J. Peter Laborde, Jr., Founder & Co-Managing Member, Laborde Marine
Born into offshore royalty, Laborde spent 15 years at the mother ship before founding his own company. “I never doubted I would make it,” he says.
(Article originally published in Sept/Oct 2022 edition.)
Let’s start with a little history. The Laborde name is synonymous with the offshore industry, which was practically invented by your father – a titan in the industry – and your uncle when they founded Tidewater 60+ years ago. What was it like growing up in such an environment?
Growing up, I didn’t really understand the impact my dad, John P. Laborde, and uncle, Alden “Doc” Laborde, had on the offshore industry. It wasn’t until I was 18, the summer between high school and college when I went to work offshore, that I began to understand my dad’s contribution to the industry, which I learned from my fellow crew members. They proudly pointed out to me the progress being made in the industry and gave my dad and Uncle Alden all the credit.
I think the most important thing that I learned from my dad during my early years was how to meet and get to know people. Whenever I went somewhere with him, whether around town or traveling, he always recognized someone or someone recognized him, and he truly enjoyed visiting with people. He had an incredible ability to recall someone’s name immediately even if he had only met them once.
My dad believed in hard work and did deals on handshakes. The trust he created over the years was because he was always a man of his word, and that trait made a big impression on me as I started out in business. I was quick to learn the benefits of building trust between myself and my employees and customers. I had witnessed these qualities in my dad.
He was my hero, best friend and mentor. He had an aura about him that was calming and confidence-building for me. He was very analytical and enjoyed being a problem solver, but his most endearing quality was his integrity. He not only lived it, he demanded it of others – especially his family.
You referred to my dad as a “titan,” and when you hear the stories about him founding Tidewater and solving problems in an industry with no prior business model to follow, you begin to understand why this term fits both him and my uncle.
Were you destined to join the family business from the start?
I’m not sure I was destined to go into the offshore services business. Even though my father founded Tidewater, it’s always been a publicly held company, and I guess for that reason it never seemed like the family business.
But I’ve always loved being at the wheel of a boat! In my teenage years my brother Cliffe got me interested in recreational boating, and then I spent the summer after high school working offshore. One summer I got the opportunity to work at Tidewater’s London office. I went on sales calls where the harsh environment of the North Sea was discussed. I was exposed to all the newest technology such as telex machines, and this is when I think the foundation for my future in the oil and gas industry began to grow.
Okay, tell us about your time at Tidewater.
I worked at Tidewater for 15 years prior to leaving in 1995 to start Laborde Marine. I moved seven times in those 15 years, so I had all my furniture on wheels so it could move very quickly. Those were wonderful years and an amazing experience for a guy like me just starting out.
Having access to the CEO, President and Chairman of the Board at that age was both a curse and a blessing. It annoyed some senior officials who didn’t care who I was or related to and enjoyed reprimanding me because of my company connections. I was constantly walking a tightrope to prove my worth by working twice as hard to avoid the favoritism stigma.
When my father retired in 1994, I decided to look at the possibility of going out on my own. Thanks to the confidence he instilled in me, I never doubted I would make it.
Did your father help you out?
He was very wise in this regard. My father always had a very loyal and strong commitment to Tidewater and its continued success. He did not help me start my company, nor did he offer any assistance in opening customer doors or any financial support. Not having his financial or moral support allowed me to do it all on my own.
In hindsight, it was the best thing he could have done for me. The early success of Laborde Marine was due mainly to my own efforts. That was a sweet moment and gave me the confidence to keep going and growing.
How is the company managed and structured? We note that your title is “Managing Member,” not CEO or President.
Because we are not a large C corporation, my brother Cliffe and I originally took on the roles of Co-Managers and have remained as such. Cliffe and I are at work every day and take an active role in almost every aspect of the company.
How big is the fleet? What is the mix of vessels and what markets do they serve?
In the offshore market, we have 20 operational supply and crew boats and five stacked vessels. Twenty-five percent of our fleet is stacked, but these are smaller vessels and almost all are for sale. For those not for sale, we actively pursue new uses because we don’t believe in keeping stacked vessels. If a boat has been stacked for more than two years, there’s a very low probability of its coming back into the market. That’s what 45 years in the business teaches you.
