Tom Smith has been at the forefront of technological developments for seismic interpretation, enabling geoscientists to work more effectively. He is the founder and former president of Seismic Micro-Technology (SMT)and subsequently, Geophysical Insights, both international providers of software systems for seismic interpretation in the oil and gas industry (incorporated in 1984 and 2008, respectively). SMT was the incubator for Smith to launch the Kingdom seismic interpretation software, now widely used in the industry. In 2007, Smith sold the majority of stock in the company to a group of investors, while retaining a position on the SMT’s Board of Directors. In 2009 he founded Geophysical Insights, a Houston firm engaged in research, development, and application of unsupervised neural networks for advanced seismic interpretation, among other advanced geophysical analysis methods and tools. The flagship product, Paradise, incorporates machine learning and multi-attribute analysis for better, more efficient interpretation.
Smith received the Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Geology at Iowa State University. His MS research was in shallow refraction investigation of the Manson astrobleme. In 1971 Smith joined Chevron Geophysical and worked as a geophysicist in seismic processing and software development until 1980. In 1981 Smith earned a Ph.D in geophysics from the University of Houston under Fred Hilterman. After receiving the degree, he launched a consulting and teaching practice in seismic interpretation, seismic acquisition and seismic processing through OGCI (now PetroSkills). From 2008 until the present, Smith leads a team of geophysicists and computer scientists at Geophysical Insights in developing advanced technologies for fundamental geophysical problems.
He has been a member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) since 1967 and served as chairman for the SEG Foundation Board of Directors from 2010 to 2013. The Geophysical Society of Houston (GSH) awarded him Honorary Membership in 2010 and the SEG awarded Smith the SEG Enterprise Award in 2000. Iowa State University awarded Smith the Citation of Merit for National and International Recognition in 2002 and Distinguished Alumnus Lecturer Award in 1996. He also served on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Board and the ISU Foundation Board of Governors. SMT received a GSH Corporate Star Award in 2005 and Smith continues to be active in several SEG committees. In 2016, the Houston Geological society recognized Tom as an HGS Legend for his contributions to the industry. He is an active member of the Houston Geologic Society, European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, Seismological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union.
Biography Citation for the Cecil Green Enterprise Award
Contributed by Elwin Peacock
Tom Smith’s development of the Kingdom Suite significantly impacted our profession in at least two important ways: First, bringing an interpreter’s perspective to a complex but inexpensive software package enabled exploration independents and consultants to compete using affordable, state-of-the-art technology. Second, contributing more than 700 Kingdom systems to colleges and universities has allowed our next generation of geophysicists to be trained in practical interpretation. Kingdom is a true entrepreneurial success story—more than 1300 commercial systems are currently in use. Tom, born in Boone, Iowa and raised in Lake Okoboji, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology at Iowa State University. He joined Chevron as a geophysicist and continued his studies at the University of Houston at night school. Milton Dobrin, whose classic text was used in Tom’s only course in geophysics at Iowa State, was teaching at Houston. Tom immediately enrolled in Dobrin’s courses. Fred Hilterman encouraged him to pursue his doctorate and Tom was the second applicant for a PhD in geophysics at the university.
After 10 years of full and part-time study, Tom received his doctorate in 1981. Chevron wanted him to do research in La Habra, but he decided to become a consultant, stay in Houston, and supplement his income by teaching geophysics courses for GeoQuest and OGCI. He had always had it in mind to develop a PC-based interpretation tool but PCs were hard to find, no hard drives were available, and DOS was the only operating system. He started Seismic MicroTechnology in 1984 in a small office. When the industry collapsed in 1986, Tom’s office shifted to a bedroom at his home. Tom’s first programs were written in DOS. When Windows became available in 1994, he and his first staff, Larry Wipperman and Christopher Lewis, converted to the more user-friendly Windows and 3dPAK was born. Chevron bought his first DOS system, helping to validate Kingdom. Tom’s midwestern background taught him that service is the most important part of any product. When you call SMT for help, talented and patient people work with you to solve any problem, no matter how complex or simple. At SMT seminars or user-group meetings, you will see Tom writing down suggestions from clients. The next version of the software will probably include many. You get fast turnaround on good ideas.
Tom’s leadership makes SMT, a debt-free company with approximately 40 employees, an outstanding place to work. He gives people the opportunity to grow, believes work should be fun, has a great sense of humor, is always smiling, and loves to laugh. He is intelligent and understanding. He loves to teach and to share knowledge. The unrestricted grants of Kingdom systems to schools, including training and maintenance, are evidence of this commitment.
Tom’s approach to business is unique in this era of wealth from technology. He is the sole owner of SMT and, thus, can run it as he sees fit, answering only to clients and technological change, and not to stockholders, stockbrokers, or government regulators. Tom’s wife of 30 years and business partner, Evonne, an Iowa farm girl, worked as a clothing designer in Denver before going back to Iowa to marry Tom. She has a keen business sense and probably knows more about SMT’s operations than Tom. She has worked as a bookkeeper, secretary, office manager, and in sales since they started the company. Exploration geophysics will always be a great profession if we continue to attract personable, practical, intelligent people like Tom Smith.