Water Well Journal Q&A

Published On: May 22, 2023By Categories: Business Management, Drilling, Features

The president and CEO of J&S Water Wells in Bellville, Texas, shares how earning the top designation from NGWA will help his business.

By Mike Price

Monte Richardson, MGWC, with the company’s 2021 SIMCO 7000 drilling rig. Photo courtesy Richardson, president and CEO of J&S Water Wells in Bellville, Texas.

Like some in the water well industry, Monte Richardson, MGWC, went to work for a drilling company thinking it was a temporary stint only to find himself making a career of it.

The second-generation water well contractor wasn’t sure about his future following graduating cum laude from Texas A&M University in 1999 with a degree in geosciences and a minor in Spanish. Richardson began his tenure as apprentice and drilling helper in 1993 and returned to work at J&S Water Wells in Bellville, Texas.

“I’m still here more than two decades later,” says Richardson, president and CEO of J&S Water Wells. “My wife says that some people’s frontal cortex doesn’t develop until after 40. I may be in that category.”

Most of J&S’ work is focused on commercial applications, municipalities, oil and gas water drilling, and irrigation for rice farmers. It operates seven drilling rigs and five pump service rigs. As is common along the coastal plain of Texas, the company drills with direct mud rotary methods.

Richardson earned the National Ground Water Association’s top designation, the Master Groundwater Contractor (MGWC), at the beginning of 2023. He plans to attend Groundwater Week 2023 this December in Las Vegas to be formally recognized and receive the distinguished green jacket.

Even though Richardson rarely drills today and has become more of a coach and problem solver to his crew leaders and drillers, he never gets tired of witnessing a large volume well being airlifted and developed.

“It instills a sense of pride when I see water coming from below,” says the 46-year-old. “It can also spark panic and neurosis when you don’t and it should be there.” J&S’ workforce is mostly Latino, and Richardson found a love of language and Mexican culture during the first summers working at the company.

“I was able to grasp the concepts of Spanish very easily for some reason,” he says. “I continued that theme in college and ended up with a minor. I worked for a while as a teaching assistant and had a job offer as a radio DJ on a Mexican radio station that I turned down. Thinking back, I should have taken the job just for the story.”

Richardson’s geosciences degree was a natural fit as he always liked the lithologies and intuitive thinking of drilling. He had an influential geology professor who made him like the idea of rocks.

“He was a tank driver under General Patton in World War II and could not hear anything, so I sat in the front row,” Richardson shares.

Aviation has always been a family passion, and as a pilot, Richardson considered a career in professional aviation. Prior to drilling, Richardson’s father was a professional pilot.

“This imparted a love of flying to me. Just like drilling, flying is a very useful skill,” he says.

Richardson purchased the company in June 2019 from his father, John E. Richardson, who purchased it earlier in 1979. The company was founded in 1949 by Ray Stevens and Charles Johnson. Richardson has a daughter who is an undergraduate at Texas A&M University who often helps him with administrative tasks. His son is a freshman in high school and planning on joining a drilling crew this summer.

“As their dad, I want to help them succeed and grow in a career that they choose,” he explains. “The groundwater industry has provided me with more opportunities and blessings than I can count, and I will leave it up to them to determine if it is the right path.”

Water Well Journal caught up with Richardson to learn more about earning the MGWC designation and other industry topics.

(Left) Richardson earned an executive MBA from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in 2021. (Right) Richardson is proud of his staff. From left to right: Primo Trejo, drilling supervisor; Steven Robertson, pump supervisor; Shaun Grell, vice president of operations; and Richardson. Photos courtesy Richardson.

Water Well Journal: You recently earned the highest designation from NGWA, the Master Groundwater Contractor (MGWC) designation. What prompted you to earn this designation and how do you see it helping your business?
Monte Richardson, MGWC: I am proud to have earned the green jacket. It is so very noteworthy because of the talented cohort of contractors who have come before me. I earned the CWD/PI [Certified Well Driller/Pump Installer designations] many years ago and as I have grown along in the well industry I have learned much more from my peers.

I have always been very eager to learn things, and this was no exception. I feel that the MGWC designation is great for J&S as brand awareness grows and we can leverage this designation to enhance the company’s overall professionalism.

WWJ: June is National Safety Month. How does your company conduct its tailgate talks and view safety as a whole?
Richardson: Safety is paramount and one of the most essential components of business. We perform safety meetings and tailgate talks on a constant basis. Many of our customers have HSE [health, safety, and environmental] requirements that necessitate this further. Safety never takes a holiday!

WWJ: As a second-generation water well contractor, what is your favorite aspect of working in the groundwater industry?
Richardson: Hands down, the relationships and the people. For me, it’s the pride in seeing J&S employees’ children go off to college, knowing that we’ve helped contribute to their future. In the industry, it is the great relationships with certain long-time vendors and trusted peers with associate companies.

