In 1980, Paul Pigue, President of Production Operators Inc. in Houston hired me to replace him as president when he retired, which he anticipated would be in a few months. Until then I was Executive VP. His plans were disrupted when his two co-founders of the company, Stewart Campbell and Walter Brooks resigned to form a competitive company, and took with them a small number of POI customers and the compressors contracted to them. Paul, on behalf of POI, immediately sued them and in early 1986, this had not been resolved. Having promised Carl Knobloch, President of our major shareholder that he would get a resolution before he retired, he increased the pressure on the attorneys. I went with Paul to witness the depositions of the two defendants. Stewart Campbell was a renowned Game Fisherman and was in the IGFA Hall of Fame with 20 world
records, including 15 with monster fish on ridiculously light lines. He had a specially designed boat built and fished in Venezuela, Africa and Australia. He was anxious to end the suit and after arbitration, it was settled with both parties paying their own expenses. With this out of the way, Paul Pigue negotiated his golden
parachute with Carl Knobloch and left to play with the few small wells and the minor drilling that he had been personally supervising.
Knobloch, at this time was not involved in any other companies except for his personal investments and he was already Chairman of POI. He probably was not aware of Pigue’s promise to me and he gave himself the extra title of President. I was given a raise that satisfied me and I continued as Executive VP reporting to Knobloch from mid-Monday to mid-Friday while he was in Houston. We operated with this routine until early 1989 when, out of the blue, he made me President.
For the rest of 1986 and early 1987, I made some personnel changes with a couple of senior positions that I could not change previously because they had been protected by Paul Pigue. The main one was the Manager of Sales, who had been shielded in that position from before I joined the company. He had never accepted or liked the involvement of “Knobloch and his people from Atlanta, who knew nothing about our business”. This clearly, included me and he took very little care to hide it or his comments about us to others and this had gone on for about five years. I felt that he was a poor leader and motivator of our sales force and I had also discovered that he had been the single individual who had made the faulty decisions on compressors and the disastrous choice of a Japanese nitrogen generation plant that, because of its failure to operate at full capacity, had got a very attractive contract with Chevron in Wyoming cancelled. I replaced him with a very good salesman from our Denver office, Al Richards who immediately proved that I had made the right decision by making the sales force more cohesive, active and motivated. I also fired the Accounts Manager, for many of the same reasons, and promoted the Manager of Information Technology to head up Accounting.
In July of 1987, Doris and I flew to London so that I could attend the fortieth anniversary of the graduation of my Chemical Engineering class that started at Imperial College of Science and Technology in September 1944, at the height of the German V-1 bomb invasion and the beginning of the V-2 onslaught. I did not graduate with half of the class in 1947 because, together with the other half whose grades were not in the top 10%, I had lost my draft deferment and was called into military or coalmine service. (I returned to college after serving two years in the army and graduated in 1950.) We stayed at the Berystede Hotel in Ascot, near Windsor Castle and had an enjoyable and interesting time reminiscing with colleagues I had not seen for 38 years. They all seemed to have had very interesting and different careers but all were quite successful and were just retiring or about to. The two outstanding stars were one who had risen to the top echelon of management at Dupont and the one who had been my flat-mate in Chelsea from 1948 to 1951 when I returned to do research with him in the Low-Temperature Lab. This was Roger Sargent who later became Professor Sargent and retired as Head of the Chem. Eng. Department with many academic honors. A great time was had by all. Doris and I then moved to stay with my old army friend, Dick Carrington and his wife Mary with whom we had stayed before in their house in North London. We planned a tour of the Cinque Ports in Kent and Essex, originally named by the Normans for military and trade purposes but are now only ceremonially related. The original five ports were Dover, Hythe, Hastings, Sandwich and New Romney but New Romney silted up and was no longer a port and it was replaced by Rye. (I had previously played golf at the two famous Open Golf courses of Sandwich and Rye on a trip with Dr. Hunt.)
The High Warden of the Cinque Ports Is also Warden of Dover Castle that dates from before William the Conqueror went to England to claim the throne in 1066 but it has been added to over the years and is now the largest castle in England. We saw the system of tunnels that, over the years had been built and expanded. In the Napoleonic Wars 2000 soldiers were barracked in the tunnels and in WW II they were used as military headquarters and as a military hospital. The inglorious retreat of the British Army from Dunkirk in May 1944, Operation Dynamo, was crafted and executed from the tunnels and many of the wounded soldiers were first treated there in the two operating theaters.
We also went to Leeds Castle near Maidstone, Kent, called “The most beautiful
castle in thev world” in some references. It dates from 1119 and was used as his residence by King Edward 1 and later, by Henry VIII for his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. On this tour, we deliberately chose to stay in old caching Inns rather than the more modern motels that were gradually being introduced to old England. These included The Swan at Hythe, Essex and the White Hart at Litham, Essex. These both dated from Inns in the 16th century and had fabulous restaurants. They both suffered from the age of the plumbing and hot water did not last long in the bathrooms. The staff and the clientele were very friendly and entertaining and this helped make this was a very nice tour for Doris and I, remembering as we did the small town customs and talking to local people. We spent our last night at the Carringtons and they drove us to the airline terminal the next day.
We were soon home in our Houston routine and I began to be more interested in the sales and marketing of our services and to make visits with the new Sales Manager, Al Richards. Al had made contact with agents for Petroleos de Venezuela, PDVSA , the national oil and gas agency of Venezuela and there was a surprising amount of interest. Following this is another memory for another day.