The shortage of mariners worldwide – not just in the Gulf – is becoming a major challenge. How do you attract new employees in the current environment?
Our reputation within the offshore fleets as a reliable and stable employer helps us tremendously, plus we spend a significant amount of money each year training our crews with the latest technology. Our crews know they will earn a very good wage plus benefits, be offered the ability to grow in their positions with their licenses and experience, and always be able to see and visit with top management – including me – on a regular basis.
To attract the younger generation, our ferry operation was one of the first companies to offer internships to high school students at the New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy this past summer. The program was such a success that many of the interns have continued to work part-time since school started. We plan to continue and grow this program. In addition, our offshore entity regularly hires cadets from schools such as the Maine Maritime Academy and Texas A&M. We probably have eight to ten cadets join our offshore fleet each year.
What differentiates Laborde Marine from the competition?
We are a small, privately owned company with a strong commitment to safety, equity and quality service. It’s highly unusual for a company our size to have Master Service Agreements with almost all operators in the Gulf of Mexico. We work equally well with both the majors and the independent operators.
Laborde Marine is renowned for its safety program, which is one of the strongest in the industry. Tell us about that and how it developed.
While at Tidewater, my brother Cliffe was the original author of the first worldwide marine safety manual, and I was Vice President of Operations for Tidewater – Gulf of Mexico. It was my job to implement the manual into vessel ops, thus changing much of the culture of our industry. The unique size of Laborde Marine has allowed us to take what we learned at Tidewater and implement a safety management program that touches each employee and allows valuable interaction to ensure policies and procedures are effective and sustainable.
Oil and gas prices are finally on the rise worldwide, and many analysts predict the GOM will also see increased production in the period ahead. Do you share their enthusiasm?
I’m not going against the grain on climate change, but I believe the future of the oil and gas industry looks relatively steady for many years to come. I certainly welcome innovation to help tackle climate issues, but I don’t think that means an imminent end to oil and gas. The transition period will be longer than many hope for, thus requiring more investment in the oil and gas industry. I believe a strong demand for conventional fluids will continue for the foreseeable future and beyond.
What’s your biggest challenge right now?
I think our biggest challenge is trying to expand when day rates for deepwater assets remain unpredictable. There’s a lot of idle equipment hot-stacked that can come back into a market that’s not growing at this time. Some of our competitors continue to bring out nonessential equipment, which has a negative psychological effect on pricing in the market.
What’s your vision for the company? Are there expansion plans ahead? Where would you like to see Laborde Marine in, say, five years?
I see Laborde Marine remaining in a steady growth pattern. Our vision is to continue to look for marine assets at reasonable pricing structures that can be used in the oil and gas service market or repositioned into an alternative marine market. We see growth in many markets such as dredging, construction, subsea, the ferry industry and the interstate cargo transportation industry. I’m very excited about the opportunities for our next generation at the company.
How would you describe your management style and the company culture?
I’ve been in this business for over 45 years and have always believed in managing the company using all our management team members. I believe this style produces a sounder decision-making process. Everyone brings slightly different ideas to the table, and I like hearing the various opinions and added information. Our management team meets three times a week to discuss any major or minor issues that arise daily.
During Covid we implemented virtual safety meetings twice a month with all of our Captains and continue to do so today. We discuss safety concerns, and our Captains have the opportunity to inform us of other vessel crew or competitor-related events. These meeting were especially valuable during Covid in keeping in touch with each team member. I have a lot of confidence in my management team and think we have come out of Covid stronger than ever.
Do you have any hobbies? What do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy running, golf, tennis and fishing with friends. But I’m better at spending my idle time with my family, and I recently became a grandfather. So my first love is my wife, Renee, and my family. Leading Laborde Marine toward continued excellence is my next biggest passion. As cliché as this sounds, I truly enjoy trying to expand Laborde Marine to meet the future marine needs of the USA.
Tony Munoz is The Maritime Executive's publisher and editor-in-chief.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.