He left when it was acquired by Weatherford.

“I just didn’t feel it was the right fit for me.”

He approached Filliol about developing their own rotating flow diverter for performance drilling. By late 2003 they had a prototype, and early the following year they closed their first sale to a customer in the Middle East.

“At the time, it was a big deal for us,” recalled Travis.

But the partners realized manufacturing wasn’t enough.

“We recognized that we were pretty vulnerable, kind of a one-trick pony, with only the one product, so we really put the push on to become fully integrated.”

In addition to integration, Strata’s success can be attributed to its employees, said Travis. Many people prefer to work for a smaller company, and efforts are made to involve staff in things like design work.

“If you can keep the really good people happy then they remain happy and they work harder and it reflects on your business,” said Hudon.

Strata’s small size also allows it to react quickly to changing market conditions, said Travis.

Looking forward, he anticipates that his company will experience continued internal growth and make some “strategic acquisitions.”

“In times like this, there are opportunities for companies that want to keep charging forward.”

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