Pioneers in the industry

WPI marks a century in business

“Across the four generations, there have always been several members of the Pearce family deeply involved in our businesses. We are hands-on people.” Louis pearce III, CEO of WPI, seen here with Louis Pearce IV.

Louis Pearce Sr. founded Waukesha-Pearce Industries (WPI) in 1924 during one of Texas’ many oil booms. Back then, the company was called the Portable Rig Co. and built steam powered drill rigs.

Over the next one hundred years, the company weathered the up-and-down nature of the oil & gas industry, expanded its offerings, and even changed its name. But there has been one constant in that century of change: The Pearce family is still in charge.

Louis Pearce III, CEO, is the third generation of the family to lead the company, which employs over 1,100 and has branches in 13 states as well as a presence in Canada. While the company started out offering drill rigs, over the years it expanded into natural gas compression, construction and mining equipment, and power generation solutions.

“We’ve never been what you would describe as passive owners,” Pearce III said about the family. “Across the four generations, there have always been several members of the Pearce family deeply involved in our businesses. We are hands-on people.”

A century of change

Maintaining a successful business for one hundred years is not simply a story about a successful family, said Pearce III. While the family has always taken the lead, the company has regularly brought in key non-family members for leadership roles and family leadership continually reaching out to customers and workers in the field to assess the marketplace.

“Number one, and you’ll hear me say this again and again, is we put a high value on customer intimacy, we listen to our customers and have very strong relationships with those we do business with,” Pearce III said. “We also spend a lot of time with our stakeholders, our professional advisors, our banks, etc., and certainly listen to their take on where our industry is headed.”

In the gas compression space, WPI has partnered with world class manufacturers for decades and offers equipment and services for upstream, midstream, and downstream segments. The company has service locations in most major shale plays in North America.

Pearce III noted that the oil & gas industry has historically swung through boom-and-bust cycles.

“Across 100 years, I don’t even want to try to count the times that we had to get in a tight circle and do what we needed to do,” Pearce III said. “The key is having family members who are responsible for the business coming to a consensus with their people on what needs to be done, whether it is reduction in force, or heaven forbid, having to close facilities, all of which we have had to do over the decades. And I think anybody in the oil and gas industry who has been active the length of time we have been, they too have certainly faced similar situations.”

Prioritizing sustainability

Frankie Baird, Executive Vice President and COO of Engine Division, noted that engine overhaul services is a core business for WPI, and the company takes pride in the fact that rebuilding an engine is good for the environment. The process of remanufacturing and rebuilding contributes to sustainability and to a circular economy by reusing existing materials for as long as possible.

“As a service company, we’re extremely focused on minimizing environmental impact within our operating areas,” Baird said. “When we remanufacture engines that’s been in the field for years or even decades, you can imagine the environmental impact, or the carbon footprint offset, that a rebuild has versus manufacturing a brand-new engine.”

Baird also mentioned that through engine building, customers have the opportunity to upgrade their emissions systems. Waukesha Pearce constantly evaluates the newest emissions control devices and collaborates with customers to identify the most suitable solutions for their applications and specific emissions requirements.

In addition, Baird emphasized that recycling materials is a top priority for our company, including the fluids utilized in cleaning equipment.

“It’s something we do every day as part of our business and we’re always looking for opportunities to improve on,” Baird said.

Partners

Louis Pearce IV, Division President – Engine Division, said the company works with partners that have also experienced the same difficulties.

“They know that it’s not always going to be a sunny day, every day,” Pearce IV said. “But we continually look for those partners that want to see the long-term plan, not just the short, next day result.”

“On the oil and gas side of the business, we have 24 locations in North America,” Baird said. “With that size footprint, we attract a lot of good suppliers wanting us to represent them and distribute their products. We are very selective about who we pick. Choosing the right partners is the key to longevity.”

And has enabled WPI to give the best customer support, Baird said.

The Future

As the company looks to its next one hundred years, keeping on top of industry trends and the needs of its customers is paramount.

Baird said that one part of the business is piloting a remote service application that is mobile and enables technicians to “work on the fly” and provide customers with immediate response. The company has also invested in dynamometers for testing engine rebuilds.

“A dynamometer is a large investment, but it is a differentiator for us from other engine builders that haven’t made the investment,” Baird said. “That means when an engine goes out in the field, it will need minimal adjustments because they’ve all been tested at full load within our facility.”

“One of the biggest advantages we have is being able to quickly pivot or change when needed, or because of customary requests,” Pearce IV said. “There’s not a large lag period that you might have with other service providers that have to go through all the layers of red tape.

Pearce IV said the family maintains an open mind when it comes to new products, especially those that would be strong bolt-on propositions for the company’s existing portfolio.

“We are always looking at new products that will expand the WPI brand enterprise, whether it be into markets that we already serve with new products, or brand-new markets that would fit our mantra moving forward, Pearce IV said.

Waukesha-Pearce Industries became the first Waukesha Engine distributor in 1933.

Wherever the company goes from here, it will stick to the simple ideas that got it through its first one hundred years, Pearce III said.

“We’re always trying to enhance our proprietary position in our value added,” Pearce III said. “Delivering quality products and services on time and with competitive pricing is really our mantra. That is what keeps us in the game.” 

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