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Executive Q&A: Dee Hays strives for excellence in engineering

With the explosion of shale plays, Dee Hays’ Tulsa-based Excellence Engineering has grown exponentially. Tulsa oilman George Kaiser bought 49 percent of the company this year.
Oklahoman Modified: June 22, 2014 at 8:00 pm •  Published: June 22, 2014

Among its lead projects, Tulsa-based Excellence Engineering designs facilities nationwide where oil is loaded into black tankard railcars.

Picture a self-service gas pump, with a start button, automated metering and printed bill; only on a massive scale. These terminals — with motorized values, lights, pumps and compressors — take up whole sections of land, and handle 80,000 barrels of oil a day, said Dee Hays, Excellence Engineering founder and president.

“You got to get the whole train in there, and turn it around,” Hays said.

A 5-foot-2-inch blonde, Hays is anything but the typical engineer, and her success is equally extraordinary.

Effective Jan.1, Tulsa oilman George Kaiser’s Argonaut Private Equity firm bought 49 percent of Excellence Engineering’s stock, and in April, the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) ranked the company, based on its explosive revenue growth from 2009 to 2013, the 44th-fastest-growing privately-held, women-owned business globally.

Excellence Engineering has more than 25 clients and employs 35, including electrical, mechanical, civil and structural engineers; designers and drafters.

Last year’s annual revenues were $5.3 million.

From her 8,000-square-foot, leased offices at 8670 S Peoria Ave., Hays, 48, sat down with The Oklahoman recently to talk about her life and career. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Tell us about your roots.

A: I grew up in southern New Mexico, in the flat, desert town of Alamogordo, which is about 70 miles north of El Paso. My father worked as an electrical engineer for NASA and in civil service for the U.S. Air Force; my mother was a homemaker. They split up my senior year. I have an older half-brother by my mother but, because of our six-year age difference, we’ve never been very close. My father was my best friend. When I was a teenager, we’d jog together every day and tear apart cars and circuit boards. Sadly, he died suddenly of pneumonia on Dec. 26. He was 82. My mother now lives near me in Tulsa.

Q: What were the highlights of your childhood?

A: Gymnastics and horses. I decided I wanted to do gymnastics at age 8, after seeing a tumbling exhibition. My mom enrolled me in classes at a private gym and, before I knew it, I was competing nationwide. My gymnastics coach, Elaine Mayfield, became my mentor. I was a 9-year-old, traveling with a bunch of 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds, and Elaine, who didn’t have children, frequently was stuck with me. My parents would come and watch me, but the team often would go a day ahead, so Elaine was my surrogate mom. Through gymnastics, I learned discipline, social skills and self-confidence. Elaine also had horses, which got me into riding. She told me I could do anything I wanted. We’re still very close and see each other about twice a year.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Position: Excellence Engineering, president.


Birth date and birthplace: July 30,1966; Alamogordo, N.M.

Fiance: Wade Spradley, equine veterinarian and daily lunch buddy. They met through her horses. Today, she has four, along with three rescue dogs.

Residence: Mounds, where she and Wade have some 220 acres on which they raise beef. Her morning commute is 20 minutes — 25 minutes if she stops for a Diet Dr Pepper at Sonic. She’s an afternoon coffee drinker.

Education: Kansas State University, bachelor’s in electrical engineering. Harvard Business School recently named her among six scholarship recipients to its two-week entrepreneurial management program this fall.

Church: Faith Church in Glenpool.

For fun: reading (including the late mystery novelist Dick Francis) and traveling (next up is a weeklong fly fishing trip in Colorado).


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