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Saulsbury details life, career - Odessa American: Business

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Saulsbury details life, career

Arkansas native came to Odessa in 1957 to work in the oilfield, start Saulsbury Industries

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Posted: Monday, August 28, 2017 5:30 am

Raising a harmonious, hard-working family and building a corporation in that mold takes a blend of amiability and commitment.

Charles Richard “Dick” Saulsbury Sr. reached the Permian Basin 60 years ago with a mechanical bent and a grinding work ethic that led to establishing his own electrical company and then an engineering and construction firm that now has offices in 12 cities of six states.

The jovial 77-year-old native of Smackover in southwestern Arkansas passed up high school football to work in his father’s small oilfield company and then left college to shun a white-collar career and work outdoors.

A lifelong Christian, Saulsbury has visited Israel more than a dozen times and is nearly as well-known for his photography as for his business success and Republican conservatism, having taken two million photos during public and family events.

“In the oilfield, I don’t think there was a better hand,” he said, adding that his dad Roy owned a dozen wells that only produced enough “to make a living.

“I just loved to work. I was 6 feet tall and weighed 170 pounds in the eighth grade. I was working derricks at 11 and didn’t play football because my dad needed me to work. Later, some of the boys had ruined their bodies and said, ‘We didn’t realize what it was doing to us.’ Our coach was Clell Burnett, whose sons Bobby and Tommy played at Arkansas and in the AFL.

“We all keep going down the road and like Yogi Berra said, we come to a fork and take it. We know what’s down the road we took, and we imagine the other one as the Yellow Brick Road. But the road you didn’t take could have been the Grim Reaper. You don’t think about bad things where you didn’t go.”

Saulsbury graduated from Smackover High School in 1957, came to the Basin that summer to work for his uncle Wayne Griffin at Dixie Electric, attended Louisiana Tech University for two semesters and part of a third, plied the oilfield at home and returned to Dixie in 1961, rewiring 55 Gulf Oil tank batteries near Wickett and helping to build a gas plant near Quanah and an ammonia plant west of Odessa.

“I could rewire magnetos and overhaul (stationary engines) Waukeshas, M&Ms, Tycos, Black Bears, Fords and Chevies,” he said, explaining that “Smackover” was anglicized from the French “Sumac Couvert” for “covered in sumac.”

Saulsbury and his wife Amelia have four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. His mother was the former Glynn Helen Ratliff. His brother, Roy Allen “Buddy” Saulsbury Jr., is in Ashdown, Ark.

He formed Star Electric with Griffin and Homer Steen and in 1967 with one truck and electrician Wayne Pritchard started Saulsbury Electric, which has grown into Saulsbury Industries with 2,400 employees at Abilene, Dallas, Henderson, Houston, La Porte, Port Arthur, Denver, Colo., Farmington, N.M., Baton Rouge, La., Tulsa, Okla., Greenville, S.C., and Odessa, the home office.

He said the company plans to hire another 800 to 1,000 people for projects in West Texas and other parts of the country in numerous industries.

“One time, we paid a consultant $28,000 to tell us how to be successful, and he gave us a pie chart showing the profits and said, ‘The profits are sacrosanct,’” Saulsbury said.

“So I said, ‘We don’t need y’all here because the profits are not going to be sacrosanct.’ We’re here to make a profit and sometimes we squeeze the profits or expand them, but we’re not going to walk over people for the profit. If you set specific goals, you walk over people.”

Saulsbury said the company was nearing $1 billion in annual revenues before the last bust began three years ago and is now doing about half that.

Each of his children has a role in the company, C.R. “Bubba” Jr. as executive vice president for corporate strategy, Mark as senior vice president for corporate administration, Matt as vice president for project services and Diann Zugg as chief executive officer of Saulsbury Industrial Group. They’re all on the board of directors.

The firm specializes in engineering, construction, fabrication and other services for heavy industrial clients in gas processing and treatment, petroleum and petrochemicals, fossil and nuclear power, manufacturing, terminals and logistics, including electrical generating and gas processing plants, compression stations, wind farms, pipeline expansions, substations and other projects, according to its website.

Asked how his family has remained unpretentious, Saulsbury said, “We don’t try to be anything we’re not.”

Noting that a facilitator from Georgia schooled his children as they joined the business, he said, “The kids are all very intelligent.

