As a boy growing up in Red Deer, Alta., Ken Travis, president and CEO of Strata Energy Services, remembers going around to the local oil companies and grabbing stickers.
"All the kids collected oil field stickers," says Mr. Travis, 38. "It was everywhere, so it was just a natural progression for me. I chose to leave high school and go to the 'university of drilling rig.' My early career path was spent in the oil field industry in Canada."
In 2003, along with a partner, Lyle Filliol, Mr. Travis co-founded Strata Energy Services Inc., a performance drilling company specializing in drilling technologies for the oil and gas industry. The Red Deer-based company expects to do about $50-million in business this year, working in a dozen countries on five continents. With offices in Asia, Australia and North and South America, the company employs more than 120 people, generally hiring local workers to support their communities. Strata was named to the Alberta Venture Fast 50 list for 2009 as one of the province's fastest growing companies.
"Since Strata's inception, we've probably increased revenue by 2,500 times," says Mr. Travis, who was also named one of Canada's Top 40 Under 40. "In 2009, we continued to increase revenue at a time when a lot of companies were divesting and looking for some reprieve. We actually had our best year ever and increased revenue by 15 per cent."
Prior to Strata, Mr. Travis worked for an oil and gas company that was a source of pride for him, until it was acquired by a large, multi-national company. Soon after, he says, company pride and culture disappeared. Saddened, he resigned his position as director of operations.
But within a couple of years, he and Mr. Filliol saw a gap in the industry, and with funds raised from family and friends, they developed a prototype that maximized yield from oil and gas wells. Mr. Travis also still desired to re-create a company with the camaraderie and work culture that he had experienced earlier. From the start, he was intent on persuading employees to take pride and ownership in all they did.
"A lot of companies miss that and get caught up in bureaucracy," says Mr. Travis. "Without that sense of ownership, without welcoming people into the organization to make key decisions in the company, you lose a lot of the value of your people. So it was important to me to foster a culture where people want to be involved and see the company benefit."
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To do that, he went to the front-line people running the equipment and brought them into a think tank to help design the equipment.
"Every day I spend time in the shop and with the field staff as well as middle management," says Mr. Travis. "Outside of that, on a personal basis, we run together, have camping trips together and a lot of company events. Given that we're a company competing on a global scale, being able to maintain that family feel is definitely something I'm proud of."
Some advice he received early on as an entrepreneur continues to stick, and he passes it on to staff.
"I was told that I was going to make some mistakes and that some of those mistakes would cost the company money, but we'd be better for it," says Mr. Travis.
"I relay that to my people. When we bring new people into management, I explain to them, 'Don't be afraid of risk, don't be afraid that you may or may not make a mistake, because ultimately I believe that's going to make us a better company.'"