Gentle Giant of the Northwest: Lew Ward (1930-2016)
Son of an oil field driller, pusher, and drilling superintendent, this greathearted Oklahoma wildcatter perceived that his adopted hometown of Enid possessed modest-sized tracts within the Sooner Trend geologic formation of Mississippian Lime overlooked by larger exploration companies. Masterfully utilizing emerging technology as he would his entire career, the young petroleum engineer founded Ward Petroleum and drilled his first of many successful wells in and around the community in 1963.
When Oklahoma’s historic oil boom made drilling rigs and other exploration equipment impossible to secure, Ward bought his own rigs and launched Ward Drilling in 1981. It proved the worst possible timing, as Penn Square Bank soon busted, the oil boom, then real estate tanked, and companies the size of Ward’s and much larger folded.
Bill Ward, Lew’s son and successor as company chairman, described his father’s unusual response to this nightmarish predicament:
“Our bank note for the drilling rigs was millions of dollars, no-recourse, our rigs were the collateral. Dad could have handed them back to the bank and been free as most people did. That was not an easy decision. He chose not to do so.”
Instead, Lew crafted an ingenious, “turnkey” strategy to stay in the game, and do so honorably.
His company managed every facet of the oil and gas exploration process, shouldered more overhead costs than most operators, and reduced the usual risk for investors. Bill remembered the results:
“In 1987 we paid all those rigs off on time. Not many people would have been willing to do that. That was a huge cost to Ward Petroleum and Lew Ward. It was very painful, but Dad had a great moral compass. He had an inherent way of determining the right thing to do. Doing the right thing from a moral perspective was always more important than making money. It built trust, respect, and a good reputation.”