A Lifelong Love
“I’ve followed my gut a lot more than they probably tell you to do in business school…”
Slobbered chew toys cover the tiled office lobby of a pioneer, just a couple of paw scampers away from an oasis of kibble left for those on four legs resting beneath a candy dish of Snickers and Kit Kats left for those on two.
The accountant sometimes wears a velour tracksuit. The right-hand woman to the owner sometimes wears jeans.
The boss blurs the divide between business and personal by saying “I love you” a lot and subscribes to a diet of seven hugs a day – all of it a testament to the fact that success in the oil field need not always be stuffy, corporate and cold.
Sometimes, you don’t need a faceless board of directors making decisions from on high. Sometimes, the big man in the big chair calling the shots doesn’t have to issue cutthroat quotas, his mood beholden to the numbers contained in quarterly reports.
Sometimes, that big man doesn’t even need to be a man.
As the CEO of Boysenblue, a supplier specializing in fluid additives used in the drilling process, Bonnie Maillet, 66, deflects praise when credited with blazing a path for women in the rough-and-tumble oil field boys’ club back in the 1970s. If she helped make history, she insists it was completely unintentional, a point she punctuates with a roll of the eyes. This is all she ever knew – the oil field – a six-decade love story that unfolds in framed chapters hung upon her office walls.
It begins in the corner, the second picture from the right. In it, 3-year-old Bonnie, done up in pigtails and overalls, plays on a pipe rack while her father, a roughneck for Penrod Drilling named Arlie Daniel, naps nearby.
The lifestyle was nomadic. Maillet guesstimates she called 40 to 50 places “home” as a child, her only friends the children of other rig workers subjected to the same instability.
It wasn’t uncommon to see her alongside Arlie while he performed his daily tasks – yes, even the ones considered dangerous. When Daddy was busy, other rig workers gladly entertained young Bonnie, who basically was one of the boys. Heck, she was taught how to play checkers at age 4 by oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, moving the black and red pieces across the board to the soundtrack of the oil rig – a symphony of industry.
“It was loud,” Maillet says. “It was peaceful. It had this hum to it, and it was perpetual movement, 24/7. Always moving. That’s why I fell in love with it. Plus, my daddy was there.
“And after some time, oh, I was like a rig dog,” Maillet continues. “On every drilling rig, the company man or the tool pusher always has a pet, and they call them rig dogs. It’s just a dog who wanders to the rig, and they give him food scraps. Some are cute. Some aren’t. But I was like a rig puppy. I just stayed busy and got scraps. I played on the pipe rack and walked around the mud pit.”
The latest (not the last, Maillet specifies) chapter hangs in a small wooden frame above her desk, close to the bookshelf. Carved in the frame is the word “believe.” Beneath the glass is an article from a Saudi Arabian newspaper on Jaber Al-Fahhad – an owner of 10 companies, many of them related to the oil business.
In September 2009, Boysenblue successfully partnered with Al-Fahhad’s trading company, UITC, and landed a five-year contract supplying liquid gilsonite to Saudi Aramco, the largest oil producer in the world, by far.
Boysenblue was already a company with annual revenue in the millions, and the arrangement with Aramco substantially inflated its yearly intake. Many of her friends in the business marvel how a three-employee company nudged its foot in the door of such an international colossus as Aramco, which has a work force in the thousands.
But for Maillet, speaking of the money made and to be made from this UITC partnership cheapens the experience, a well-earned validation of her career that was only obtained after a roller coaster three-year negotiation.
“I’ve followed my gut a lot more than they probably tell you to do in business school, and this deal was just that – following instincts,” Maillet says. “This was spiritual. This was about trusting people, and this was about never giving up. It was about believing. There were probably a lot of people who would have looked at this and said it can’t be done. We looked at it and said, ‘Yes, it can.’”
Maillet broke into the oil field business in the mid-1970s when the owner of Superior Chemical in Lafayette hired her and one other female, Anita Dodd, as saleswomen. At the time, the concept was unheard of in South Louisiana, and, though she’s not certain, Maillet suspects the move had little to do with gender equity but was done for the niche or novelty factor. Whatever the reason, both women cherished the opportunity and cultivated promising careers. From there, Maillet went on to run Black Gold Rental and Supply (where she hired an all-female sales force) before opening Boysenblue in 1980.
Her success garnered local media attention, some of it predating political correctness. A 1975 story about Maillet that ran in the Advertiser was titled, “From Oil Field to Office; Not Bad For A Woman.”
Maillet’s initial climb up the corporate ladder coincided with the rise of the women’s liberation movement, a cause she didn’t object to but chose not to trumpet personally. In a 1979 speech she gave to the Jaycee Jaynes of Lafayette, she explained that, to her, there was a difference between equal opportunity and women’s liberation, saying: “I work with men. I earn a man’s salary. I sell to men. I supervise men. The only female I come in contact with daily is my secretary, but I am not liberated.”