Tom Dyk always knew he wanted to be an engineer, due to his fascination with the sciences. But he had no clue where a gallon of gasoline came from. That piqued his interest in petroleum engineering.
Today, not only is he well-versed in the art of finding and drilling for petroleum, but he's launching many other savvy engineers on a career path to owning their own oil and gas drilling and consulting operations.
And he's met some powerful oilmen and mentors along the way, including a former Cabinet member to President George Bush.
It wasn't all rosy. There was a point when he dropped out of the oil rat race and decided to ranch instead.
"I came from a rural family of 10 on a working ranch in Billings, so had to pay my own way for college. The University of Montana offered me a football scholarship, but no engineering program. Montana State University offered engineering, but no guaranteed football scholarship."
"So, when Montana Tech's head of petroleum engineering and the head football coach offered me both opportunities, I chose Montana Tech," he said.
From a rural farm west of Billings, the Dyk family worked hard to ensure their children received a higher education. Seven out of the 10 children now hold masters, doctoral or bachelor's degrees. But each child of Art and Myrna Dyk was responsible for funding his or her own education.
"Football was my ticket," said Tom.
Today, there's a Tech scholarship in Art Dyk's name.
Q. Why did you choose Montana Tech?
A. Dr. Bill Halbert, the petroleum engineering department head, and Bob Riley, the football coach, came to Billings on a recruiting swing. They offered me a full scholarship. I played an offensive tackle from 1972 to 1974. I was 6-foot 5-inches and weighed 275. That actually doesn't sound big today, but for that time, that was pretty big. I was there during the glory years of Tech football. We had six All Americans my freshman year. It was a fun time to be playing. We beat four teams for a total of 220 points to zero. Back then we had 38 people in the roster. That's not much to field a team. Today they have about 110.
I was used to Butte, because I played football at the old Naranche stadium, the dirt field and everything, while attending Billings West at the time. So I knew what I was getting into coming to Butte. My focus however, was to get an education at a pretty affordable price.
The key is that Tech provides internships, which would provide coverage for school costs. Some earned $6,000 a month working in the oil fields. I worked in Ventura, Calif., for a while.
Q. What is your proudest moment in your career?
A. Working for Burlington Resources, a subsidiary of Burlington Northern Railroad. I was the general manager of the Rocky Mountain region. We developed the horizontal drilling technique. Because of that, we made one of the major oil finds in the region — in the Bakken region in northeast Montana, western North Dakota and a part of Saskatchewan. We drilled another section of that same formation in 1987 to 1992. That area has seen resurgence in the last five years.
It was in the Red River formation in Bowman County, N.D, inside the Montana border near Baker. We tried horizontal drilling there in the main field, and recognized one of the horizons existed for miles as you headed east.
It produced 10,000 to 15,000 barrels. You can access it for 5,000feet. So we put acreage together and discovered a well in the Cedar Hills that could produce 800 million to 1 billion barrels.
Soon after production began there in the early 1980s, Milestone Petroleum was formed to manage and develop Burlington Northern's oil and gas properties and production in the Williston Basin and Colorado. In the early 1980s, Burlington Northern acquired The El Paso Co., which included significant natural gas production in the San Juan Basin. Then, the company acquired Southland Royalty, an oil and gas company. Together, Southland, the El Paso Co.'s exploration and production arm, and Milestone Petroleum combined to form Meridian Oil Inc.
We were able to hire the best and the brightest out of the schools at the time. Those people are now running their own major companies. Many came from Tech or Texas schools or the School of Mines in Golden, Colo.
Businesswise, my proudest moment was when we discovered the largest oilfield in decades in the Rocky Mountains at the Cedar Hills field in 1992, over 800 million barrels of oil through the application of horizontal technology.
Personally, the most satisfying time was when I was aligned with Tom Brown Inc. where every employee owned a beneficial interest in the company. When we were bought by Encana in 2004 every employee received a significant part of the benefit.
Professionally, I am proud when I see those who have worked for me or with me succeed in their careers; using some of what we learned early on.
Q. How has the Tech education benefited you?
A. When you look for engineers, it's the discipline they learn from a petroleum engineering degree. It teaches you how to think, how to solve problems mathematically and technically. That is the benefit. As you solve those problems, you have to be able to communicate clearly. Ninety percent of solving problems includes listening and understanding. It's a big part of leadership development.
