Murray Olson is more concerned about his performance as a corporate leader than chatting about his personal life. "I'm a pretty serious person," says the 48-year-old president and chief executive officer of Enertec Services Inc. who is bracing for some tough times ahead. But adversity is not something Olson shies away from. It was during the 1982 recession that Olson set up his Calgary-based Corporation.
Leading a successful corporation into the next millenium was not always part of Olson's goals. Born and raised in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, the middle child of five had childhood ambitions on becoming a professional hockey player. That dream would break family tradition of working for CPR as an engineer, like Olson's father and grand father.
He excelled in sports during high school and played junior hockey. Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled in a two-year civil technology course at the Saskatchewan Technological Institute. That program enabled Olson to study and play professional hockey at the same time. At 19 years of age, during the summer prior to entering the professional hockey camp, Olson injured his lower back playing rugby for the Golden Moosejaw Nads. "Rugby, I thought would be a great way to stay in shape for the summer," recalled Olson.
In 1969, with a career in professional hockey out of the question, Olson quit STI and enrolled in engineering at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. "I had to choose a career path and sports wasn't going to do it. I was good in mathematics and sciences and engineering seemed like the logical thing to go into," says Olson.
In 1973, he graduated in geological engineering with a geophysics option, the program that would combine Olson's interest in geology, mathematics and physics. Other students from his class also pursued careers in the oilpatch. Gary Bilous became manager of geophysics for Renaissance. Owen Stevenson became the owner of small seismic firm and Larry Solverson became a production engineer.
Between third and fourth year engineering, Olson held a summer job with Hudson Bay Oil and Gas. Upon university graduation, he went to work for HBOG in Calgary as a geophysicist trainee. " It was an interesting company in those days because they had their own seismic crew ~ and that's where all the new geophysicists went for their training program. So we got excellent training in that we got to see all parts of the (petroleum) business," says Olson.
Within five years, Olson had been promoted to senior geophysicist at HBOG," I have had the great pleasure working with a number of really tremendous people throughout my career, at all my career stops, including quite a few at HBOG." The company also provided Olson with the opportunity of pursuing technical training combined with a supervisory path.
In 1978 and at 28 years of age, he joined Sefel Geophysical as vice-president of data acquisition. There, Olson was on what he refers to as his "accelerated learning career path." He was supported by Joseph Sefel, owner of the privately held company and Frank Schweiger, Sefel's president. During the four and half years Olson worked for Sefel, he probably traveled around the world three times and stepped foot on every continent. "There was a lot of growth and profitability during this period. You could make mistakes and still perform..."
In 1982, Olson left Sefel and worked with some venture capitalists to set up Enertec. His vision was to create a technology-driven company, with service second to none. It was a down cycle in the oilpatch, but with $2.5 million in venture financing, they set out to buy the assets of Kenting Exploration Services and adopted their 40 permanent employees.
The next ten years for Enertec was one of positioning itself within geophysical industry that's had a lot of up and down periods. A critical moment in the company's history was in 1985, when Sefel went bankrupt and Enertec took over its American assets with debt financing. Then three months later in early 1986 oil prices deteriorated unexpectedly. "That's when I learned to step up with my financial expertise and that's when I had to deal with the bank under difficult times and circumstances. We got principal postponement from the bank and worked ourselves slowly out of the debt cycle we were in," says Olson. "We are one of the guys that say the banks can be your partner. The Royal Bank was not necessarily adversarial."
During the early 1990's, Enertec required further capital to diversify its products and services - a strategy to smooth out the seasonal cycles, which occurred from being in Canada. The capital was essential to develop the instrumentation to be used for 3-D seismic work. Between 1992 and 1994, private placement and a public offering raised the essential capital. In 1994, Enertec purchased a data processing business. A year later, they acquired an American marine services business and have since expanded.
Today, Enertec employs more than 300 permanent employees, with offices in Calgary, Houston, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. TI1e company focuses on seismic acquisition and processing and man•ne services for the Gulf of Mexico.
"It's challenging and fun," says Olson of building up Enertec, who was nominee in Ernst & Young's 1997 Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1996.
"People that like what they do are lucky and are rich in life. Business has been good to me and I have tried to give some of it back."
For over 15 years, Olson has served on industry and business committees, including the CSEG. During the mid1980' s, he served as the CSEG's business manger and has been Doodlebug and Doodlespiel chairman, and helped with scholarship funds and conventions.
Making the career leap into management has commanded that continuing education playa significant role in his life. He's taken management courses from the University of Calgary and the Banff School of Management. For the past six years, Olson and 60 other Calgary CEO's meet one day per month and go to school organized by The Executive Committee Group, an international organization.
In the limited spare time he has Olson golfs and finds riding a Harley Davidson motorbike can "be a fun stress reliever."
Olson likes to live life by the golden rule and close associates at Enertec say he is a thoughtful and generous person. He's prepared for the future; "This (geophysical) business is going to have more impact on the oil business than any other technological business. There's a whole new business breeding on how to use seismic for production enhancement. We are active in research and development as the bigger companies in getting ready for that."
For a moment, Olson reflects on an experience that sticks in his mind. And that was one day working in India for Sefel on a two-week assignment conducting a feasibility study. Olson was based in Bhubaneswar, an ancient city about 200 miles south of Calcutta. On this particular day, he went down to the local marketplace. He sat beside a grey, frail and old " holy man", who initiated a conversation with Olson in a distinct British accent.
"He spent the whole day talking to me about reincarnation and it was a fascinating experience. He also talked about the local culture and history of this place. I didn't get to see them, but this part of India had temples over 5,000 years old," says Olson, who remains a no-frills guy and would be the last to complain about hard work. "The more you travel, the more you appreciate where you are and the things you have freedom issue, basics like food and clothing. Someone would kill something or somebody for food. If you are in the jungles of Africa or a very crowded place, like southeast Asia, where people are so hungry, when it gets down to basics of life, you can understand that people get pretty basic. "