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The art of succession

Entrusting your business to the next generation.


April 16, 2012
By Julie Fitz-Gerald

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Like those who came before them, many of today’s well drillers hold great pride and responsibility in their role of providing people with fresh water, one of our most basic needs for survival.

Like those who came before them, many of today’s well drillers hold great pride and responsibility in their role of providing people with fresh water, one of our most basic needs for survival.

It’s a mindset that has been passed down through generations of drillers, from those who pioneered the industry digging wells by hand, to their great grandchildren who have helped revolutionize the industry with cutting-edge technology.

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For third-generation driller George R. Chalk, co-owner of Chalk Well Drilling Ltd. located in Napanee, Ont., the family business has always been a way of life. “When I was a kid I went with my grandfather to a lot of job sites. I’m very proud of the fact that my grandfather and father built something that we’re still carrying on. But we don’t take it for granted, we still work very hard at it,” he says.

George Sydney Chalk founded Chalk Well Drilling in 1922 and in 1959 he passed the business down to his son, George Herbert Chalk. In 1989, after 30 years of running the company, George Herbert followed in his father’s footsteps, happily passing the business down to three of his sons.

“When my father handed the business down to Ian, Kevin and myself, it was something that we were really proud of and we looked forward to carrying it on,” George R. explains. “I think we’ve made some changes. The way that Dad did business and the way that we do business is not the same and that’s mainly because our customers have changed, but I think the focus as far as ensuring the longevity of the business and maintaining a good name is still the focus that we have today.”

Roger Boadway, owner of Roger Boadway Enterprises in Sutton, Ont., is a fourth-generation well driller. At the age of 76, he is preparing to pass down the company founded by his great grandfather, Frank Boadway, to his son Grant and daughter Lynor. The Boadway legacy dates back to the 1880s, when Frank began digging wells by hand in the Stouffville, Ont., area. As technology progressed, he purchased a drilling machine and employed a team of horses to pull it. The horses were later replaced with a tractor and in 1928 the tractor was replaced with the business’s first truck. Astoundingly, Roger still has that first truck, a treasured reminder of what his great grandfather, grandfather and father worked so hard to create. He has never had any doubt about the career path that he would follow. “I always knew that I wanted the business from the day that I came out of school. Every well that I drilled I wanted to drill it as well as I possibly could because I knew one day that would be my business and I wanted it to be a good business; and it was,” he says.

The continued success of Roger Boadway Enterprises from one generation to the next is due in part to good communication. “At one point in my career, my grandfather, my father and I all worked together for a short period. At the end of every day, there was always a meeting and discussion of what we accomplished that day, how we accomplished it and if anything should be changed, and that was very important to me,” Roger says.

Roger points out that during this time period, the industry was experiencing immense growth, with bathrooms being moved into the house and the invention of dishwashers and washing machines which required greater quantities of water. “The industry was in its infancy. The very slow well of one or two gallons a minute just didn’t suffice anymore, so we had to drill deeper, we had to use better screening methods and this was all a learning curve,” he says.

Although industry advancements have now slowed compared to decades past, Roger still speaks with his son and daughter several times a week to discuss day-to-day operations, ensuring that the business runs smoothly.

The Chalk brothers are similar in their approach to maintaining the success of their family business. “We come in every morning and have a little chit chat about what’s happening that day. Sometimes we see each other at the end of the day, but we always make sure that we see each other in the morning,” says George R.

Family businesses do come with their own set of challenges, which are bound to arise when family members work closely together. Squabbles and arguments are a part of every business, but the key to avoiding petty disagreements within a family-run company is to ensure that everyone brings his own unique skills and knowledge to the table. “It would be a rare thing for us to have a disagreement about something,” George R. says. “We all bring our own expertise to the table. I look after most of the organizing, going out to look at job sites and visiting customers. My brother Ian supervises all the drilling, even running the drill himself occasionally and my brother Kevin is very mechanical, so he does a lot of the repairs when they’re needed.”

Roger agrees, noting that while his daughter Lynor manages the office, his son Grant is running the drill rig, proving that daily operations are a real team effort.

With his two children already deeply involved in the family business, Roger feels confident about handing over the reins to the fifth generation of Boadways later this year. However, even with the utmost confidence in his children, Roger believes that a legal change in ownership is the only way to ensure a smooth transition when passing down a family business.

“If it’s an incorporated company, one of the best steps to take, of course, is to get your shares changed over and set up a new minute book so that you as the retiring one are not on the hook for any expenses that may be incurred in case they can’t make it fly. Even though it’s your son or daughter, it has to be done in a very businesslike manner or it might not work,” he advises.

When Roger took the business over from his father in 1966, the company had not been incorporated, but that didn’t stop the father-son duo from ensuring that proper steps were taken. “We walked through the business and took inventory of everything, right down to how much was in the gas tank. We agreed on the price, went to a lawyer and had a bill of sale drawn up, we both signed it and I paid my father off on a percentage basis of every well I drilled until the business was paid for,” Roger explains.

George R. and his brothers had a similarly organized experience when their father retired from Chalk Well Drilling. George Herbert used a lawyer to sort out all the details of the sale, ensuring that no loose ends were left dangling. “He felt fairly confident that he had some capable people looking after things and when it came time to turn the business over he turned it over and that was it. The legal work was done and he walked out the door and enjoyed his retirement,” George R. says with a laugh, “But he was always there to consult with if we needed him,” he adds.

While technology and new regulations continue to change the industry, the long-standing principles of the drillers who founded it remain alive in the legacy of their family businesses. 


Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelancer writer based in Uxbridge, Ont.


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