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Feature: Pitbull Energy Services – Sami Hayek Took an Unconventional Path Into The Energy Services Sector

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The Lebanese-born entrepreneur cut his teeth by acquiring a fast-food franchise in North America and the Middle East

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BY JULIE-ANNE CLEYN

Most energy service executives didn’t cut their teeth by acquiring a fast-food franchise in North Africa and the Middle East. And most certainly don’t pride themselves on their ability to stay just a little bit paranoid. But Sami Hayek isn’t most energy service executives.

For starters, he didn’t go to university. In fact, he “barely squeezed through” high school, as he puts it. So how did Hayek end up owning an energy services company that’s tripled in size each year from 2010 to 2014, and that clients have commended for its outstanding service? It all started with buying a truck. After Hayek graduated from high school in 2003, he went to work on an Encana drilling rig. “I wanted to go somewhere where I could make the most money with the least amount of skills,” he says. For two and a half years he saved the money he made, until he learned he could earn $1,600 a day operating a vacuum truck. He had always wanted to start his own business, and his supervisor at Encana agreed that if Hayek bought a truck, he’d put it to work. That’s how, at the age of 20, Hayek ended up purchasing a vacuum truck for about $300,000.

From 2006 to 2010, Hayek operated the truck and the business, Pitbull Energy Services, largely on his own. But it was his investment in noodle restaurant Wok Box, which gave him the franchisor rights across 14 countries, that laid the groundwork for Pitbull’s eventual growth. “That was basically my university course,” says Hayek. “I was travelling all over the place – Qatar, Dubai, the E.U. – and it was a real eye opener.” One of the most important things that it opened his eyes to was that getting involved in a venture where you don’t have control and don’t understand the business is rarely a good idea. That’s why he put himself back into Pitbull, adding trucks to his fleet and turning a one-man operation into a full-fledged company. “I know this business like it’s my baby,” he says. “I can make it tick like a clock.”

When it comes to helping the business cope with the current downturn, Hayek says that his team has been running a lean operation for several years, so there isn’t a lot to adjust. For example, he never bought in to the idea that you could attract and retain people simply by paying them more money. Instead, he has created a corporate culture that makes people want to work for the company, one that includes an annual trip for his staff to Mexico with their families. “What I tell all my guys is that you’re the CEO of every division that you’re in,” he says. “I’m involved in every division, but I don’t hold their hand.”

That loyalty has played a big role in Pitbull’s growth. It recently added Fort St. John to the list of locations that Pitbull services, which range from southern Saskatchewan to northern British Columbia. The company also added hydrovacing to its portfolio, a move that puts it into the pipeline construction business. But it’s less about getting bigger, he says, and more about being better. “We want to be the best at what we do. And then one day, as a byproduct, if you end up being a huge company? That’s great.” For him, that means constantly looking for ways to improve and adapt. “Never get too comfortable,” he says.

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