May 13, 2019 By Julie Fitz-Gerald
When Wellace Johnson incorporated Wellen Boring and Drilling Ltd. in 1975, he based his business on family, integrity and trust. Four decades later, these continue to be the founding principles of the company.
In a true story of succession, Wellace’s sons, Garth and Lowell Johnson, followed in their father’s footsteps when they took over the business, located in Saskatoon, continuing to build its reputation for great customer service and reliability with every drilled well.
After 30 years with the company, Lowell retired in 2017 and handed his share of the reins over to his nephew (and Garth’s son) Myron Johnson. Today, father-and-son duo Garth and Myron are proudly carrying on the family business, bringing fresh water to the people of Saskatoon and beyond. Lowell remains active in the business on a part-time basis and continues to provide his insights from his years of experience.
Myron grew up working with his dad and uncle out in the field, but pursued a career in finance following university. After five and a half years in the business world, and with his uncle considering retirement, Myron’s entrepreneurial spirit took hold and he jumped at the chance to become a co-owner in Wellen Boring.
“We run a business that we’re proud of and we want to have very high integrity and be very customer-oriented in terms of how we run things,” Myron explains. “At the end of the day, water is a hugely important resource and we do take on the weight of that burden and take it seriously that we’re not settling – that we’re getting quality sources of water for people that will last them and that they’re happy with. In agriculture, it’s a critical piece of any infrastructure plan, so we take that seriously.”
Myron’s mother, D’lee Johnson, manages the office and books, while his cousin, Nathan Salt, works in the field alongside him and Garth. Valentine Corlan, who has been with the company for 16 years, contributes much to the company’s field work, and in the off-season has been a key part of the team, managing the maintenance of the company’s equipment. With between eight and nine full-time employees during the busy season, the business operates four rigs: two test rigs, a large boring machine and a drilling rig.
While the company does some environmental and geotechnical work with commercial subcontractors, the core of its business is in rural and agricultural drilling, including acreages and cabins. It’s these customers that make the job so fulfilling.
“I feel like we are very fortunate to be able to work with good people constantly. Our agriculture sector here is made up of people who operate with a very high level of integrity and in the rural setting we couldn’t be more fortunate to work with the customers that we have. Our work zone covers quite a few square miles so we get to see people from all over the province, which is one of my favourite parts of the job,” says Myron.
Saskatchewan’s Water security agency a boon
Drilling in Saskatchewan means working with the province’s Water Security Agency (WSA), which is a unique, centralized organization that provides critical information to drillers.
According to its website, the agency brings together “the majority of government’s core water management responsibilities in one place” to “manage the province’s water supply, protect water quality, ensure safe drinking water and treatment of wastewater, own and manage 69 dams and related water supply channels, reduce flood and drought damage, protect aquatic habitat and provide information about water.”
It works in the fields of engineering, hydrology, hydrogeology, public policy, habitat protection, water resource allocation and regulations.
For Wellen Boring and Drilling, the agency has been a huge asset to its day-to-day operations. “It’s fantastic from an information standpoint,” Myron explains. “Really who wins at the end of the day is the customer. Having a centralized database that has the key geological and aquifer-related information gives drillers a lot of insight. If a farmer’s looking for a well, you can zoom into his land location and see what’s been put in, what’s worked
. . . it gives you some insight into what you can expect when you’re drilling.”
Being in business for 44 years, one is bound to see some changes, but apart from the WSA and improvements in technology, Myron says the field work hasn’t changed all that much.
“The logistical side of things has changed slightly – the mapping and how it’s all gone to digital has made our lives easier to co-ordinate projects – but the business hasn’t changed. In the case of large-diameter bored wells, it’s still drilling a test hole, then bringing a boring rig out and boring a large-diameter well. That being said, since Wellen Boring first started we have gotten updated equipment that’s more powerful: it does the job a bit better.”
Drilling high-quality water wells is what Wellen prides itself on and it’s where Garth and Myron will continue to focus the business. “I would say for us, although we’re open to growth opportunities, we also want to make sure we are focused on delivering a really good product in wells, so we’re trying to balance those things.”
Success a matter of family, integrity and trust
The key to this business’ success has been providing a positive customer experience with every well drilled. And that’s been achieved through those three founding principles mentioned earlier: family, integrity and trust. “Those principles were present from the start of the business and will continue to be at the core of how we operate. There’s an implicit trust that we all have with each other,” Myron explains. “We try to run a really good business and we don’t really have employee turnover, so we’re pretty lucky in that regard. To be able to come to work every day and trust the people you work with, you can’t put a price on that. That’s why we can deliver the service that we do, because of how we function as a group, as a business with integrity.”
This camaraderie and belief system also is ensuring a smooth succession as Lowell passes the torch to Myron. According to Myron, giving the transition the time it deserves is crucial. “In my prior work being in business-to-business corporate finance, I’ve seen how business plans can break down very quickly if the two parties don’t fully trust each other. It creates a very negative, tense, unhealthy work environment, so a very high level of integrity and honesty is critical to making any succession plan work.”
Another important tip: “Communication is key. Through our transition time we had numerous meetings and planning sessions over coffee to hash out details that really make everybody feel very comfortable with it, respected and heard. Those are critical pieces in doing a succession well.”
With these beliefs forming the core of Wellen Boring, it really is their customers who win in the end.
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Ground Water Canada.
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