A prime example of a new breed of leadership that’s arising in the Basin, Shawn Beard is a Gen X-er who is a mix of Old School and New, leading a limber, lean, responsive, energetic operation into bold new times.
by Jesse Mullins
Even in boom times, it takes something special to take a two-person operation and, in 13 short years, grow it to a 400-person operation that is leader in its niche and already positioning itself to take a bigger run at this burgeoning energy industry that is the Permian Basin. But to hear it from that individual, one Shawn Beard, president of Milford Pipe and Supply, being caught up in a boom is only part of the process, and maybe not even the most important part.
“When my brother, Scott Brown, joined me here in 2004 [Beard acquired Milford Pipe and Supply in 2001], we really began this endeavor, but our best time and the time that really changed the dynamics of our company was the bust of 2007-08,” Beard said. “The economic meltdown. The whole subprime mortgage lending thing. Oil and gas took a tumble. But that was the best thing that could have happened to us, because at that time our competitors—Ondalay Pipe, Production Specialties, those guys—they were at the top of the heap and we were at the bottom. We made a decision when everybody else was laying off and 50 percent of their workforce and sales were going down and everybody was going in the fetal position—we made a decision to do the exact opposite and spend money and do marketing and hire outside sales people, because we knew that once the market adjusted, if we could hold on, we would be right there in line with our competitors that were [otherwise] so far ahead of us that we’d never be able to reach them normally. That’s exactly what happened. Now you see that Production Specialties and Ondalay are no more.”
He added: “That’s exactly what we did and we didn’t have the money to do it. That was a gamble if there ever was one. We didn’t have a pot to piss in. But we knew that, financially, and by sheer timing, there was no way we were going to catch up with those guys and be able to defeat them. But [we decided that] if we did the exact opposite [of what they were doing], and that’s what we were doing in that year and the year after, then we’d succeed. And so where everybody else went down 40 to 50 percent, we went up 15 percent. We gained market share and then fought, fought, fought, day and night, until the market started rising. Then we were right there with them and it was up to us to take over.”
Now Milford is the leader of that sector, at least in this region. The leader, as Beard describes it, in polyethylene and pipeline construction.
“Everybody else has retired, quit, sold out, shut down.”
Well, everybody else who might presume to lay claim to that leadership position.
“All I knew was we were at the bottom of the totem pole and we were going to have to do something drastic,” Beard said. “Really, it was, ‘We’re not going to stay small like this. We’re going to put our neck on the line and see if this works. If it doesn’t, we’re going to go do something else because, hell, we could make a lot more money working for somebody else, to be honest with you. At that point in time. There was no money to be had. It was thin so we knew either we’re going to blow this thing up into a good sized company or we’re going to walk away from it.”
Soon to be christened Milford, the Stronger Choice, this company stands poised for its next challenge, a repositioning as an EPC firm: Engineering, Procurement, Construction. Or, as Beard has been saying for some time, Milford “does just about everything but drill.”
Jerrod Stallings, vice president of Commercial Lending at Midland-based Security Bank, knows Beard well and describes him as focused and highly motivated.
“He’s a young guy, determined to be successful, and he’s got a strong team that he’s built around him. It’s been impressive to watch him grow, getting to know him. I feel real good about his management style and what he’s been able to do for that company.”
Stallings said Milford is his [banking] customer, his biggest commercial account, and that it’s been exciting to watch the growth of the Milford brand. “He’s really taken that company by storm, and the amount of growth that they’ve been able to achieve over the last three years has been pretty incredible. He [Beard] has some other deals on the side that we’ve helped finance and they’ve all been successful. It’s neat to see someone at his age manage all this stuff as successfully as he has. Like I said, he’s got a strong team around him, but he is definitely the face of the company.”
Sean Patty, who works at Milford as division manager, described Beard as a very introspective individual who is very passionate about Milford.
“He leads rather quietly but when he speaks he garners your attention and you can sense that he believes what he is saying. Shawn is not complacent, but he does know how to throttle growth so it doesn’t consume him or those around him. Shawn has a strong sense of integrity and is willing to back it up. He admires ‘out of the box’ thinking and respects the Richard Bransons [Virgin Airlines CEO] of the world who are willing to do things differently.
“Shawn is funny and serious all at the same time. He is fantastic at crafting a vision and getting others to buy in. He cares about people.”
It’s a family affair at Milford, and besides the brother Scott Brown, there is Scott’s son, Chase, who is the company’s operations manager. Like seemingly everyone who has something to say about Shawn Beard, Chase begins with a familiar phrase: “He’s a very interesting person.”
