Precision founder Hank Swartout one of the defining personalities in Canadian drilling

The Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame Society is honouring six men and women as its 2018 inductees at a special luncheon Nov. 23 at the Calgary Petroleum Club. In a series to be published weekly on the Daily Oil Bulletin and, writer R.P. Stastny profiles each of the inductees. Today: Hank Swartout

Hank Swartout founded Precision Drilling Corporation and led the Canadian company for over two decades.

Under his watch, Precision became one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies with a peak value of $7 billion in 2005, employing over 15,000 workers in 34 countries.

He split the company up in 2005, selling the international operations and technology arm and converting the Canadian rig fleet into an income trust.

“Hank has been one of the most defining personalities in the Canadian petroleum service industry,” says Precision’s president of drilling operations, Gene Stahl, who has known Hank for over two decades. “It was clear to me from the very first time I met Hank that he was a born entrepreneur, one-of-a-kind, one of the last of a dying breed of true characters in the business.”

Hank was born in 1951 and raised in Melfort, Sask. After graduating high school, he moved to Calgary in 1971 where he completed petroleum engineering at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. He followed that with an honours petroleum engineering degree from the University of Wyoming.

Returning to Calgary, Hank joined Nabors Drilling to build rigs for use in Alberta and Alaska. In 1981, he moved to Edmonton to manage the rig design and construction business of Dreco Energy Services Ltd. Then in 1985, he went into business for himself after mortgaging his house to purchase a 15 per cent interest in Cypress Drilling, which had three drilling rigs and 20 employees.

Two years later, as president of Cypress, Hank bought Precision Drilling Ltd. in a reverse takeover, which expanded the fleet to 19 rigs and fuelled Hank’s drive for growth and innovation.

His vision for Precision Drilling shaped both the Canadian drilling industry and Canada’s reputation abroad. In Canada, he saw that the National Energy Program and deregulation of natural gas prices had fragmented the drilling industry into a large number of small private companies fighting for survival.

Hank and a handful of other key contractors recognized the opportunity to transform the industry into one dominated by a few sophisticated public companies with greater financial strength, discipline and wider opportunities. Such companies could survive the cyclicality of the business.

Geographic and service diversification became a part of Hank’s bid for enterprise size and financial resilience. Organic growth and acquisitions across many business lines and multiple service segments followed. Precision services over the years included land drilling rigs, service rigs, snubbing units, camps, rental equipment, gas production testing services, rotary steerable and LWD services and under-balanced drilling.

“Hank’s vision for … fast-moving, highly efficient drilling rigs spawned the creation of a truly innovative and renowned rig design called the super single drilling rig,” Stahl says. “These rigs and their ability to drill slant wells became the rig of choice by Canadian E&Ps to develop Canada’s oil and gas reserves and gave Precision a truly sustainable competitive advantage.”

Under Hank’s leadership, Precision was profitable in every single year he was at the helm, despite the cyclical nature of the oilfield services business.

Following his diagnosis with MS and significant value creation for shareholders through the sale of many of Precision’s global businesses and the conversion to an income trust, Hank chose to begin planning for retirement from Precision. He stepped down from his leadership roles in stages until full retirement in 2007.

Hank has been honoured with the Distinguished Alumni Award for SAIT in 1998, the Fraser Miller Pinnacle Award in 2003, Calgary Businessman of the Year 2005, CAODC Hall of Fame in 2010, University of Wyoming Alumni Hall of Fame in 2011, the Saskatchewan Petroleum Industry Hall of Fame in 2013, and the OTS Old-Timer of the Year in 2013.

Beyond the gruff image of a roughneck, trailblazer, entrepreneur and industry builder, Hank has always valued the importance of volunteerism and community involvement and has served on over 30 boards during his career.

His community leadership included co-chairing the Calgary and Area United Way Campaign 2006 — raising its goal of $50 million — Calgary Regional Health Authority, Calgary Health Trust and the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

Among his friends, Hank has a reputation as a straight shooter. He is known to be extremely loyal, aware of when a person is struggling and showing up to help unannounced.

Hank and his wife Carol have personally made philanthropic giving a priority and have donated over $6 million to various charities, both financially and in kind with the most substantial contributions going to the United Way, St. Peter’s College, the Edge School, and the MS Research Program at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

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