Employee Spotlight: Jim Comfort

Friday, July 31, 2020

Jim Comfort grew up in Drumright, Oklahoma, a small town that had sprung up nearly overnight when oil was discovered there in 1912. These days, it's a quiet place with less than 3,000 people, located 42 miles southwest of Tulsa. Jim currently resides in Claremore, Oklahoma, along with his wife Shelly, and together, they've raised three children.

Though his career has taken him many places beyond his hometown, from Africa to Barbados and many places in between, today he is happy to be working a little closer to home in the Permian Basin as construction operations manager for Danos. It is a position he hardly could have imagined when he first started working more than two decades ago.

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In high school, Jim learned about welding through Future Farmers of America and vocational school. When he graduated from high school, he found jobs via construction hot sheets and conversations from other construction workers —these were pre-internet times — that took him across the country. From paper mills in Louisiana and Maryland to beef plants in Iowa, Jim worked anywhere from two weeks to six months in each location before moving on to the next job. The work was steady but not very secure, and he had to pay his expenses for travel and housing. But Jim was young and happy to be on the move; he certainly did not expect to be a “lifer” with a single company.

Everything changed when he took a position with Danos in 2001. At 27, he had never stayed at a job for more than six months; he assumed he would be moving on before too long. He started working offshore and went on to spend much of his time working for one of Danos' major clients in Larose, Louisiana. Before he knew it, the years had flown by, and he was still on the job. It turned out that the steadiness and security of the work were good for him; he had risen from welder to foreman and then to maintenance foreman. Over time. he went from running a small four- to eight-man crew to managing a 100-man crew. 

Another benefit of staying put was the relationships he was able to build with his fellow workers and with the company’s leadership. It meant a lot to him that in a company with nearly 2,000 workers at the time, Owner Hank Danos knew him by name. The family-like atmosphere was a new experience for him, and it made the work more satisfying. In 2012, he received Danos’ prestigious Field Employee of the Year Award.

Through the ups and downs of the years that followed, there was always plenty of customer maintenance work to keep Jim busy. He worked on job sites in Louisiana and Texas and even joined a crew riding on a foreign-operated floating production and storage unit traveling from Barbados to the Gulf of Mexico. That two-week trip ended up lasting 18 months, but it proved to be an interesting experience. As the only Americans on a vessel staffed by Filipinos, Indians and Norwegians, they were culinarily outnumbered. Instead of the usual offshore cafeteria fare, they ate dishes they couldn’t pronounce with ingredients they were afraid to ask about.

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After 15 years in a job he thought wouldn’t last more than a few months, Jim was looking for something new. He wanted to expand his knowledge of the business, particularly on the client-side. Jim accepted an offer to work for Cleveland Integrity Services where he gained knowledge about everything from planning and developing projects to managing and working with contractors.

“I learned more by seeing things from the customer side — it really opened my eyes.”

For two years he soaked up all the knowledge he could until he got a call in 2019 from his old Danos pal Cory Lecompte, general manager of projects, who made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Cory asked Jim to come back to Danos and manage the company’s construction operations in the Permian Basin. At the time, Jim was in a lull and trying to decide between two projects, one in North Carolina and the other in North Dakota. Either job would require an 18 to 21-hour drive, which meant less time with his family and more time on the road. So, Cory’s offer to support Danos in Midland, only an eight-hour drive, seemed like a no-brainer.

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In addition to bringing him closer to home and offering more long-term security, the Danos job offer brought him back into the family atmosphere he had missed while he was gone. He already knew many of the people and was able to pick up where he left off. He had never been to the Permian area before, but Jim figured he was up for a new challenge.

Since his return to Danos in mid-2019, Jim has learned to adapt to the pace and intensity of the Midland area. He’d never seen a place with so many people and so much activity, and he quickly learned to keep his head on a swivel. Jim works with a team of project managers and does his best to get out to even the most remote job sites as often as he can. He knows that his customers are counting on him to make sure each project is successful.

Jim is well-known for his diligence, attention to detail and commitment to maintaining a clean, neat and safe work environment. Keith Henson, a retired project manager for one of Danos’ long-term clients, recalls that “Jim would even make sure all the welding leads were strung across the site in a neat, well-organized manner. His passion for excellence in all aspects of his work has earned the respect of everyone who works with him.”

Cory agrees. “Jim is one of the best in the business — so much so that clients often request him by name for their projects. He just makes everyone around him better.”

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Although the hours can often be long, he enjoys the challenges of his current position. Each day, he handles everything from reviewing bid work to managing personnel and staffing for Danos’ construction services line in the Permian. It’s a lot of responsibility, but Jim takes pride in being part of a team that does things the right way, no matter what.

“At Danos, we never sacrifice safety for efficiency,” Jim says. “Instead, we work to develop innovative solutions — for example, bringing the majority of field welds in-house — that improve both safety and efficiency.” Jim has also overseen improvements to Danos’ scheduling, planning and organization that have ensured client projects are completed on-time and on-budget.

A challenging environment like the Permian can be tough to adjust to. But for Jim, who grew up in small-town Oklahoma, the West Texas landscape feels pretty familiar minus the dust. And between rejoining a family company he knows well and being closer to his family’s home, Jim is happy to be exactly where he is.