Jim Arthaud

Jim Arthaud

Company: MBI Energy Services

Year Founded: 1979

Headquarters: Belfield, North Dakota

Annual Revenue: $600 million

Employees: 1,700

What It Does: Provides services, from transportation and fluid management to well completion, for the oil and gas industry.

The gas and oil industry was booming in 1979 when Jim Arthaud started MBI Energy Services, aiming to support exploration companies in western North Dakota with services such as transportation and site maintenance. Through numerous boom-and-bust cycles, Arthaud has persevered, steadily steering MBI—and growing it through diversification and acquisition—to today’s robust good times.

There were years when he and his co-owner and brother, Jody, scrambled for business and often went without a paycheck. But with conservative financial and operational management, an ironclad focus on safety, and a strong reputation as a dependable provider, MBI, with Arthaud as CEO, rose to the challenges.

“You call that survival,” says Arthaud of the difficult periods. “It wasn’t all good, but we grew every year we’ve been in business. It’s a combination of when times get tough the competition goes away, or it was time for us to buy the competition.”

After the industry developed new extraction techniques to reach oil from the notoriously difficult Bakken formation, MBI prepped to grow with the boom. Already offering specialty trucking services like delivering water or equipment to drilling sites, MBI expanded its expertise to include building saltwater disposal wells and transporting crude oil in the Williston area. Arthaud also led MBI through two key acquisitions, which added well services and a division that explores, develops, and produces oil.

MBI is now the largest company of its kind in North Dakota, offering transportation as well as inventory control services, fluid storage, and well construction. This collection of capabilities allows MBI to serve the national and international companies arriving on the scene to capitalize on the Bakken.

The bust cycles were tough, but the boom of the past five years has been challenging, too. MBI has grown from 200 to 1,700 employees in that time, making it one of the largest private employers in the state. The company grapples with 40 percent turnover and it competes for workers from across the country with many similar businesses. MBI’s strong emphasis on safety, rigorous 45-day training, and above-average wages and benefits help the company’s recruitment efforts, Arthaud says.

Another challenge was letting go of sole family ownership and seeking outside investors who could help MBI make the most of the boom. In 2010, the Arthauds brought on three Minneapolis-based investment groups to provide capital and financial expertise.

“We were laypeople who grew up in the industry, and we decided to bring in a group of professionals to help us,” Arthaud says. “I thought it would separate us from the competition and give us an opportunity to move forward. Coming from the entrepreneurial side, it’s been a win-win to learn from the corporate side.”

Since 2010, MBI has acquired eight companies and invested in new trucks, new equipment, and saltwater wells. It has also expanded to other sites in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.