“Interesting, yes, and I think with him it’s really not about the money. It is all about his personal gains as much as it is about the experience and really the idea of growing the company and everyone being successful. He really refuses to be average. He is not a person that will, if he doesn’t agree with something, just shake his head and smile and go about his way. He is going to tell you. He is never complacent—I guess that is a good way to put it.”
And up comes another description that seems to crop up:
“He really cares about people.”
Away from work, Beard is “an adrenaline junkie,” according to Chase. “He enjoys fast cars, fast boats—anything that will move fast and get his heart racing, that’s what he likes. Which is similar to his business taste. I don’t think he’s ever owned a stock vehicle in his life. It is stock maybe when he drives it off the lot, but that’s it.”
Anything that will move fast. Maybe it’s because it’s just in his genes. Maybe. Or maybe it’s because he contracted cancer while still in high school and fought the disease through two grueling years. Fought his way back to life. Maybe now, it’s like having a second life—one that one prizes even more than the first, because it’s somehow miraculous.
The whole clan is cut from that cloth. Like a musical group that turns inward and finds its chemistry and invents its own sound, the Beard/Brown bunch is a go-getter group that has meshed—not just through personal crises like Shawn’s, but through that economic downturn and that “fought, fought, fought” epoch. They’re survivors. And doers.
Beard’s brother—Chase’s dad—Scott Brown is 50 percent owner of Milford and a prime mover in the company’s success as well. It’s just that they fill different roles and exercise different styles. Each will readily confess that the growth couldn’t have been accomplished without the other’s key contributions.
Chase sees that in them, and describes it thus:
“The balance that they bring to each other, that’s what has really made us successful,” Brown said. “Where Shawn is more of a visionary and someone who thinks outside of the box, Scott comes in and he’s more of type who wants to be on the ground with the guys and really making sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed and that everything and everybody has one common goal here.”
“That is one of the reasons that Milford has had so much success—it’s that Shawn is really great at thinking of these ideas and Scott really does a great job of making sure that those ideas are followed through on. Together it’s been a great recipe.”
Great enough, apparently, that it has established locations across the Basin and beyond: Midland, Texas, Hobbs, N.M.; Garden City, Texas; Elk City, Okla;, and Gillette, Wyo., plus satellite locations near Oklahoma City and in South Texas.
It’s been a long ride for a guy (Beard) whose growing up years were spent in a family that lived the oil-town-to-oil-town life. His early years were spent in Elk City, Okla., but because his father was a lifelong worker in the oilfield, life soon became a migration through that Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico triangle that so many in the business know so well.
“I was very familiar with all of it,” Beard says convincingly.
Eventually his mother and father divorced. In his teenage years he came to live in Midland. His mother remarried—to Gene Milford, of Hobbs, N.M. By this time Shawn was working in the oilfield himself. Connie wasn’t very far along in the marriage when Gene contracted leukemia. He passed away soon thereafter.
“At the time I was working for Baker-Hughes,” Beard said. He received a call and learned that Gene was terminal. “They said, ‘Hey, Gene has a small pipe and supply store that we’re going to shut down unless you think you might want to take a chance and try to do something with it.’”
And the rest is all Milford.
Shawn, meanwhile, is happily married to Heather, and they have a three-year-old boy, Mason.
Asked why he’d gone straight into the workforce, skipping college, Beard is candid.
“When I was diagnosed with terminally ill cancer when I was a teenager, it was very hard for me to catch up in school once that happened,” he said. “It just became such a burden on me and frustration to me that, by the time I was 17, I just said that if said I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel I’m going to get my GED and I’m going into the oil field.”
Which he did. And it worked out okay.
“It paid off, but I sure wouldn’t suggest that for anybody,” he added with a laugh.
Besides the fast cars, he likes hunting. “Game—large game, medium-to-large size game. Locally and around the country. I haven’t gone on any exotic-type deals. I just like it really from the camaraderie stand point.”
But his greatest passion remains the business. “One thing we’re doing right now is a name change. Our company is Milford Pipe and Supply. That doesn’t do us justice. When people hear about us doing all these other things, they say, ‘I thought they were just pipe and supply!’ So, what we’re actually doing is, we’re rolling out our new face of the company. Which is going to be ‘Milford, the Stronger Choice.’ We’re going to let everybody know that this is who we are and what we do now. We’re not just a pipe and supply company.”