The word “artesia” refers to “rising to the top.” Fittingly, the town of Artesia, N.M., is home to an entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mack Chase, who has not only risen himself, but has helped others rise as well.
With instincts, luck, and a lot of hard work, Mack C. Chase has forged a reputation as an entrepreneur, business leader, risk taker, and philanthropist in the small southeast New Mexico city of Artesia.
“You cannot lay out a plan to go be Mack Chase,” said Bill Munn, who works in the Mack Energy Corporation Midland office. “To say his beginnings were modest is probably an overstatement.”
Today, Chase is president of Chase Energy Corporation with headquarters in Artesia—a city of 11,000 people—and offices in Roswell, N.M., as well as in Midland and Fort Worth. He also owns Avion and Deerhorn Aviation, both based in Midland; Chase Farms LLC; San Saba Pecans; Buffalo Oilfield Supply; and ihe s involved with Paddock Café; Yucca Healthcare LLC; Dolphins Resort in British Columbia; Purple Sage Ranch in Bandera. Meanwhile, he heads up the nonprofit Chase Foundation. His employees number about 900.
Despite this impressive list of businesses, Chase prefers to stay out of the media limelight and to maintain a focus on his employees and the citizens of Artesia. Where he came from and how he got to where he is today is only part of the story of a man who remains fiercely loyal to his friends and community. And they return that loyalty.
Born the fourth of eight children to a family living at Loco Hills, about 27 miles outside Artesia, Chase followed his father and brother into the oilfields at the age of 14, finding employment first on a pulling unit. He attended Artesia High School and played football for the Bulldogs. The U.S. Army knocked on his door and Chase served two years, part of the time in Korea. He returned to Artesia, married his high school sweetheart, and started Chase Well Service with his brother.
His young wife Marilyn protested about the need for a bank loan to start the company. “We’re going to go broke,” she said to her husband. “We’re already broke,” he replied. Chase didn’t believe in letting the lack of money stop him.
He wasn’t always successful at his ventures and that included the time he watched as a rig he had purchased burned to the ground.
By 1968, Chase was ready to start on his own again, this time as Mack Chase, Inc. He bought a used rig for $40,000 and found his niche, eventually operating 18 to 21 rigs. He earned a reputation in the industry for his well servicing and others recognized his work ethic and honest business dealings.
Over the years there were occasions when he worked with a pumper who had gained a similar reputation: John R. Gray. The two even worked on wells together. When an opportunity arose in 1974 for the two to purchase some wells at 12-Mile Hill outside Artesia from Midlander John Castle, the pair grabbed it, even though neither had any money at the time. “John [Gray] had pumped his wells and I had pulled his rigs,” Chase recalled of their association with Castle. Chase and Gray formed Marbob Energy Corporation and agreed on the asking price of $60,000 for the wells.
With their techniques, these wells proved more successful than they anticipated. They figured out a way to dispose of the water, which was a problem for Eddy County producers, including the majors. They were described as the “first to discover the productive capacity of the Yeso trend in Southeast New Mexico,” noted Tim Leach with Concho Resources in his Hall of Fame nomination letter in 2010. They were “pioneers of the field that would become the largest oil producer in New Mexico. Their innovations in completion techniques made this production possible.”
The partnership could not have been more perfect. John R. Gray was the introvert, the quiet part of the partnership who thought out problems and how to make something work out. He hated debt. Chase was the extrovert. He saw an opportunity and rushed to grab it and didn’t care how much debt he had. “Their incredible instincts got them on sound footing,” Munn said.
By 1992, each man began looking at different goals and they divided the partnership. Gray kept the Marbob name while Chase put his assets into a new company: Mack Energy Corporation, which focused on oil and gas exploration, development, and production in southeastern New Mexico. From that, Chase began to branch out into the various entities he owns today.
He remains tight-lipped about a “business plan,” joking that it’s “from day to day.” His grandson, Chance Chase, acknowledged that is pretty much the truth. “We have a couple of business plans,” he said with a laugh. “We take it one day at a time.” And if something doesn’t work out, another plan comes along the next day.
The grandfather noted that his company primarily drills horizontal wells and uses fracking. Questioned what would happen if the price of oil dips to $40/barrel, he answered, “I’d hate to see that in this market.”
