Billy Mitcham

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Billy Mitcham
Billy F. Mitcham Sr. headshot.png
Latest company Mitcham Associates

Billy F. Mitcham Sr. is being honored with the Cecil Green Enterprise Award for founding Mitcham Associates which grew into Mitcham Industries. Billy Sr.’s early geophysical career involved building cameras, geophones, and tape drives at SIE and Dresser Industries. He then moved into sales for Geospace and Quantum. In the late 1970s, he struck out on his own and started his seismic equipment rental business in one room leased in the back of a friend’s warehouse. He mortgaged his home to raise the US$10 000 to buy the fi rst seismic recorder (a DFS III) for his rental pool. He almost went bankrupt several times, but he persisted through the bad times with the help of his wife and son. Under his son’s direction, Mitcham Industries became the largest independent seismic equipment leasing company in the world. With a marketcap of ~$180 million and annual revenues of $70+ million, Mitcham is truly a global brand.

Biography Citation for the Cecil Green Enterprise Award

Contributed by Billy F. Mitcham Jr.

It is a great privilege and honor to write this citation for my father Billy F. Mitcham for the Cecil Green Enterprise Award. During a career that spanned more than fi ve decades, he established The Mitcham Companies as one of the most widely recognized names in seismic equipment supply.

Born in Gurdon, Arkansas, in 1927, Billy was the son of a carpenter, who moved his family to Texas so he could work in the shipyards. After graduating from high school in Orange, Texas, at the age of 16, Billy joined his father in the shipyards, wiring radar and other instruments on Navy ships. At 17, he received his draft notice, enlisted, and was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers, MED-Manhattan Engineering District at Los Alamos, New Mexico. After discharge in 1947, he enrolled at University of Texas, working on a degree in electrical engineering.

After two children were born, the need for a job and his prior electrical work on the Navy ships led him to SIE, where he began his geophysical career as a wire burner on a production line and attended night school at University of Houston. He quickly worked his way up to General Foreman, Production Manager, and soon to Foreign Sales Manager.

After 20+ years of selling equipment worldwide, Billy’s desire to be closer to home and family led him to start his business of providing equipment that customers needed but could not fi nd. His efforts were sustained by oil companies that operated seismic crews and contractors who were very competitive and uncooperative with each other. Billy’s reputation opened many doors, and he was able to examine the idle or obsolete equipment of most companies. Anything of interest was taken on 30-day payment terms and he would sell to a customer also on 30-day terms. During those 30- day terms Lori (Billy’s wife, offi ce manager, accountant and cofounder) would sweat bullets until the checks came in.

Sales were brisk for the young company, but Billy soon realized that many companies did not want to purchase equipment because they only needed it for short durations. Recognizing this new opportunity, he quickly altered the course of his business and, using the only collateral, mortgaged the family home for US$10 000 to purchase the industry’s fi rst independent rental system, a 24-channel DFS-III. In less than two years, Billy fi nanced his fi rst new system, a 120-channel DFS-V that cost $400 000. By then, Billy had educated fi nancial institutions on the value of seismic equipment and the system served as collateral.

Altering the course of his business had a strategic impact on the industry; no longer were smaller, underfi nanced contractors shut out of bigger jobs due to lack of equipment. This was especially important during the early days of 3D as rental systems allowed contractors to add additional equipment capacity for specifi c jobs and new contractors to emerge in an expanding, competitive market.

Today, we recognize Billy for his entrepreneurial vision and accomplishments. Over the years, many have tried to copy his success but few have succeeded. From modest beginnings—one offi ce in a rented warehouse to seven locations worldwide; a $10 000 rental system to over $100 000 000 in rental inventory; beginning annual revenues of under $5000 to $76 000 000 today—Billy’s integrity, enthusiasm and boundless energy ensured the success of The Mitcham Companies.

I can think of no one more deserving of this award than my father, and I am proud to have been a part of his vision. Today 30 years have passed since Billy’s humble beginnings, and Mitcham Industries is the industry’s primary provider of rental equipment. We are proud of our past and will always remember the entrepreneurship of our founders Billy F. Mitcham and his wife Lori.