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Bobby Hillin, acting CEO of T-Rex, and Tim Thompson, vice president of global business development and communications for the company, talk about how far their company has come over the last five years, where they are today, and what the future holds in store for this budding offshore construction and engineering company. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Bobby Hillin and Tim Thompson took two very different paths after they graduated high school together in 1982. Thompson went on to become an accomplished international business consultant, spending time working in both Bush Presidential Administrations while founding his own global consulting firm. Hillin, on the other hand, lived, quite literally, a fast-paced lifestyle as a professional NASCAR driver for 18 years. In 2008, the two men crossed paths once again, and after Hillin founded T-REX Construction and Engineering, he brought Thompson onboard to further strengthen his business’ foundation.
Initially, T-REX was founded with the goal of solidifying a place in the offshore equipment construction industry. Soon after creating the company, however, Hillin and his colleagues realized there was potential for so much more. “We initially hired a couple of people who had worked with an engineering group, and they suggested that we check out their former group for purely exploratory purposes because, who knows? There might be some good synergy between their design and our building,” says Hillin.
The engineering group was known as GSPE Engineering, and after some talks between Hillin and their principal engineer at the time, Gary Sidwell, it became clear that the two businesses went together hand-in-hand. Soon after, what was then known as T-REX Construction, bought GSPE Engineering, Sidwell was hired as senior vice president, and the resulting product became the company it is today, T-REX Construction and Engineering.
Drawing Up the Plans
Hillin and Thompson, along with the rest of their employees, have worked hard since the company’s inception five years ago to establish the company name in what is a very competitive market. “There’s plenty of competition amongst us and it’s a relationship-driven market,” Thompson says, adding, “people don’t just whip out the yellow pages to find a subsea contractor, the business is built up over time through trust and quality work.”
It took time to develop these relationships, and in the first few years for the company, it was more about developing an effective business strategy and assembling the right group of individuals to put the plans in motion. It also didn’t help that the notorious Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in 2010, and at the same time oil prices were very low, creating an unfavorable atmosphere to begin a business in. “With rapidly declining oil prices and the Macondo disaster, for about the first three and a half years our business was operating in a paralyzed industry,” says Hillin. He and Thompson agree, however, that the standstill gave them a highly beneficial window of time to really explore the industry and understand just how far reaching their business capabilities could extend.
“It gave us a lot of time to kind of look at the offshore industry as a whole and figure it all out,” says Thompson, adding, “and during this time I met a man named Gary Quenan, who had quite an amount of experience with Exxon and McDermott in managing shallow water operations.” Thompson says that Quenan, who now serves as T-REX’s president of engineering, applied his experience to T-REX’s capabilities at the time and it soon became obvious that there was much more potential in their company than they had realized before. “After talking extensively with Gary, we realized that we were capable of marketing ourselves as someone who can engineer, procure, and construct subsea and topside structures for a wide range of companies, even those under $100 million,” says Thompson.
Getting the Wheels Moving
One of the main catalysts in their growth and ability to secure contracts in the face of crowded industry was their acquisition of the fabrications company Delcor USA, in 2011. “That was a big turning point for our company as it really expanded our capabilities and turned T-REX into what it is today, that being one of the premiere fabrication companies in the offshore energy industry,” says Hillin. Combining the two companies allowed T-REX to move into Delcor’s 63,000-square-foot facility, located on Carpenter’s Bayou near the Houston Ship Channel on the southeast coast of Texas. “The facility, which has 15 overhead cranes and 1,200 linear feet of waterfront bulkhead, really gives us the ability to build structures on a large scale, both topside and subsea, required for any project, in any water depth,” says Thompson.
T-REX has recently wrapped up its biggest contract to date, a project involving the engineering, procurement, and construction of three shallow water oil platforms, commissioned by the National Oil Company of Ecuador. The project represents just how far T-REX has come over the last five years, says Thompson, and serves as a strong stepping stone for the company as the oil industry begins to recapture its presence and more business becomes available across the board. “This contract was exciting for us because it really provides a high amount of visibility into the quality and efficiency of our work,” says Thompson, noting, “we self-performed a significant amount of the production and design process and I think our proficiency in these areas really highlights just how effective we are at what we do.”
The engineering and construction of subsea and topside platforms is, understandably, a very intricate and sophisticated process, something T-REX respects and adheres to very strictly. “Quality assurance is paramount, as is traceability of our products so our customers and ourselves know where everything is, and can confidently know that their products from us are going to get the job done, no matter the environment or conditions,” says Thompson. Since they can’t always be sure just where their products are going, they need to make sure that they will be able to stand the test in waters all around the world. This kind of product integrity is one of the key contributing factors to their success.
Another is the deep-seeded trust they build with customers through excellent service, as displayed when a customer came to them in 2011 in dire need of a repair and installation of one of their subsea components. “Cascade Chinook came to us with a piece of equipment that was failing and needed to be fixed in a rapid manner,” says Thompson. “We certainly had to jump through some hoops to get it done in a small window of time, but we performed it and it resulted in a successful fix,” he says, adding, “we really try to step up and deliver for our customers whenever we can.”
As 2014 begins, T-REX is in a position to accelerate its growth even more, as oil and energy markets begin to rebound and roll. “We’re seeing the market pick up in a very big way, especially over the last twelve months, and we think by 2016 or 2017 prospects will be very strong,” says Hillin.
The mindset for T-REX has been characterized by staying positive and capitalizing on opportunities when they come about. Hillin attributes much of this philosophy to his background is NASCAR. “My racing background has taught me as a businessman that every week we need to perform and give it our all, we always need to be ready to step up when the chance presents itself.”
While the engine in Hillin’s former racecar may have stopped running upon his retirement from NASCAR, the one driving his company now is whistling and roaring ahead louder than ever.