I have learned that water well drillers, in general, are the most hardworking people you’ve ever met. They’d give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. I would do the same.

WWJ: You’re also licensed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as a water treatment specialist (III). What is your advice for contractors interested in offering water treatment to their customers?
Richardson: Water treatment is a value-add that addresses direct customer need. Contractors are already there, and it is a surefire way to garner higher overall satisfaction and gain an additional sale with minimal input. Well drillers, in general, have a very insightful knowledge of local conditions and water chemistries in certain formations. This knowledge can be used in water treatment, and often can take a plumber or other contractor out of the picture.

WWJ: What did you learn about our nation’s public wells while serving on the American Water Works Association A-100 Standards Committee?
Richardson: In my career overall, I have seen the A-100 used in a lot of specifications. It is, however, not the end-all of documents. Sometimes, a well driller’s opinion matters most.

WWJ: If a contractor is considering adding well abandonment and decommissioning to their offerings, what’s the best way to scale up and prepare for the work?
Richardson: Well plugging and abandonment regulations vary by state. In Texas, it is a straightforward process. Several years ago, we purchased a grouter, and it has proven itself as a very meaningful asset both in plugging and abandonment operations as well as grouting and sealing new wells.

WWJ: How has water scarcity affected the way you design wells in recent years?
Richardson: We operate within a very large footprint in Texas, and some areas are affected by scarcity more than others. In urban areas where groundwater is produced for potable consumption, seasonality effects are seen in drawdown levels.

Pump designs often incorporate a deeper setting and a seasonal buffer in head condition to account for this drawdown. Often, motor horsepower inputs are oversized as well. It is important for drillers and pump installers to understand these dynamics in their own designs. As an industry, we should consider ourselves as stewards of this most important resource. This duty of care is directly reflected in the choices we make as contractors.

I feel that the MGWC designation is great for J&S as brand awareness grows and we can leverage this designation to enhance the company’s overall professionalism.

WWJ: How has your Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2021 helped you oversee the business? What business principles do you follow?
Richardson: The MBA was a rigorous challenge for me as a full-time water well guy. Weekends and late nights made me grit my teeth over a two-year period. I was very thankful for my wife and all the support I received. I’ll be honest, I was scared to death on the first day of class. Everyone had laptops and I had a pen and a notepad. As time went on, I came to the realization that I had a whole bunch of conceptual understanding because of my work experience.

There were not very many entrepreneurs within the cohort, so I was able to leverage a lot of this in a positive way. It completely upended the way I think about business, operations, and finance. I now use those skills every day. If anyone in the well world is considering an MBA, I would highly recommend it with the caveat that you must be all-in to make it happen.

As for the business principles, it comes down to three things— know your product, build a great staff, and manage your cash.

WWJ: What is your favorite aspect of owning a small business? What are some quick tips for owners to keep in mind or adopt?
Richardson: My favorite aspect is the freedom. Owning a small business grants this right; however, it is fraught with responsibilities lest you can fall on your face. Freedom in business ownership is rooted in balancing risk. One day, “the world is your oyster,” and the next day, “the buck stops here.” Owning a business is akin to carrying a backpack that you can never take off. You can go where you please, but it is always with you.

WWJ: Lastly, as you know, finding and training the next workforce is the No. 1 issue facing the water well drilling industry. How has your company addressed this issue and which training methods have you found to be most effective?
Richardson: You could probably listen in any coffee shop in America and hear this conversation. As a general understanding, it’s a long-term process to change an imbedded workforce culture. If this culture is negative, then the toxic nature of employee relationships can filter into every job. Not to sound overly dark, but these issues must be exorcised from existence.

Incoming greenhands must be nurtured without being coddled. Information and understanding must be transferred to them to instill a sense of being within an organization. This sense of being can display itself in an eagerness to learn more and advance the ranks.

I would hope this part comes with a growing love of the brand. If these things fall into place, then I feel the organization has a chance to grow, get better, and attract more talent. At the very base level, it takes an individual who trusts you and who has an innate drive to make themselves better in society. Of course, all of this is a lot easier said than done!

Earn NGWA’s MGWC Designation
The designation of NGWA’s Master Groundwater Contractor (MGWC) recognizes those who have proven exceptional knowledge and dedication in water well construction and pump installation.

To take the MGWC exam, candidates must be currently certified in good standing in all exam categories except for exams M and N and must have five years of full-time experience in well construction or pump installation in an operational or supervisory capacity. The eligible candidate is expected to possess good customer service and employee relations skills in addition to a solid technical operations background.

Click here to learn more.

Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price contributes to the Association’s scientific publications. He can be reached at mprice@ngwa.org, or at (800) 551-7379, ext. 1541.

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