The Mack Energy Corporation website notes: “Our success is based on the implementation of the following strategies: Develop and enhance our existing property base; explore for undiscovered oil and gas reserves; purchase producing oil and gas reserves; pursue the latest in technology advances; be cost effective in developing energy-based resources; expand acreage positions in emerging oil and natural gas resource plays; have lower operating costs; capitalize on exploration successes through development of field discoveries; and internally generate an inventory of high quality exploratory prospects focusing on select geographic areas.”
Giving people the tools they need to do the job is a priority with Chase.
Stacy Sanders, New Mexico land manager who has worked almost 20 years for the company, explained, “They want to make sure you have all the right tools to do your job. That includes computers, educational seminars and even education to further yourself. This applies to everyone—from people in the field to jobs in the office.”
Employees are given the best and latest equipment, Munn added. “Here’s the deal. All that equipment Mack owns… he doesn’t know if it brings him 10 percent return or more. He wants to provide people the opportunity to work and to give them the best equipment because the oilfield work is dangerous.”
The loyalty between Chase and his employees is a two-way street. Nora [last name TKTKTKTK] recently started in the Human Resources Department. “I’ve been here a couple of months and from what I’ve seen and heard, Mack takes absolute care for his employees. He genuinely cares for them.”
Ms. Sanders recalled there were times when she needed to stay home with a sick child. “He [Mack] told me to put my family first. When my kids get well to come on back.” There was no talk about exceeding a limit on sick days.
Munn used to work for Navajo Refining, also based in Artesia, and that is where he met Mack Chase. “Chase and Gray were the largest individual producers that sold to Navajo,” he recalled. “I met Mack and I liked him. A co-worker from Navajo went to work for Chase and asked if I wanted a job.
“My life was changed by Mack Chase. I’d had a heart attack and was sick. They didn’t need me, but they created an opportunity for me,” Munn related. “Mack knows how to offer an opportunity that doesn’t bring any damage to your pride.”
Through the decades, Chase has shared his good fortune with his employees and the citizens of Artesia. He and his wife Marilyn have contributed to many non-profits that help people in southeast New Mexico. His love for the Bulldogs has never wavered and he has helped by contributing toward the installation of artificial turf and by adding a new press box at the stadium. As regards his own employees, he has given financial assistance to help them pay for their children’s college educations.
In 2007, Chase extended that college assistance to any Artesia High School senior. That first year he committed more than $1.5 million over a four-year period to help those young people obtain a college degree. He has offered this plan each succeeding year. This year another 108 seniors qualified for the Chase scholarships, bringing the total amount dedicated since 2007 to $8.7 million, according to grandson Chance.
“For $1.8 million you can educate 140 kids a year,” noted Munn. “A lot of very wealthy people in this country could also be doing this.”
A longtime friend of President George W. Bush, Munn found an occasion to relay to the President what Chase was accomplishing in his community. “I was sitting in the White House one day explaining to Bush that he really needed to come to Artesia and meet Mack Chase and see what he has built.” And he [Bush] did visit that first spring out of office. President Bush spoke to the group of college-bound seniors and stayed to have photos taken with each one.
The philosophy behind this educational effort flows from Chase’s belief that everyone needs the right tools. Sanders, whose niece just received one of those scholarships, explained that Chase “wants the kids to get an education and to come back to Artesia and to give back to Artesia. He wants them to have the tools to do this.”
One requirement is that all scholarship seniors participate in a Community Service week where they learn about giving back to Artesia. Projects ranged from building a playground to helping at a senior center. Sanders’ niece helped paint houses for older residents. “She said one man came up to them crying because he was so thankful,” Sanders said.
“Loyalty” is one word to describe Mack Chase, a man who never left his roots and never forgot his longtime friends.
Sitting in the office waiting for the telephone interview to end was Pete Melton. “We grew up together at Loco Hills,” said the cohort who used to play on the Bulldogs football team with Mack. “After football practice we would walk to the edge of town and hitchhike home every evening.”
Nowadays, he waits for Mack to finish in the office so the two can ride around in Mack’s pickup looking at wells or the pecan orchards.
“He’s like a brother to me and always has been,” Melton said.