Faces of the boom: Oil field business founded in garage thriving

WILLISTON, N.D. - One Friday about two years ago, Michael Sweeney had to lay off all of his employees.

Mike Sweeney
Mike Sweeney, owner and president of Summit Energy Services in Williston started the oil field service business out of his garage with five other employees. In about two years it has grown to 150 employees and is expected to keep growing. Amy Dalrymple / Forum Communications Co.

WILLISTON, N.D. - One Friday about two years ago, Michael Sweeney had to lay off all of his employees.

Sweeney managed a Williston branch of an oil and gas construction company, but the business was primarily focused on natural gas and didn't survive.

The following Sunday, Sweeney gathered six of his employees, and they decided to launch Summit Energy Services, an oil field service company.

He and his wife, Stacy, pooled together $40,000 to start the business, along with a Small Business Administration loan.

They initially worked from what Sweeney now likes to call the "palatial corporate office" - his garage, where the corporate couch was the bench of his Bowflex.


Fast-forward two years and Sweeney is expanding his shop on Highway 85 in Williston and considering future additions in Dickinson and Glendive, Mont.

He now employs more than 150 people and expects to keep growing.

"We have not looked back," Sweeney said. "We've gone forward."

Sweeney describes his business as providing oil field services that don't involve anything "down hole."

That includes pipeline construction, well monitoring, water hauling and other services for various customers.

"Our secret is we do a good job today so we get invited back tomorrow," Sweeney said.

Sweeney, who prefers to call himself a coach rather than owner and president, said one his favorite parts of his job is giving people a second chance.

He has a program to help employees get out of debt, which involves matching $200 a month toward payments on a mortgage, school loan or other debt.


"People tend to make better decisions when they're not crippled by debt," Sweeney said.

Summit Energy Services also has a corporate chaplain and a box hanging on the wall of the shop for prayer requests.

"A lot of guys are away from their families, and some guys have a hard time with that," Sweeney said.

Will Reedy, chief operating officer, began working for Summit Energy Services about a year ago. He had worked with Sweeney in Wyoming, where Sweeney lived before moving to Williston 2½ years ago.

Reedy said he thinks Sweeney is successful because he hires people he believes can do the job and then he lets them do it.

"He's a charismatic guy. People trust him," Reedy said. "I think they respect him as a person, and that goes a long way."

At the same time that Sweeney's company was expanding, so was his family.

He and Stacy have triplets, adopted a foster daughter from Wyoming and adopted a son from Ethiopia. Then they learned about another four children from Ethiopia who needed a home and decided to go for it, even though it's an expensive process and they had just put their money into the new business.


"We really felt the Lord was leading us to adopt these kids," said Sweeney, whose nine kids range in age from 6 to 14.

That was the same time that the company started exploding, Sweeney said.

Now he's focused on positioning the business for future growth, but is cautious about becoming so large that he can't maintain the family culture.

"We don't want to lose our identity either," he said.

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Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at or (701) 580-6890.

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