Life in the serial aisle: Starting ventures an adventure for entrepreneur

Andy Kelley oversees Terra Surface Logging Systems, a Grand Junction company that supplies gas detection and recording equipment used in drilling natural gas and oil wells. Kelley, a serial entrepreneur who’s operated a succession of ventures, was recognized for his efforts in receiving the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Andy Kelley oversees Terra Surface Logging Systems, a Grand Junction company that supplies gas detection and recording equipment used in drilling natural gas and oil wells. Kelley, a serial entrepreneur who’s operated a succession of ventures, was recognized for his efforts in receiving the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Andy Kelley initially aspired to become a television repairman. But in his first job out of college, he went to work instead in the energy services industry.

It was a path that led Kelley to a career as a serial entrepreneur. He bought the first company for which he worked. He sold that business, then started and sold another venture. After what he jokingly calls his only failed endeavor — retirement — Kelley launched a third business he continues to operate in renting portable digital instruments to mud logging and drilling companies.

Kelley attributes his success to a combination of factors, among them providing products and services that meet the needs of his customers, but also staying out of debt, leading by example and finding in his employees the best matches between skills and duties.

Trustworthiness is important, too, he says. “Do what you tell people you are going to do. Period.”

Kelley, president of Terra Surface Logging systems in Grand Junction, was recognized for his efforts in receiving the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award presented during the Entrepreneurship Day luncheon at Colorado Mesa University. The annual award is bestowed to a local entrepreneur who starts or expands a venture, contributes to the economic development of the area and exemplifies the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Kelley says he was surprised and flattered by the award. He was gratified, too, by the fact his 87-year-old mother attended the luncheon.

The CMU has campus has changed a bit, Kelley says, since his mother studied journalism there in the 1940s and he earned his associate’s degree in electronics from what was in 1981 Mesa College. What hasn’t changed, Kelley says, is the role of what’s now a university in preparing students for the workplace — including students he hires at Terra SLS.

Kelley attended Mesa College after growing up on his family’s ranch near Collbran and graduating from Plateau Valley High School.

Kelley says wanted to work as a TV repairman, but instead took a job as a technician with Rocky Mountain Geo-Engineering in Grand Junction. He soon began working in sales and then management.

Kelley worked for the firm for 10 years and bought it and ran it for five years before he sold the operation to Pason Systems, a public Canadian company that had developed an electronic drilling recorder. Kelley served another three years as president of Pason operations in the United States.

Kelley started his second business from scratch in Mudlogging Systems. He sold the company 10 years later to a private equity firm that in turn sold the operation to a public conglomerate in Australia. He worked with the company another five years as president.

Kelley says he tried retirement for a year but decided to get back to business. Buying the assets of his former company, he launched Terra Surface Logging Systems in July 2016.

Terra Surface Logging Systems supplies portable digital gas detection and recording instruments to mud logging and drilling companies that in turn are used in drilling natural gas and oil wells.

Kelley says the instruments record the type and amount of gases coming from a well, whether that’s methane, ethane, propane or butane.

That information, along with the examination of cuttings of rock brought to the surface with drilling fluids, can help in identifying the depth of potential underground pockets of natural gas, he says.

The instruments also promote safety in monitoring the presence and pressure of various gases so operators can prevent the uncontrolled release of natural gas or oil, he adds.

The instruments include a router that make information available in real time to operators at a drilling rig or those working remotely, Kelley says.

The instruments are packaged in rugged cases that also serve as shipping containers so they can be sent nearly anywhere served by Federal Express or United Parcel Service, he says.

Terra SLS rents, rather than sells, the instruments and has about 270 units in use across the United States, Kelley says.

A total of about 20 people work at Terra SLS in full- and part-time positions, he says.

While the energy sector goes through cycles along with commodity prices, Kelley says he’s optimistic about the industry given the potential for liquefied natural gas exports from the United States. The proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal in Oregon could connect Western Colorado supplies with Asian markets.

As for his own involvement in the energy sector, Kelley says he’s like many others who’re initially lured by the excitement and higher wages, then grow accustomed to working in the industry. “You can’t hardly function in any other world. It’s so ingrained in me.”

Kelley says he’s always been attracted to another aspect of the energy industry.
“I think there’s really a get it done mentality in the business.”

Besides, he adds, he likes his customers — most of them independent businesses like his own.

Kelley attributes his success and longevity in the industry to the work ethic he developed on his family ranch, providing products and services that meet the needs of his customers and working with good mentors and business partners.

He says it’s also important for entrepreneurs to avoid debt as they expand their operations — along with the possibility they could grow into bankruptcy.

It’s important as well for entrepreneurs to lead by example and foster a culture of teamwork, he says. Sometimes that means finding the right matches in employees between skills and duties. “You talk to people and you listen to them and find where they fit.”

Kelley said he was hired for his first job because of his training in electronics, but soon switched to sales and management because he was more effective at those tasks. One of his best managers sold truck parts before he was hired and there was nothing on his resume that indicated he was qualified for the job. But his attitude and references ended up making the difference.

Kelley also has maintained a tradition of providing lunches for his employees. That offers an opportunity for his staff to meet nearly every day on an informal basis, something Kelley says he prefers to more formal meetings. “That’s team building.”

Character remains an important attribute in hiring — but also in the way entrepreneurs relate to their employees and customers, Kelley says. If entrepreneurs tell somebody they’re going to do something, they’d better do it.