Posted 1/26/16 (Tue)
If the first half was a quest for success, the second half is a journey to significance ~ Bob Buford from his book, “Halftime.”
By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
Tall, broad shouldered and solid – a frame beckoning back to Friday night lights and gridiron – he grins while talking about the second half of his life.
Mark Gjovig recently finished reading “Halftime” by Bob Buford and recalls a statement that resonated.
“You’re in the second half of your life when you stop competing with people and start helping people,” Gjovig says.
Gjovig, who serves as partner and chief financial officer of Go Wireline in Williston, says he is at the point in his life when it thrills him to watch others in his industry succeed.
“I’m really enjoying myself right now,” he says. “To offer up what we’ve learned and see other guys work really hard to do better for themselves.”
The successful entrepreneur speaks the language of “we” not “I.” From his childhood working side-by-side several generations on the family farm to playing alongside teammates in high school football to serving with soldiers in the Army, Gjovig learned there is no “I” in team, especially in the ones that win.
So when he is asked about his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Energy Service Companies, which represents more than 800 oil and gas companies, Mark Gjovig shifts those broad shoulders uncomfortably.
“I’m a little embarrassed about that,” he admits.
The prestigious award honors his 37 years of service and contributions to the energy industry.
Gjovig would much rather talk about the feats of his four grandsons, his wife and kids or his business partners and employees, all of whom he speaks of with fondness and pride.
Of the award, he simply says, “It’s a body of work of a large group of people. None of us succeed on our own.”
Ask him about those partners and employees he credits, and Gjovig becomes an expansive namedropper. He can wax poetic about his long-time business partner, Arlan Arnson, who he considers a mentor, and with whom he started a wireline company in 1981. (They sold that company in 2004). And he is quick to give credit to Brant Boeckel – one of nine partners for Go Wireline – for establishing the company in 2011 and providing Gjovig with a professional second half.
Boeckel was a talented, ambitious upstart who had once worked for Arnson and Gjovig and had built up his career in the industry when he approached them with his idea to start a company together.
“He’s a top-notch guy,” Gjovig says. “He put the team together that he wanted and made it happen.”
Gjovig pauses and interrupts himself as he contemplates how starting a second round of entrepreneurship could come across as money hungry. But for Gjovig, who was at the time working as a large-scale executive for the company that bought him out and overseeing more than 500 employees, it was the intangible role as hands-on mentor that attracted him.
He uses the analogy of football: When he played, coaches valued the contributions and input from players based on their effort and commitment versus who the players’ families were or where they came from. They also encouraged and channeled that effort.
“Our business succeeds because of the youth,” says Gjovig, and he is invigorated by the opportunity to coach – to encourage and challenge – young professionals as they tackle their position and future in the industry.
“You’re not trying to change anyone,” he says. “You’re trying to give them the example of how to do it and succeed.”
As oil prices plummet, Gjovig and Arnson have also guided their partners and company based on past experience with oil booms and busts.
Both grew up on farms and were ready to take ownership reins in 1980 after working at another company.
“We knew just enough to be dangerous,” says Gjovig, chuckling. “We were confident in our ability to run the equipment. We didn’t realize all it took to run a business.”
Gjovig says to him, the American Dream still means owning your own business, controlling your destiny and working really hard to do so. The two men established their business just before the 1980s boom ended; they experienced several decent years and then many difficult years.
“Everybody loves to be responsible for success,” Gjovig says. “Experience is all the bad things that happen to you.”
Gjovig and Arnson used the lessons they learned as farmkids.
“You’re out there early in the morning and late at night,” Gjovig says. “It comes ahead of everything else.”
They also hired employees who were talented and worked hard. To reciprocate that loyalty, Gjovig and Arnson always maintained an employee retirement plan that the company contributed toward and paid 100 percent of employee health insurance plans. Their current company does the same.
“We try to see the value in our guys and bring out the best in them,” Gjovig says. “We know what it takes to get them through the downturns and apply the principles and practices we’ve learned.”
Go Wireline has not laid a single person off in the current downturn. Nor has the company reduced any benefits.
One other big reason Gjovig delayed retirement: his son, Lucas. One of Boeckel’s desired team members was Lucas, who had established a successful career as a property lawyer managing a billion dollars in receivership in Las Vegas. As he considered working with his son, Gjovig remembered working alongside his brothers, father and grandfather pitching and hauling hay.
“We honestly competed and fought and worked hard together,” he says of his childhood. “We come from people where kids worked side-by-side with their parents.”
Gjovig says his childhood experiences – similar to so many from the region – established a North Dakota work ethic that is still sought after by employers. He adds two other core values to the list:
“Keep your word,” he says. “Have a faith.”
While he didn’t worry about his son’s core values, he and Lucas both realized the rare opportunity they had to work with family like generations before. Lucas left a lucrative law practice to raise a family in North Dakota and work alongside his father (Lucas does not report to Gjovig and works in operations with the company). Lucas also started out on the back of a truck washing and cleaning them just as his father had years before.
Gjovig graduated from Divide County High School in 1973 and had just finished four years in the Army when he took a job with a wireline company in Williston washing trucks.
The job was meant to be temporary until he enrolled in college, but Gjovig enjoyed the work so much he never left. He soon became a wireline operator, driving the truck and cleaning the tools, which are housed in 3,000 feet of steel, electric cable that convey the tools to gather data about the well. Now running the nuts and bolts of the wireline business, Gjovig deals with insurance and regulatory and banking.
A conservative Christian, Gjovig has become more contemplative in the second half of his life. While he has always had faith, he’s become more purposeful with that belief system and reflective of how he can help and positively impact those he cares about in his professional life and loved ones in his personal life.
Today he is more about finding significance thank pursuing success
“You get a bit of a do over with the grandkids. You reflect on how you spend time with your family and others,” he says. “We should want to make a difference for the people around us. A positive impact.”
Gjovig gathers himself. He is a man who commands presence, even as he exhibits humility and stays true to his humble roots.
“I want to finish well,” he says.