Gary E. Allison proved that it was possible to make money in the oil and gas industry during the oil bust in the mid 1980s.
General manager of an electrical services company, Allison lost his job shortly after the 1982 Penn Square Bank Collapse when the company he was working for folded. He and a co-worker then set out on their own.
“We decided there were still opportunities and that surely two people could find them,” Allison said.
They found many opportunities.
Nearly three decades later, Tri-State Industrial Group has grown from a two-man operation into a company of more than 200.
The company provides electrical services and builds oil and natural gas well pad sites.
Allison, 61, recently discussed his company and his other aspects of his life with The Oklahoman. This is an edited transcript:
Q: How did you first get into business?
A: I had the best job I had ever had. I was a maintenance man at the Ramada Hotel next to Crossroads Mall. I was a handyman, and I was pretty good at it. When I had a really big problem with the electrical system or plumbing, I would call the electrician or the plumber. Those guys were like kings to me. They made good money and had nice tools.
I went to Moore-Norman Vo-Tech. I was a very good student. I studied hard and completed the course. Then I went through the classifieds and found wanted postings for electricians. It's just coincidental that the company that hired me was in oil and gas. If I would have read another posting, I might have ended up wiring houses.
Q: What lessons did you learn from the 1980s oil bust?
A: The primary lesson I learned from watching companies fail and other companies succeed was that the companies that failed were heavily leveraged. The most critical lesson I learned was to not be stupid with money. The first thing you have to do in business is work hard, and a close No. 2 is to manage your finances well. Don't get heavily leveraged.
Q: How have you dealt with ups and downs in the oil and natural gas industry?
A: Any time the price of oil and gas plummeted, we would plummet with it. Any time oil and gas would rise, we would find success. We have experienced three uncomfortable dips. During those times, we had our good people trimming bushes at my house and putting lights in my attic. We kept paying them to stay with us. It was an exercise of how long we could hold our financial breath, but we kept our company together.