“There were little things once or twice, but by and large they have been really good. The one word that makes it work is ‘commitment.’ Commitment trumps love. The only worry I had was how committed they would be, and they have done that. They’re all pretty down to earth, family oriented.”

The corporation’s chief executive officer is Rick Graves, a former senior vice president of the Fluor engineering and construction company in Irving. Other board members are Jack Schanck of Sugar Land, Phillip Chambers of Parker City, Ind., Dr. Donald McNeeley of Chicago and Blake Young and Eric McCarthey of Atlanta.

“I had a man come up to me last week and say, ‘Mr. Saulsbury, I have worked several places, and this is the best company I ever worked for,’” he said Aug. 8. “He said, ‘It’s the best because of you guys. Y’all are the ones who make it what it is.’ The reason we do is that we’re keeping it like a family culture.

“I just believe in working and making a living. I didn’t think the company would be bigger or smaller. I’d feel the same if it was a $5-billion company or a $50-million one. We want to be happy in what we’re doing and for people to be safe with nobody hurt.”

Saulsbury said he is not just politically conservative, he’s personally so. “We went to a little country church, and I was saved as a young teenager,” he said.

“I’d pull up to a plant and guys would say, ‘There’s old Dick.’ I was as young as their grandkids, and they calling me ‘old Dick.’ I started to drag race my car one day when I was a teenager, and one of the boys said, ‘What made you chicken out?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know why I was here in the first place. It’s crazy.’

“Some of the parents wouldn’t let their kids go to town unless I went with them.”

A bad back has made things harder for Saulsbury, but it has never been insurmountable. “There were some big timbers in the backyard of my aunt’s house, next to a Standard Oil field, and I tried to pick one up when I was 4 or 5 years old,” he said.

“I fell down hard, it hurt so bad. Years later when I was working derricks, I’d be standing there with tears running down my face.”

He has had two lower back surgeries and has recently been forced by the pain to curtail his workouts.

Don Bromwell of Stephenville was the regional Pioneer Natural Gas superintendent when Saulsbury was with Dixie and Star Electric. “Dick was a go-getter and an honest man who wanted to do things exactly right,” Bromwell said.

“I knew about his back problem, but he worked through it. We hunted elk and trout-fished in southern Colorado. He’s a good fellow. He never did want to step on nobody’s toes.”

Still working at 75 as property manager of the company’s craft center, Pritchard remembers its evolution as gradual but sure. “Dick and I put in a lot of hard work, but it paid off,” Pritchard said.

“We put in 10, 12 hours a day to keep things going, and the work started coming in as we went, a little bit more and a little bit more. After two or three years, we bought another truck and added an electrician and a helper. It has been a real good ride to get to where we are today.”

Asked what Saulsbury did right, Pritchard said, “He put the right people in the right places.

“We took little steps ‘til we got to a certain point and graduated up. Dick supports a lot of different things. If someone needs help, he is right there. He helps them not just financially but physically and mentally, too. His religion has a lot to do with it.

“He might get mad at somebody, but it doesn’t take 10 minutes before it’s all gone.”

Saulsbury cites Scriptures like Numbers 24:9, which says those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse it will be cursed, to upbraid political leaders who he feels are unsupportive.

“Talking last year to (Kentucky senator) Rand Paul, I said, ‘Rand, I love most everything about you and your dad (former Houston congressman and former three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul), but you don’t stand with Israel,’” he said.

“‘You treat it like any other country.’ I have stood at the place in the West Bank where God gave Abraham the land of Canaan and promised that he would be the father of many nations.”

Referring to 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, he said, “They have a veil that keeps them from seeing some things, but there are probably things that we can’t see, too.”

Saulsbury said the United States and Israel are on their way to becoming the strongest countries in the world, although the U.S. has lost some valuable characteristics. “The whole country has changed,” he said.

“Used to, when you went in a store and ordered a pound of bologna, they’d run the machine and throw another slice on there so you knew you’d gotten more than what you paid for. Go in a place today and the whole attitude has changed.

“There are exceptions, but as a general rule you get a little bit less than what you’re paying for, and companies spend money to do that. The whole game is to keep you on a string. Before the savings and loans went under, they were papered with bales of paper. Paperwork from a crook is a license to steal.”

Saulsbury reads Christian tracts, political magazines and the Biblical Archeology Review from Israel, and among his favorite leaders are Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Austin and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “Patrick Henry’s last words were, ‘Doctor, I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die,’” he said.

“I like John 16:33, where Jesus says, ‘I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’”

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