After about 15 years, Ken Phillips came back home to Gregory Drilling. Though the North Bend, Washington-based company does everything from geothermal to geotechnical to irrigation, Phillips settled back in as Gregory’s sonic operations manager after years sharpening his drilling skills elsewhere.

Now, he oversees crews working a TerraSonic 150CC crawler out of northern California. Though they do travel just about anywhere west of the Mississippi, they do a lot of work in the Golden State — with all the varied geology it has to offer. He says they get into silt, sands, cobble and boulders, and overburden, all depending on where the day’s project took them.

“We quite often get into riverbed-type materials with large boulders — up to 3-, 4-foot diameter boulders. That’s what sonic drilling is designed for, and that’s what it’s most effective at.”

And Gregory leverages that effectiveness. Phillips and his crews work on environmental exploration, do pre-collar holes for remedial injection work, exploration for mining companies, dam and levee work, and just about anything else suited for sonic.

Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?

A. Being at Gregory, the thing that keeps me coming back is, they’re really supportive of their people. As a manager, I’m able to take good care of my crews — which is very important to me — and I’ve been able to really get back to customer service. I think that our clients are the most important people we have, and a happy client and return customers are the best you can have. As I’ve moved through my career, I’ve been able to bring clients with me over to this company based on my history with them. And I’ve basically been given kind of free range to run the program the way I want to run it. We’ve been very effective and we’ve got some super happy clients, and that’s what this industry is all about.

Q. What does a typical workday involve?

A. My typical workday is project management. Our side of Gregory is very busy, so I’m doing a lot of job setups. I do a lot of speaking with my drillers about drilling conditions and basically coaching, tutoring and mentoring them through their processes. Currently, I’m working with a rotary crew from Gregory down here in northern California that’s on a project, and managing the sonic work at the same time. I like being outside. I like being with the guys. It’s a team sport, basically.

Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?

A. Patience. Patience and good interpersonal skills. You have to be able to work well with people from all types of backgrounds, and you have to be working with the federal government, you have to work with city folks. You just have to have a lot of patience and a lot of understanding that a lot of these people don’t know what we know, and being a good coach and a good mentor and working them through the education process of sonic drilling. It’s been around a while now, but we still run into clients who have never used it before. It’s fun, too, when they see how efficient these rigs are.

“Having a good support team behind you, supporting your decisions and backing you is one of the best tools that you can have.”

– Ken Phillips

Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?

A. How much time I was going to be away from my family. There have been years where I’ve spent 260 days out of town. I’m not complaining by any means, but there are some things that I’ve missed.

Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?

A. Good supportive management. Does that qualify? I think having a good support team behind you, supporting your decisions and backing you is one of the best tools that you can have. And having good crews, good people. The rigs are easy to find. It’s finding the right people to do this job.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

A. It’s what you learn after you know it all that’s important. ... That’s the best piece of advice I can give anybody. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because people who don’t make mistakes don’t learn anything.

Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?

A. Great. As far as the sonic drilling industry goes, it’s great. More people are getting involved in the in this type of drilling, so it’s helping to bring costs down from the business aspect, and for the clients. It’s starting to become a little bit more cost effective for them to get the results that they get from a sonic rig, which they can’t get from any other type of equipment.

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