by Marty Cook
Posted 7/14/2014 12:00 am
Updated 5 months ago
Alan Pruitt still hangs around Pruitt Tool & Supply Co., walking through the hallways and shops of the business he helped build.
His thoughts drift back, like they always do, to his father, Buddy, who founded the company in 1958 in Fort Smith. Buddy, who died in 1982, didn’t live to see Pruitt Tool blossom as it has in recent years, to his son’s regret.
“I’d give anything if my dad was here to see it because he would be tickled to death,” Pruitt said. “My dad was not thinking about us being a big company. All he was worried about was making a living for his family. Whether it was big, little or in between, as long as he could make a living he was pretty comfortable.
“Every time I walk around there I think, ‘God, I wish he could see this.’”
From modest beginnings, Pruitt Tool now has nine offices across the United States and has business interests overseas in countries such as Russia and Turkey. The company rents its patented equipment, the Pruitt rotating control device, to oil rigs drilling for oil and gas.
Alan Pruitt, who retired as CEO in 2012, joined his father’s business in 1976 after resisting it for several years. When Buddy’s health began to fail, he told his son that he was going to have to either sell the family business or turn it over to Alan.
Alan came home. Back then, being CEO of a tool supply company in the oil and gas business was not an easy gig.
“It’s really the best thing that ever happened to me,” Pruitt said. “I went through some good times; I went through some bad times. I was on call 24 hours, seven days a week for years. I knew where every phone booth was between Russellville and McAlester, Oklahoma.”
If Alan Pruitt was an initially reluctant oilman, his son, Grant, was almost anything but. Grant, who replaced his father as CEO in 2012, used to tag along with Alan to the shop and fondly recalls how his dad always smelled of oil and dirt.
When Grant Pruitt graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 2002, he joined the family business.
“Whenever Grant first came on board, he was dirty every day just like I was,” Alan Pruitt said. “I think he started at $7.50 an hour. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. You have to be able to do everything and he can.”
Under Grant Pruitt’s leadership, Pruitt Tool has pressed forward with its global initiative, attempting to get in on drilling fields in Southeast Asia, Europe and South America. Grant Pruitt said Pruitt Tool is already providing equipment and service at every shale gas field in the United States.
When Grant Pruitt joined the family business, it had 15 employees. Today it employs 105 and has grown sales more than 2,000 percent in the past decade, Grant Pruitt said.
“It’s a huge, huge responsibility,” he said. “The great thing about it is it is a family legacy. We have really, really good people who make it happen. They make me look really good.”
Grant Pruitt is not the only third-generation Pruitt at the company. His older brother Clay is the director of marketing.
Grant Pruitt briefly considered a career in real estate before he joined the tool company, and his father said he wishes his son had done other things before diving into the family business. Grant Pruitt said he hasn’t had a day’s regret about his decision.
“I am content; I have a great job,” Pruitt said. “If we didn’t have our little family business, I don’t know what I would be doing.”
Alan Pruitt said his CEO son has the perfect set of skills for growing Pruitt Tool. Alan said a person has to be able to make deals in a boardroom while also handling problems that may arise in the oil field.
“The people in an oil field are a different breed,” Alan Pruitt said. “You have to be able to talk to them; you’ve got to be able to spit and cuss. Grant is good at it. That’s Grant’s biggest attribute, that he can get along with people.”
Grant Pruitt laughed. “I can cuss and spit with the best of them. I would much rather be out on an oil rig than I would be in a big Houston office calling on the big people in the office.”
Sticking to the Fundamentals
Alan Pruitt repeatedly pointed out that the success of Pruitt Tool is because of the foundation and fundamentals instilled by his father. Buddy’s hard and fast rule was to avoid debt like the plague, and that carried over through the generations so that under the leadership of his son and grandson the tool company still deals almost entirely in cash.
Alan Pruitt instilled another important value in his sons, one Grant fondly remembers.
“I saw from a very young age that he worked very hard,” Pruitt said. “He never put work in front of his family. He could have very easily grown the business more, but he made the decision to focus more on his family. He would come home and play the dad role.”
Alan Pruitt remembers similar things about his father, whose first love was music. Grant, who was 4 when Buddy died, remembers his grandfather playing guitar and fiddle for his grandkids.
When the company moved from Zero Street to its present location on Aire Circle, a worker found a suitcase full of audio recordings of Buddy Pruitt playing guitar and singing old-style country songs.
It’s another family legacy, as it turns out. Grant’s younger brother Luke is a country songwriter and musician in Nashville, Tennessee.
Grant Pruitt said he and Clay sang when they were younger but obviously Luke was the true musical talent of the third generation. He is happy to stick with what he is good at.
“I love talking about the family business,” Pruitt said. “I have always had a passion for it, and it’s what I love to do. It has been fun watching it grow and mature into a little bit bigger family business.”
Read more articles from this week's focus on small and family-owned businesses: