Compilation of Remarks Delivered by Alden "Doc" Laborde
Receiving the API-Delta Chapter Meritorious Service Award- February, 2003
by Alden "Doc" Laborde
Compiled May, 2015
Foreword: In June, 2014, we lost one of the real heroes of our industry, Alden "Doc" Laborde. He was one of our own. I was lucky enough to be in the audience the day he accepted our chapter's Meritorious Service Award in 2003. What followed was the below moving, poignant speech. Recently, I found his notes, a mixture of hand written and typed ideals, and decided to compile them and post for all to enjoy and benefit from. Very little editing has been performed, principally for flow and readability. For background, see the following obituary courtesy of John Pope with the New Orleans Times Picayune. Benjamin J. Waring, Past Chairman, API Delta Chapter.
I am too old to try to be technical and match wits with a bunch of young engineers. I'm so old-fashioned, in fact, that I don't even own a cell phone, a computer, or an SUV and am married to the same woman after 60 years. Now I understand what George Burns meant when he said he knew he was getting old when while down tying his shoes, he looked around for anything else he could do while he was down there.
After consultation with Luis Banos (Jr.), we settled for a talk about business ethics - actually a re-run of a presentation I made to the Chamber of Commerce about 20 years ago. As I reviewed it, I find that nothing in that field has changed since. In fact, nothing has happened during the almost sixty years since I entered the business world to change the conviction I had coming in that integrity is the basic foundation of any successful business.
Needless to say, many other factors enter into the complex formula for business success, among them being soundness of concept, adequate financing, proper timing, ability of its leaders, their willingness to work hard, and a measure of good luck. End runs and short cuts, although tempting, and in spite of sometimes appearing to work, seldom achieve permanent success, nor satisfaction for the practitioners. The survivors long term will be the ones who squarely face problems, deal with them fairly and honestly and, when appropriate, take their lumps and move on to try again.
When I came out of the Navy after World War II and got my first job as a roustabout in the oil filed, I was shocked to learn about the shady business practices which prevailed in the industry. Extravagant entertainment, exorbitant gifts, and worse were almost the rule. Authority for much of the contracting and purchasing was delegated to the field level, which made control more difficult. It was not unusual to have to "cut in" managers or tool pushers to hire a rig or boat or to sell mud or supplies. Top management in remove home offices seemed to turn a blind eye.
When I entered the contract drilling business in 1953 with the formation of ODECO, I determined that we would not take part in these practices and we let it be known around the industry. This may have cost us for a time, but in the long run it worked in our favor. For example, one day a lawyer for a major oil company came in and asked if we had any reason to wonder why we were not getting work from them, even though their audit showed that we were low bidder on several jobs. I told him we just assumed that we were not the low bidder.
Within days, the division manager for that company was fired, and a competitor's rig was shut down and ordered out of the field. We got a call from the new manger to move a new rig in and we took over the well. That rig stayed in that fields for many years thereafter.
Moving on from the oil field, moral principles apply just as surely to government. To dismiss public corruption by saying "That's politics", just won't get it. There is no double standard. The Ten Commandments still supply.
The integrity to which I refer applies across the board in an organization. The obligations apply equally to employees, to customers, to suppliers, to shareholders, to the public, and to oneself. Integrity must start at the top, must be monitored, nurture and enforced, until it permeates the entire organization and becomes a way of life. The chief executive must set the example first by being honest with himself. The rest will follow automatically if he is really committed. When the word gets around that you run a straight-arrow business, the shysters will usually leave you along.
There is really no such thing as "business" ethics to be distinguished from some other kind. Ethics is an absolute word. Whether applied to business, government, personal relations, or whatever, the principles are the same. They are the same ones upon which entire western civilization is based, which grew out of our Judeo-Christian heritage and which have propelled that culture into the forefront of the world we know today. It has given us the highest living standard and, warts and all, the best social system with the greatest degree of personal freedom the world has ever known.
During those sixty years, I have seen many examples of small enterprises, large organizations, or even who nations going into the scrap heap by violating these principles. When governments have adhered to high standards of conduct, their people have prospered and their lives have been happier. When they have been corrupt, the nations or states or cities which they govern have suffered and their citizens have paid a high price. Our system of democracy and freedom relies upon an honest electorate, otherwise, a democracy cannot survive, freedom is lost, dictators take over, usually corrupt ones, who take advantage of their people and relegate their countries to third rate status. History is replete with examples of this and has been very harsh on the violators. All major civilizations in history have been taken down from within because of greed, complacency, and corruption.
We have reason here in our state and time to examine ourselves and to ask whther and to what extent our sleazy political climate has contributed to making Louisiana among the leaders in illiteracy, unemployment, low credit rating, and the top in crime. Does the low standard in our politics reflect a simple lack of integrity among our people who elect our leaders? Should we wonder that investors looking for sites on which to set up operations reject us out of hand?
My own answer to these questions seems obvious, and is not comforting. Where do we start to change? Each of us must answer the tough question - am I honest with myself? One can fool others but it is hard to fool oneself. As a voter, when I close the curtain in the voting booth, and I am all alone, do I vote my honest convictions or, do I vote my self-interest or act for a narrow constituency? Do my principles as to family and friends measure up? Can I always be relied upon to tell the truth, even when it is uncomfortable for me or hurts my business? Do I treat associates, customers, and strangers as I would like to be treated?
Going from self, these tests apply equally to corporations, to the community, and to government. But before we can demand the golden rule from others, we must adopt it for ourselves. Unless this happens, we cannot expect improvement in our business climate and cannot demand it of our politicians or the community as a whole - but once we clean up our own act, we can and will demand it of others. And unless that happens, and soon, we'll have a ring side seat from which to watch our beloved nation, the greatest in history, with all its freedoms and blessings, go down the tube. Democracy, without an honest electorate, has the capacity to destroy itself by its own process.
I cannot help but note the recent highly publicized and frighteningly widespread shenanigans among business accountants, lawyers, bankers, and others which have so damaged our economy and hurt so many employees, investors, vendors, and others, threatening our whole system of business. Had these folks not ignored these principles, they and we would all be so much better off today. And if not corrected and turned around our whole economic structure is threatened. I trust and pray that we are all learning from this dark episode in our history and that we will soon revert to sound practices. Otherwise, the outlook for our country is not good.
Isn't it ironic that after all of these centuries, during which man has had the opportunity to learn to live with others, to observe the lessons of history, to see examples from the beginning of time, it is still necessary to preach this gospel, to point out what is so obvious? It seems that case after case over time would by now have removed all doubts about these truths - that we would all by now know that the straight way is the only way. The road through history is strewn with the wreckage of those who did not heed this doctrine.
And still, against all odds and the universal truths, we try for short cuts. Perhaps it demonstrates an innate weakness in the human make-up. I only hope and pray that we learn in time to "right" the ship.
Alden 'Doc' Laborde, founder of three companies serving the offshore-oil industry, dies at 98
Alden 'Doc' Laborde
By John Pope, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune The
on June 06, 2014 at 7:56 PM
Alden "Doc" Laborde, a Louisiana entrepreneur who founded three publicly traded companies to serve the offshore-oil industry, died Friday (June 6) at his New Orleans home. He was 98.
In a career that extended into his tenth decade, Mr. Laborde organized Ocean Drilling and Exploration Co., better known as ODECO, in 1953 to build the world's first offshore mobile drilling barge. A year later, he organized Tidewater Marine to build offshore service vessels. And in 1985, he was a co-founder of Gulf Island Fabrication Co. to build offshore oil-drilling platforms.
Despite his string of successes, Mr. Laborde was modest about
his achievements, including election to the National Business Hall
There was, he said in a 2003 interview with Louisiana Life magazine, no grand design to his career. At the outset, Mr. Laborde said, "we were doing this all by the seat of our pants."
A native of Vinton who grew up in Marksville, Mr. Laborde graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1938. His son John "Jack" Laborde said his father remained a passionate alumnus, with a vanity license plate that read "BEAT ARMY."
Mr. Laborde served in World War II as the commander of three
combat vessels in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters and retired as
Back in civilian life, Mr. Laborde decided to work in the oil industry, starting as a roustabout on a drilling rig. He proved to be a quick study who could devise methods to solve problems and make work more efficient.
When he worked for Kerr-McGee Corp., he was a drilling engineer who became a mud engineer, the crew member responsible for ensuring that the specially treated mixture performs functions such as lubricating and cooling the drill bit, carrying the drill cuttings to the surface and forming a filter on the bore-hole wall to prevent the invasion of drilling fluids.
While he held this position, Mr. Laborde acquired his nickname, Doc, because mud engineers always were called mud doctors, Jack Laborde said.
When Mr. Laborde started at Kerr-McGee, a platform was built for each new rig. He regarded this process as inefficient and costly, his son said, especially in light of the boom Mr. Laborde foresaw in the wake of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's following through on a campaign promise to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling.
Mr. Laborde believed that a mobile, submersible offshore drilling rig was feasible, but Kerr-McGee officials did not, so he left the company to find investors for his invention and the new company, ODECO, that would manufacture it.
After being turned down by several companies, Mr. Laborde found an investor: Murphy Corp. (later Murphy Oil Corp.). Charles Murphy Jr., the company's leader, loaned him $500,000 and helped him round up other investors.
The first rig was named "Mr. Charlie" in honor of Murphy's
father, Murphy Oil's founder. Shell Oil Co., ODECO's first
customer, used it to drill an exploratory well 30 feet deep near
the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The rig lived up to expectations, and it was kept in service for 20 years before being taken to The Rig Museum in Morgan City. Demand for portable rigs grew, and ODECO became a world leader in producing them.
It has become part of Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc.
Mr. Laborde and his family moved to New Orleans in the 1950s because the drilling-rig company relocated to the Industrial Canal from Morgan City, his daughter Susan Couvillon said.
Offshore oil rigs need supplies. But Mr. Laborde noticed that the retooled Navy ships, shrimp boats and similar vessels used to carry pipes, food and other equipment to the rigs weren't equipped for such work, so he designed a boat to fill this need -- a vessel with the pilot house up front and supplies in the rear.
Gathering 10 friends to underwrite the production of these boats, Mr. Laborde formed Tidewater Marine (now Tidewater Inc.) in 1954. Like ODECO, it was a big success.
Thirty-one years later, when Mr. Laborde was 70, he and a partner, Huey Wilson, founded Gulf Island Fabrication Inc., which became a leader in making drilling and production platforms.
But that wasn't his finale. Thirteen years later, he designed the MinDoc, a stable, floating drilling platform designed to work in deep, turbulent waters. And he was the principal owner of All Aboard Development Corp., an oil and gas exploration and production company.
Throughout Mr. Laborde's career, he wanted to be on the drilling rigs as much as possible. His son remembered this statement from his father at a crowded meeting: "We don't have too few chairs. We have too many people. You need to be on the drilling rigs, where your customers are."
At the core of his life was his strong Catholic faith, said Anne Milling, a longtime friend.
"He lived his religion; it wasn't something he just gave lip service to," she said.
As a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, he delivered food boxes weekly to poor people until he was too weak to do so, and he never trumpeted it, Milling said. "It was just his own thing, his way of reaching out to others who are less fortunate."
He was a close friend of Archbishop Philip Hannan, so much so that he asked to use the casket that Hannan ordered but that his family decided not to use when Hannan died in 2011, said Linda Newton, a former funeral director at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home.
Besides being a friend, Mr. Laborde was a trusted business adviser to Hannan, Milling said. "He didn't make a major decision involving business dealings without Doc Laborde."
Mr. Laborde was also one of the first people Hannan called with the news that Pope John Paul II would be coming to New Orleans in September 1987, Milling said. Mr. Laborde was on the host committee for the visit.
He received honorary doctorates from Loyola and Xavier
universities and Catholic University of America, and he was awarded
the Presidents Medal by St. Mary's Dominican College and the
Integritas Vitae Award by Loyola.
Pope John Paul II named him a knight commander of the Knights of St. Gregory the Great, and Tulane University declared him an honorary alumnus and inducted him into its Engineering Hall of Fame.
Mr. Laborde is also in the Junior Achievement National business Hall of Fame and was made a member of the All American Wildcatters. The Offshore Technology Conference gave him its Distinguished Achievement Award.
He was a former president of the International association of Drilling Contractors and the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.
Survivors include two sons, Dr. J. Monroe Laborde and John "Jack" Laborde, both of New Orleans; three daughters, Susan Couvillon of New Orleans, Stephanie Laborde of Baton Rouge and Jane Laborde Roussel of LaPlace; two brothers, Lucien Laborde of Hamburg and John Laborde of New Orleans; a sister, Marguerite Major LeBlanc of New Roads; 18 grandchildren; and 35 great-grandchildren.
A Mass will be said Friday (June 13) at 1 p.m. in St. Pius X Church, 6666 Spanish Fort Blvd.
There will be visitations on Thursday (June 12) from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., and on Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Pius X. Church.
Burial will be in Metairie Cemetery.
P.O. Box 50110
New Orleans, LA 70150