Entrepreneur of the Year 2012
Doug McPherson, Special to the Business Journal
Maybe the best way to describe Jack Hays is that he’s an opportunity spotter. He’s proven that without question. But there’s more: He’s a hard worker, honest and cares deeply about integrity — traits that come standard to those raised on farms.
Hays grew up on one about 25 miles east of Grand Junction. His mom and dad are still at it — in their 80s — growing peaches, alfalfa and vegetables.
When he was 14, Hays demonstrated his penchant for hard work, doing whatever needed to be done in oil fields.
But by the early 1990s, the work there dried up and he was laid off — but not before he spotted his first opportunity. He paid close attention to the men who sucked up the groundwater that surfaced near the oil drills.
“I thought that was something I could do a job at with a pump,” Hays said.
So he borrowed $30,000 from family members and loaded his new pump in the back of his half-ton 1986 Chevy pickup, traveling the West in search of work. Hard times ensued.
He lived out of his pickup, cleaning up in restaurant restrooms.
“I couldn’t afford hotel rooms, and there were times I couldn’t even afford to buy food,” Hays said.
But he stuck with it. “I wanted to be a successful, and I was always determined to succeed, even though no one would ever loan me money,” Hays said.
He eventually landed odd jobs, pumping water for cities, water treatment plants and refineries. He even pumped grape sludge for winery owners in California.
“For the first five or six years, it was a one-man operation,” Hays said.
One of the first opportunities he spotted was that many customers often needed their water treated, so Hays learned how to do that and added it to his repertoire.
Besides his work ethic, Hays had something else going for him: a deep understanding of the oil field business from his teen years.
And when the business picked up in the late 1990s, companies began calling him to deal with their water.
Again, he realized an opportunity, which led to his using snowmaking machines to evaporate water near oil drills.
Demand grew so much for that service, Hays developed and sold machines designed specifically for oil field work.
By the early 2000s, Hays again spotted an opportunity when drilling technology changed from just going directly vertically to vertically then horizontally; he developed pumps that could keep up.
That move helped grow the company from about $500,000 to $80 million in revenue and from 20 employees to 500 in six years.
Hays also created a way for operators to recycle much of the water at drill sites. Today, at some sites, his ingenuity is saving millions of barrels of water.
Hays is quick to credit the lessons he learned on the farm for his success.
“My parents are my idols and my role models,” he said. “They’re the salt-of-the-earth kind of people and they taught me a lot.”
DOUG MCPHERSON | WORDPUB@aol.com