Reader Profile: Travis Vander Wert

Sept. 29, 2016

Ever since Travis Vander Wert started his first contracting company MAXX HDD in Conroe,
TX, in January 2016 with his business partner Kevin Hutcherson, the horizontal directional
drilling company has been slammed with work in its focus area of the energy sector of the
pipeline business. By summer, there were 90 jobs lined up for two major projects on one of the largest oil pipeline construction projects in the country.

“We partnered with a contractor who gave us a shot and he let us do all of his drills for him,” says Vander Wert, adding that his company also works for a gas operation.

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The driving factor in having a successful start straight out of the gate may be rooted in Vander Wert’s understanding of what it takes for a contractor to do well: he had been a third-generation Vermeer dealer who was only as successful as the contractors to whom he sold equipment. Vander Wert developed an appreciation for viewing a job in what is a very equipment-heavy industry through contractor’s eyes.

“I tried to be a partner with our customers, learn the ins and outs of their business and what would best suit them on the equipment side,” he says.

It comes down to developing relationships, he notes, adding that now he’s a contractor, he seeks out the best equipment possible to help get an advantage in bidding jobs, which can be as far east as Pennsylvania, but currently focuses on Oklahoma and Texas. “All of our assets, rolling stock and equipment is new, so our downtime and job site efficiencies are really good,” notes Vander Wert. Good relationships also are the key to hiring and retaining good employees, he adds.

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What He Does Day to Day
Vander Wert helps Hutcherson provide oversight on the entire organization from the construction process to employee-related concern to getting out in front of potential clients to build the company’s reputation and gain more work.

What Led Him Into This Line of Work
Vander Wert’s grandfather was one of the first people hired by Vermeer and he worked for them throughout his life. A second generation of the family entered the Vermeer dealership business, then Vander Wert himself—who earned a B.A. degree in marketing and communications from the University of Northern Iowa—followed the family tradition passed on to him by his grandfather, who mentored him in the equipment business at a young age.

“As I got older, I gained appreciation for it and what it did for our family,” he says. “We had the luxury of meeting a lot of really good people from all walks of life in the industry. That’s what attracted me more than anything.”

He helped his family manage dealerships in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana before they sold out in 2009. He moved to Texas and took over the responsibility of overseeing one Louisiana dealerships and 13 Texas dealerships. He and Hutcherson—who had been a third-generation pipeline contractor—decided to get into the pipeline construction business together. They employ 20 full-time workers.

What He likes Best About His Work
“It’s all about our people,” says Vander Wert of his favorite part of the job. “What excites me most is providing our people a well-paying job and putting them in an environment that keeps them happy. We have some really good superintendents and operators. Without people like that, we couldn’t do it. What helps us find good people is the relationships Kevin and I have had over the years. You see how people operate as you go from location to location. We’ve had the luxury of being able to meet a bunch of different folks and we tried to pick the best of the best.”

His Biggest Challenge
“The industry is always changing and you have to be able to adapt and change with it,” says Vander Wert. “When we look at some of the struggles we see every day—whether it’s environmental, safety or legal—we want to be able to stay in front of the curve. We want to provide the best job out there, always continue to see what’s coming, stay up with the times, and don’t let it pass us.”