David Garrard: Analyze This

Date: 08/07/2009

David GarrardIs nine years in the field with Schlumberger enough to change a man once and for all? Former production logger, itinerant expat and inveterate adventurer David Garrard has been asking himself that question ever since.

After Hours:  Please describe your most memorable assignment at Schlumberger.

That’s a tough one!  I have so many great memories of my time overseas with Schlumberger, it’s impossible not to mention all the high points!

For starters, I arrived for training in Iran in 1978 just in time to witness the social revolution going on there. A 24-hour curfew was in place when I arrived in Tehran and making my way south to the training school in Ahwaz wasn’t easy.  We had a good bunch of recruits at the school, but attrition was intense. (Who knows?—it might have had something to do with the occasional machine-gun fire that could be heard in the near distance.)  But I survived, joined the exodus just in time and was fortunate enough to be sent to Basra, Iraq—the perfect first location for a newly trained production logger/perforator. After 18 months it was off to Saudi Arabia where I joined the “other King’s” court of production loggers. Mast truck work there was a real blast.  (I once tried to estimate how many shaped charges I might have detonated during my Schlumberger career…but quickly lost count!) Later on I went to Trinidad, where my belt got further notched by many thousands of feet of large-diameter tubing conveyed perforating (TCP) gun jobs.

One of my favorite Saudi stories for Canadians relates to a six-well platform offshore Saudi that at the time was producing more oil than all of Canada!  Running PLT jobs on those wells was always challenging.  Compound living in Khobar and then Hohuf was, in retrospect, quite an enjoyable lifestyle – even for a young married couple.  Our son Håkan spent his early years in these locations, which couldn’t have been all bad, since he has grown up to become a solid Schlumberger Pumping Services engineer. 

After Saudi, it was three months in Las Marochas, Venezuela, doing Cabria work, but somebody there finally figured out that the ‘guy out on the lake’ couldn’t speak Spanish, so I was transferred to Galeota, Trinidad.  Galeota was challenging in those days, but offered great living conditions, with houses by the beach.  Electricity was less than reliable, but we got the jobs done.  As Base Manager, Perforator, TCP Expert and wind-surfing beach bum, I had the job of a lifetime.  Our second child, Lisa, was born while stationed in Galeota.

During those nine years with Schlumberger I met many good people—people of all nationalities and backgrounds living and working together under intense pressure.  Interestingly, I never once heard anyone raise their voice in anger or frustration.  Now that I think about that, it occurs to me how much this says about the company: either it has great recruiting or is composed of a generally happy bunch of people—or both.

After Hours:  How does the time you spent with Schlumberger affect your views on the world today?

Perhaps it is true of most university graduates, but certainly my Canadian education provided me with little preparation for the “real world.”  In the lobby at the Tehran Hilton on September 3rd, 1978—an auspicious date for those who know Iranian history—I was introduced to a group of fellow oilfield engineers who were also in transit.  As I shook their hands, I noticed that two were missing fingers.  Suddenly it sunk in that my pampered middle-class city life was over now and an adventure was about to begin.

Nine great years followed that day. I was doing a job that I loved in some truly great locations, with challenges that set the high mark in my life.

Given those early years spent in the Middle East & Asia, it was hard for me to watch the news coverage of the Iran-Iraq war and the two Gulf Wars that ensued thereafter. Many times have I thought of Karim, Abbas and the other local staff members who became true friends during that period.  I can only hope they survived.  A tinge of lingering doubt continues to have a profound effect on me.

Working with fellow engineers and local staff of diverse backgrounds and nationalities can only make you a better world citizen. Since returning to Canada in the late 1980s, I’ve greatly missed that aspect of my life.  I recently discovered a website that lets me make a little difference in the world.  I set up a Team Schlumberger on that has allowed me to give back to the people of the countries where I worked.  Now close to 20 in number, we former and current “Schlums” make individual micro-finance loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.  Since September 2008, Team Schlumberger has made some 350 loans that are making a significant difference to these people’s quality of life. That’s not too shabby! 

After Hours:  What's the last book you read and what did you like about it?

I don’t want to shock my former Schlum’ bachelor housemates, but as it happens I have become something of a bookworm over the years.  I’ve collected a mini-library of evolutionary biology books—anything from Stephen Pinker to Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennent.  It takes me a couple reads to assimilate some of these, but the little grey cells need all the exercise I can offer.  For fellow oilfielders, I highly recommend The Prize by Daniel Yergin. 

I recently read Shantaram, a great book that takes place in India—a place I’d never been before. The book gave me a taste for adventure like in my old Schlum days.  Strangely, from no action of my own, within two weeks of finishing the book I was off to Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney on business.  My week in Mumbai put me directly in “Shantaram Paradise.” Watching “Slumdog Millionaire” on the flight back home made the whole India experience even more compelling.

After Hours:  What do you do with your free time?

I don’t have much, actually, as I am still gainfully employed with a financial analytics company and I have my own software firm that develops custom business process software. After Schlumberger, I pretty much descended into the depths of entrepreneurship—a lifestyle that can be pretty demanding.  To that load add a dose of fatherhood, raising two children. 

Now that the kids are grown up, I’ve been able to devote more time to sports.  I am an avid skier during the winter months and keep in reasonable shape in the summer months biking on Ottawa’s great network of bicycle paths.  However, my real passion is scuba diving.  Those who knew me in Galeota may recall that I purchased some scuba gear there but never got out with it.  What with the base manager job and some enticing wind-surfing, scuba had to wait.  But now I try to get a couple of scuba trips to the sunny Caribbean in every year. I just came back from a two-week dive trip to Micronesia.  We spent the first week on a live-aboard dive boat in Truk Lagoon, exploring some of the best wrecks in the world.  Then I spent a “recovery” week on the lush tropical island of Pohnpei.  Now that is what I call free time!