Q. Tell us about some tough decisions.
A. The two toughest days I had were when oil prices took a big downturn and I had to close our Billings office — my home town — and move people to Denver during consolidation.
The second time was also a downturn. We were halfway through Cedar Hills drilling when BN merged with a Midland, Texas, office and I had to convince people to head down there.
I was 43 at the time and I wanted to retire. From 1996 to 1998 I was an independent cattle rancher at Franktown, Colo., between Denver and Colorado Springs.
What I missed was the building of anything solid. In 1998, Don Evans, one of George Bush's best friends and who became secretary of commerce, was the CEO of Tom Brown Inc. He asked me if I was bored, which I was, and asked if I'd manage an office in Colorado.
Well, you won't make money in ranching until you sell the ranch. So I joined the Tom Brown Company.
Evans took a $400 million company to a $3 billion company. At one time it had a higher market capital than Ford Motor Co. Evans joined President Bush as Secretary of Commerce from 2001 to 2005.
Q. Tell us about your employee philosophy.
A. I'm only where I'm at because of people who work for me and with me. I'm more blessed because I was in the right place at the right time. Why should I get that financial reward and not the employees? One thing I didn't see in the company was that employees were not aligned with some of the benefits. So we offered stock options so they could buy into what they were doing.
I still keep a spreadsheet of all the stockholder payouts when we sold the company. We had lots of people who could pay off their mortgages. It was a significant payday.
And that was the foundation we used for the next three companies we started — employee participation in the stock plan. In most businesses the upper brass takes care of the upper brass. I didn't like how that felt.
Q. What is your job today?
A. Today we research the viability of exploration and production in oil and gas, proving out there is significant inventory that large companies crave. We prove up projects, drill the initial wells, and find the viability. Big companies crave the development inventory that you have. That is usually the premier time to sell the projects.
We find leases that are prospective and prove that there is economically viable oil there.
We started one company with capital of $75 million. We returned three times that value in the first 18 months. Now, we are doing that process again within Orion, building it up until we think the value is maximized, and then sell when it's right, giving investors a large return.
Q. Tell us about some memorable college experience, either how it applies to your work today or just something that was fun for you at Tech.
A. Balancing four years of football with engineering studies and summer internships teaches you to manage your time. The most fun we had was being a nationally recognized football team of the early '70s. We won four games by a combined 222-0 score in 1971, beating Northern, Dickinson, Ft. Lewis and Rocky Mountain College.
I was a designated driver before it was in vogue. I brought teammates back to the dorms after a night out. Most of what I did was football, study and internships. I also loved to bet people on just about anything. Also, I have a lot of fond memories about E-days. I had a very fruitful career and only spent one year out of the Rocky Mountain region.
Q. Who is a favorite hero to you, mentor, public, private and why?
A. Art Dyk, my dad for his work ethic, family values and honesty. He always wore a cowboy hat, had huge hands and came from a family of 13 in the Gallatin Valley. He gave up the farm and moved us all to Denver. Drove a truck and built houses to support us and moved us back to a farm outside of Billings. He didn't think about himself first. His siblings and family came first. He worked very hard to provide what we needed. He also taught me that if you had any capital, you had best invest it in yourself. He never owned a 401(k).
He also said, "If someone doesn't pay you, then they probably need the money worse than you." That stuck with me.
Others include: Ray Clements of Marathon Oil. He demonstrated the importance of telling someone they did a good job. The important part was that someone didn't have to tell me, but they went out of their way to do so.
Don Clayton of Burlington Resources gave me my first shot at leadership and taught me accountability matters. The system allowed you to step out and say what you believe and do what you say you're going to do.
Don Evans and Jim Wallace of Tom Brown Inc. showed me that oilfield work and quality gentlemen can be synonymous.
Q. How do you stay connected to Montana Tech?
A. I'm on the Petroleum Engineering Advisory Board and Montana Tech Foundation.
Q. What advice would you give high school students who are considering entering college?
A. Study what you love and find a way to make that your work. I got lucky as I loved solving problems mathematically or technically and that is what this career has turned out to be. Don't do something because it’s going to make a lot of money. My kids love to solve computer code issues. If you love it, find a way to make money at it. Be passionate about it, study the game.