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Providing solutions: Award-winning entrepreneur touts business basic

Jack Hays works out of a Grand Junction office as an executive for two companies that provide services and equipment to the energy and mining sectors. Hays recently was named a regional winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in recognition of the success Hays has achieved during his career. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Jack Hays attributes the success of the companies he’s launched in large part to that most basic of entrepreneurial tenets. “We find a need and fill it,” Hays says. “We provide solutions.”

By providing solutions to energy companies exploring for and producing natural gas and oil — particularly in managing the water used for those processes — Hays helped grow an operation that generated $500,000 in 2003 into an operation he expects to generate $100 million in 2012.

Hays started a separate company selling wastewater evaporators, heating equipment and above ground fluid tanks. And he recently acquired a third company manufacturing industrial mining fans.

That track record, along with the innovation and commitment he has demonstrated during his career, earned Hays yet another achievement as a regional winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in one of the most prestigious business awards programs in the country.

While Hays says he doesn’t normally like attention, he appreciates the award as a measure of credibility as well as a recognition of perseverance. “I struggled for a lot of years to run a successful company. It wasn’t always easy.”

Hays works as an executive for two companies in Grand Junction. He serves as vice president of strategic business development for Rockwater Energy Solutions. The Houston-based oil field services corporation bought Western Pump & Dredge from Hays late last year.

Hays also serves as president and owner of Resource West, a company he founded in 2006 to sell water evaporation equipment.

Hays earned the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Mountain Desert Region in the category for energy and clean technology firms.

Regional winners in turn will compete for national awards that will be announced at a gala scheduled for Nov. 17 in Palm Springs, Calif., the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum.

Ernst & Young — a global assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services firm — has conducted its Entrepreneur of the Year awards program for 26 years. The program recognizes entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and success in innovation, financial performance and personal commitment. Past national winners have included the founders of Amazon.com, Dell, Federal Express and Google.

Hays says his daughter, Emily Hays, works as the North American marketing manager for Rockwater Energy Solutions and nominated him for the award. So Hays says it was gratifying his daughter, as well as his parents, attended the regional awards gala at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Moreover, the gala afforded what Hays says was an important opportunity to thank his parents for the values and work ethic they taught him.

Hays says he learned those values growing up on a farm near Cameo east of Grand Junction where his parents, now in their 80s, still grow fruit and vegetables.

Hays says he learned about oil field services from a lengthy career that began in earnest shortly after he graduated from Palisade High School and began working for uncle’s casing company. “I understand it pretty well. I’ve been doing it so long. I knew at a very early age this is what I wanted to do.”

Hays worked for his uncle’s company for 11 years, then worked another six years in sales and management for an oil field rental tool company.

He later started a company providing services related to lost circulation materials, the term for substances added to drilling fluids when those fluids are lost in underground formations.

Hays founded Western Pump & Dredge in 1992 with a $30,000 loan from his grandmother to purchase a dredge pump and pickup truck.

Hays says he used the equipment to pump everything from oil field drilling mud to sewer sludge. He even traveled to California to pump out grape sludge left over from wine making operations.

As energy technology advanced with multiple well pads, directional drilling and the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, Hays says he realized there was a need for a new type of business to manage water for exploration and production operations in the field. Western Pump & Dredge expanded its services to offer not only pumping and pump rentals, but also pipeline installation, filtration and fracturing support. “The demand for the services we developed was extreme,” he says.

Although energy activity slowed in the Pieceance Basin of Western Colorado, Hays expanded geographically with operations in natural gas and oil plays in other areas of Colorado as well as in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming.

What was an operation with a staff of 10 and annual revenues in the hundreds of thousands of dollars grew into an operation with a staff of 500 and annual revenues in the tens of millions of dollars.

Hays says he decided to sell Western Pump & Dredge late in 2011 when it became apparent the company faced increasingly larger competitors that could bring more resources to bear in the marketplace. Rather than try to continue to beat  those competitors, he picked one to join in Rockwater Energy Solutions, an oil field fluids management firm with more than 2,700 employees.

Hays launched another venture in 2006 called Resource West to sell water evaporators, industrial heating pads and other equipment. Hays developed several models of equipment that quickly evaporates water by spraying it into the air. He based the equipment on the large blowers used to make snow at ski resorts. The equipment is now used around the world to evaporate waste water, production water and storm runoff water, he says. One of his best customers, he adds, is the gold mining industry in Nevada.

Hays recently acquired another company in SMJ Fans, a Grand Junction firm that manufactures fans and accessories for mines, power plants and other applications.

Hays says he’s been able over the years to identify and take advantage of opportunities. “I see situations. For some reason, I look at things differently than most and look for better ways to find solutions.”

But that foresight is based, he says, on a thorough knowledge of the market. “I could see opportunities because I understand the processes.”

At the same time, Hays credited the success of his companies over the years to the staff he’s hired and a culture he instilled of encouraging them to contribute to a common vision. “I always assumed the people I hired were smart and had good ideas.”

And some of the greatest rewards have come from mentoring the people with which he’s worked and watching them succeed as well, Hays adds. “It’s more rewarding than getting some big paycheck.”

Nonetheless, Hays says he’s grateful for the growth his companies have experienced as well as the Ernst & Young award that recognizes that growth.

It’s also an acknowledgement, he says, of the perseverance required to survive downturns in the volatile energy industry as well as a measure of credibility for his entrepreneurial  abilities. “It gives you credibility, and I can use that for good things.”

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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