Richard Folger has kept Warren Equipment true to its roots and right where it ought to be: a sales-and-rental business maintaining “big company service” with a “small company atmosphere.”
By Paul Wiseman, special contributor
Almost 40 years ago, in 1974, Johnny Warren (since deceased) bought Compressor Systems, Inc., from Treanor Equipment Co. as a relatively small concern located on Murphy Street in Odessa. CSI first opened in 1972 as part of the Treanor Caterpillar dealership. Having a small company atmosphere then was no problem because that’s what it was. Everyone easily knew everyone else.
Fast forward to 2013 and one finds that just the Permian Basin offices of what is now Warren Equipment Company employ 650 people, while company-wide that number exceeds 2,100. But according to the company’s President and CEO, Richard Folger, that small company atmosphere is still there, and it’s what sets them apart.
“We work hard around here trying to maintain the small company atmosphere but deliver big company service and have big company training,” Folger noted. He added that Warren has a “family-type environment.”
A significant number of the company’s employees have been a part of things for several decades. “A few of them have been with us since we opened the doors 41 years ago.”
Good pay and benefits packages are part of the deal, but what matters most, said Folger, is the company’s work environment. Employee appreciation and engagement with customers and with the community are key factors.
Warren Equipment gives directly to charities and it gives employees paid time off for involvement with community organizations, including professional societies, making the firm “a place where they want to come to work.”
It is also a place where the company wants the workers to come. “We don’t cycle up and cycle down head count with the economy,” Folger said. “We try our hardest to keep people on board no matter what the environment’s doing,” Folger said.
Opportunities for employee growth is one of the driving forces behind growing the company. Folger indicated that growth is needed to provide new management positions to reward longtime employees, and that growth is also necessary to keep providing good service to growing customers, both new and existing. Reinvestment and product focus have been the other two keys to the company’s success, said Folger.
“Since 1999 we’ve reinvested over $750 million back into our operations, either in growth of plant facilities or our rental fleet. A large portion of that is right here in the Permian Basin.”
Product focus starts with representing world-class manufacturers, in Folger’s view, and Caterpillar, Ariel compressors, and Altronic Controls are “truly the gold standard of whatever industries we touch. Couple that with outstanding people whose primary focus is customer service, then that’s a great formula.”
Keeping that product line narrowed to what the company does best is the rest of the story.
“The third piece of that is, we don’t try to be all things to all people. The thing I’m most proud of is the large number of customers that we’ve provided product to since the day we opened our doors.”
He continued, “We can build a very complex, highly engineered pump system or gas compressor or a power system for drilling rigs better than anybody else out there. The key to our success is to be absolutely the best at what we do, but not try to do things that don’t make sense.”
What is now Warren Equipment had its beginnings in 1971 when Treanor Equipment hired Johnny Warren to work at what was the Caterpillar dealership for Midland, Odessa, and Abilene. Shortly thereafter they founded CSI. “In the early seventies you started seeing a lot of associated gas being moved to market, and infrastructure started to be put in place to get that gas to market instead of just flaring it,” Folger recalled.
Before that, most compressors were integrated units combining the engine and compressor into a single unit. These days, in order to accommodate more varying installation needs, the engine and compressor are modular and combined into an engineered system.
As stated previously, Warren bought CSI from Treanor in 1974. Within ten years CSI was providing gas compression from California to New York and everywhere in between. CSI provided compression both for sale and for rent, an option that gave customers added flexibility whether they needed compression for the long term or short term.
In 1985 a tragic plane crash took the life of the Treanor owner and in the aftermath Johnny Warren bought the Caterpillar dealership, reuniting it with its former offspring company, CSI. Soon afterward Warren acquired West Texas CAT, which was the Caterpillar dealership for Lubbock and Amarillo. That move effectively combined all Cat dealerships into West Texas Equipment Company.
During the 1980s the company executed a number of acquisitions, including that of Ignition Systems and Control (ISC). ISC worked on control systems for engines that Warren Equipment was already using, making it a logical fit.
“Fundamentally, all of our companies are related to gas and diesel engines and systems that are attached to them,” Folger explained. “Today we have eight different companies that provide a variety of highly engineered systems built around industrial engines.”
Folger came on board in 1992 as vice president of business development. He became president and CEO in 1999 upon Johnny Warren’s passing.
While all their locations are in the United States, the company ships equipment all over the world. They have the Caterpillar dealership rights for the state of Oklahoma and for more than 50 percent of Texas. “Geographically, we’re one of the largest Cat dealers in the United States,” Folger stated.
He spoke about the company being a member of the PBPA, even though Warren Equipment is not itself an oil or gas producer. “One of the things that the PBPA has done—its focus is on the producer, and that’s important to us because a vast number of our customers are producers. As a result, we’ve been highly active in the PBPA for many, many years. I think it’s a great vehicle for communicating a common message about the real issues to legislators and to other people involved in regulating this business.”
He observed that lawmakers may not have a full understanding of what is happening in the field before they write legislation affecting the business. “The PBPA provides a voice for the people that have to live within those regulatory environments, and yet, at the same time, [have to] continue to provide the energy necessary for this country.”
Folger sees the PBPA’s role as an intermediary between the government and the producers, providing information to both regulators and the industry. “We are currently, and have been, a strong supporter of their efforts.”
He continued, “The key ingredient is that the PBPA brings some sense of rationality to the thinking process, and that’s good for everybody.”