The Schlumberger Adventure by Anne Gruner Schlumberger

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Key Takeaways
  1. Schlumberger made its mark by surveying land for potential oil sites. The black box, or potentiometer, was their breakthrough. It made geophysical measurements based on electrical properties. The grains that made up the rocks might act as insulators, but the electrical conductivity of the rocks was in proportion to the grater or lesser degree of salinity in the water that impregnated them. Therefore, the map of potentials could show significant contrasts even when sub-surface contained no conductive deposits. As the resistivity of porous rocks impregnated with oil or gas was greater than the resistivity of those rocks filled with water, the bore could distinguish between different kinds of strata - this was the birth of "electrical coring"
  2. Schlumberger motto: "Wherever the drill goes, Schlumberger goes" and "First in the field, first in research."
  3. If the convergence of the scientific and commercial viewpoints is too difficult, it is better to opt for the viewpoint of science. What is essential is that you keep your strength and your serene confidence in the results already acquired and which you must not let go. Science is a great force for peace, for the individual as well as for humanity.
  4. Conrad's job as a professor was perfect as it gave him plenty of long vacations to read, think and experiment
  5. Father's involvement: "I agree to disburse my sons Conrad and Marcel the funds necessary for research study in view of determining the nature of the subsurface, in amounts not exceeding five hundred thousand francs. On their part, my sons will agree not to disperse their efforts, and to abstain from research or inventions in other fields  The field of activity is vast enough to satisfy their inventive genius by its investigation: they must devote themselves to it entirely. The scientific interest in research must take precedence over financial interest. I will be kept informed and will be able to express my opinion as to important directions and expenditures to be made or not to be made. The sums disbursed by me are a contribution on my part to primarily scientific and secondary practical work which I consider to be of the highest value and in which I take an interest. Marcel will bring to Conrad his remarkable competence as an engineer and his common sense. Conrad, for his part, will be the wise physicist. I will support them."
  6. Like Carnegie, the Schlumbergers hired specialists early on that their competitor's thought were worthless/superfluous. "There were too many parasitic currents, too many disturbing elements; the task was to understand them and to eliminate their interference. In this situation, an increase of personnel would have been superfluous, and as for employing a full-time geologist, that would have seemed like an uncalled for expense.
  7. Prospecting the salt domes in Alsace was the Schlumberger brothers first success
  8. Between the two brothers a process of osmosis produced a continuous communication
  9. Marcel had amazing focus and passion - "When he finally saw the machine - his machine - finished, there was a kind of joy in the way he took possession of it, examining it with almost amorous care. More than once I saw him, surrounded by his crew, crouching beside some new apparatus for half an hour, even an hour; and when he straightened up to his full height, his young assistants (who, out of deference, had crouched along with him) unfolded their limbs as if stricken with rheumatism
  10. Gained respect through publications in specialize journals, by omission they lied a little. Early on, "our modesty would kill us," Marcel said. Process, quality, reliability were of utmost importance early on, never growing too fast
  11. In a factory or office, team spirit dwindles as the work is fragmented and the task of each worker becomes more limited; the pleasure of contributing to a common task is seldom found there. But our equipment was so uniquely conceived and built that, on entering this ill-defined market, it did not lose its individuality. The tie between the equipment and the man who made it was never cut. Because everyone contributed on a footing of equality, and because the discussion of ideas, methods, and techniques was given free rein without the constraints of a hierarchy to stifle spontaneity, a rare cohesion welded "thinkers" and craftsmen, "administrators" and prospectors, into a solid unity. The prospectors, coming back from Alsace or the ends of the earth, could go straight in to the "bosses," tell them about their work and experiences, voice their criticisms, make their personal problems known. They communicated to the engineers, technicians, and secretaries a feeling of the wide-open spaces - of adventure. What added to that cohesion, I think, was the low ratio of workmen to engineers - four or five to one - whereas in industry it was from fifty to two hundred to one. And if, as was true, my father and my uncle quite naturally practiced an "enlightened" paternalism, it was just true that the company was a shop unlike others. It was different, in fact, even in the day to day work. Everything went along as if fun and laughter were part of even the least likely tasks.
  12. Marcel and Conrad filled their time by "observing tiny details" others would typically miss or ignore
  13. Every creative effort is in itself a small revolution
  14. Russia was an early supporter but it was dangerous, primitive. The present? They rejected it. The future? They no longer believed in it
  15. Nobody saw the revolution that electrical "logging" would have on the oil-producing industry
  16. Nothing succeeds like success. One success brings on another
  17. Schlumberger changed its contract from fixed annual payments to one of unit of operation. Because of the nature of the process, speed was of the essence. In the US, the client alerted Schlumberger center, read off his coordinates - well, depth, type of operation - and within half an hour the crew was on its way. As soon as the site was reached the truck was backed up to the well, the various pieces of equipment put in place, the sonde attached to the end of the cable, and the operation was begun. Velocity was of the essence which is why the labs were mobile and near the drilling operations
  18. The men were commonly working at the absolute limit of their strengths. A recruitment policy, adequate material resources, and a large degree of autonomy were urgently needed.
  19. Success - the much talked of opportunity - is nothing but work and more work
  20. Marcel - "Finance is not our business and I don't believe in it"
  21. The success of Schlumberger is due largely to the belief - originated by the founders - that reservation and engineering are the lifeblood of any great business
What I got out of it
  1. Fun to learn more about Schlumberger - research/science/engineering always more important than the financials focus on velocity, serve a niche and serve it damn well - who knows how large the market can become, be a hands on manager who is involved in the day to day