When Jennifer Bonner got her start in the water well drilling business, she wasn’t planning to make a career out of it. “It was actually just supposed to be a temporary, two-year job while I finished up my accounting degree,” she says. She had previously worked in the grocery business as a front-end manager and wanted to get her degree in two years instead of continuing part time. At that time, Rolling Prairie, Ind.-based Clearwater Well and Pump was looking for someone to fill an office role and Bonner thought it would be exactly the temporary fit she was looking for. She turned out to be wrong though.
While she was able to finish school and obtain her B.S. in accounting, she ended up falling in love with the drilling business and 21 years later, she’s still at it and has expanded her skillset to include field work. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging at first. “In the beginning, honestly, it was [challenging] being a woman in the industry,” Bonner says. “There aren’t that many and it took a while for people to get comfortable with me going out doing estimating, and just me giving them the answers instead of having one of the guys call them back.” It took a few years to get completely comfortable, but now she says there is no difference at all with regard to how she is treated. “Once I started working full time here, it was just a unique opportunity and it turned out I really enjoyed it once I started getting into the work and understanding what was going on besides just sitting in the office answering the phone and taking care of the book part of it.”
Now that she has accepted the role of Indiana Ground Water Association (IGWA) executive director and has plans to move, she’s taking what Clearwater has taught her and using it to support colleagues across Indiana. While the transition is definitely a sad one, she says she is happy to continue her journey with the drilling industry and hopes to bring a good perspective to IGWA.
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. I have many different titles. I used to be in the field more often than I am now. I take care of all of the financials, all of the estimating. I do the ordering. I do the engineering for the larger jobs, the public systems, the irrigation systems. I go out and drill, do service work, pull pumps, that kind of stuff. I’m transitioning out of the company, so I’ve stepped back from doing that and am in the office more and training my replacement at this point. What keeps me coming back is just the variety. Drilling is drilling, but every job is different and there’s a little bit of different challenges to each job. That’s what I find interesting — doing a little bit different thing each time and trying to find out something that’s maybe a unique problem to a certain situation.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. There’s not really a typical work day. If I’m going to be in the office all day, it is kind of typical — answering the phone, taking care of invoicing, billing, ordering, setting up the job schedule and making sure everybody’s happy with what we’re doing. If I’m working in the field, it’s whatever we’re doing that day and whatever hat needs to be worn that day. It could be drilling, pulling a pump, servicing something, going out and estimating, talking to people, meeting a customer, explaining the process beforehand so they understand what’s going to happen when we actually show up, making them comfortable with the process.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. Being versatile. We’re a small company and most drilling companies are small companies and you can’t just be able to do one thing and have that as your niche. Everybody kind of needs to be able to do everything. Even the guys that are working out in the field; they know how to answer the phone, look things up on the computer and that kind of stuff. So if somebody’s not around, somebody can fill in for that person and we don’t come to a dead stop. So I think versatility is probably the biggest thing that helps keep the company running smoothly.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. It wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it first was. When I came into the business, I came from living in the city, [which] had nothing to do with a well. It was really intimidating at the beginning because the equipment is large, there are so many components to everything and it just felt intimidating and like I would never get it — never really grasp it and what was going on. I think the first year or so, that kind of held me back because I was kind of timid about learning it. Once I started learning about it, I felt more comfortable talking to people and communicating on the phone. That would have been the biggest thing, to realize it’s not that intimidating; you can get it.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. Obviously the drilling rig, because if we don’t have the rig, we’re not drilling. But actually a pocket knife is the biggest deal when you’re out in the field. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve always carried one. Even not working in the field, I’ve found that is a very useful tool to have, so I always have one in my truck or in my purse. That’s a pretty versatile tool that you can do a lot of things with.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. To be confident in yourself. It’s hard coming into an industry that, one, you’re unfamiliar with and, again, there are not a lot of women working in the field part of it. There are a lot in the office. But having confidence in yourself, that you can do something and you can do it well. It’s hard to have that in yourself, especially when you’re not comfortable with the situation that you’re in. That has helped a lot. I can do this and I may mess something up, but it’s fixable. Learn from your mistakes and gain more confidence in that to move forward.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. I think it’s picked up. This past year of ours was one of the better years we’ve had in a few years. We were very depressed up here as far as home building and irrigation and even commercial stuff. The home building has picked up and we had one of our best years last year. I think going forward it’s going to get better. There’s some consolidation with some drilling companies and I think that probably is going to continue to happen. If your company can adapt to different situations — you know, we didn’t used to drill irrigation, then we started doing that. So when the house thing went down, were able to pick that part up. So as long as you can adapt to what the situation is, I think it will be good. I think the drilling industry, in my opinion, is starting to pick up again.