Tidewater Inc. History

601 Poydras, Suite 1900
New Orleans, Louisiana 70130

Telephone: (504) 568-1010
Toll Free: 800-678-8433
Fax: (504) 566-4582

Public Company
Incorporated: 1956 as Tidewater Marine Service, Inc.
Employees: 6,100
Sales: $574.8 million (2000)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: TDW
NAIC: 336611 Ship Building and Repairing; 33612 Boat Building; 48833 Navigational Services to Shipping; 532412 Construction, Mining, and Forestry Machinery and Equipment Rental and Leasing

Company Perspectives:

Tidewater owns hundreds of service vessels, all of which are operated and managed by thousands of employees worldwide. ... Tidewater vessels can be found in virtually every area of the world where there is significant oil and gas exploration, development or production. These provide a wide range of services including transporting crews and supplies between the mainland and offshore locations; towing and positioning mobile drilling rigs; assisting in offshore construction projects; and a variety of specialized services including cable laying and 3-D seismic work. ... At Tidewater, quality is an ethic that commands not only what we do, but how we do it. Our philosophy is to invest the time and effort necessary to fulfill each customer's objectives, while maintaining high standards of safety and providing cost effective services. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

Alden J. 'Doc' Laborde and nine others found Tidewater Marine Service Corporation.
Company builds and launches first boat.
Company is incorporated in Delaware as Tidewater Marine Service Inc. and is reorganized as a public company with John Laborde as president.
Tidewater acquires the Offshore Transportation Corporation.
Company purchases T.J. Falgout.
Company merges with Twenty Grand Marine Services, Inc. and buys Sandair Corporation.
Firm purchases Hamer Hammer Service, Inc. and South Coast Gas Compression Company, Inc.
Tidewater acquires interest in offshore oil production in Indonesia, Java, and Sumatra; creates Pental Insurance Company, Ltd.
Firm buys Hilliard Oil and Gas Company, Inc.; company changes name to Tidewater, Inc. and reorganizes.
Company faces hostile takeover by corporate raider, Irwin L. Jacobs.
Firm defeats Jacobs' last attempt to buyout company.
Tidewater purchases Zapata Gulf Marine Corporation.
John Laborde retires after serving 38 years as president and CEO and is succeeded by William O'Malley.
Company acquires Hornbeck Offshore Services.
Company sells its natural gas compression division.
Tidewater sells 40 percent interest in National Marine Service.

Company History:

Tidewater Inc. has grown from one small boat operating in the Gulf of Mexico to a fleet of more than 680 vessels ranging from the waters of the Caspian Sea to the Gulf of Tonkin off the Vietnam coast. With offices located in New Orleans, Louisiana, the company's marine division runs the world's largest fleet of vessels serving the international offshore gas and oil industry, although its home market, the Gulf of Mexico, still accounts for about one third of its sales. It provides an array of logistical services, including crew and materiel transportation, mobile drilling rig towing and placement, cable laying, and 3-D seismic operations. In addition to its offshore marine support and transportation services, Tidewater operates two shipyards that build, repair, retrofit, and dry-dock marine vessels.

1954 : Industry and Company Origins

Tidewater's development parallels the discovery of oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the development of the offshore oil industry. The first offshore oilfield in the Gulf of Mexico was found in 1938, a little more than one mile from Cameron Parish, Louisiana. By the mid-1940s, petroleum geologists were estimating that there was between ten and 12 billion barrels of oil waiting to be recovered in the Gulf. After fixed platforms were built and large-scale drilling operations started in 1946, a new industry developed around what was termed an 'oil rig.'

Oil rigs were manned 24 hours a day, with living and eating facilities, a galley, and even recreation areas. Although they seemed self-sufficient, the rigs were entirely dependent on the supply boats that brought food, water, and drilling equipment, and transported crews back and forth from the mainland. The first vessels to serve the oil rigs were old Navy boats and reconfigured shrimp boats. It soon became clear, however, that a special type of boat designed specifically for supplying offshore oil rigs was needed.

Alden J. 'Doc' Laborde, a retired Navy officer who was chairman and president of Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company (ODECO), one of the first firms to drill for oil in the Gulf, was convinced that the offshore oil industry needed a specialty supply boat with a revolutionary design. His own design put the boat's pilot house forward, and the crew's quarters and wheelhouse forward in the bow. The boat's deck was entirely flat in order to easily lay various piping and supplies, yet still had a clear afterdeck for any towing that was required. Laborde organized a meeting with nine other men--including his older brother, C.E. Laborde, Jr., as well as a marine operator, an owner of a towing business, an engineer, an accountant, and a few of his closest personal friends--and sought their support in forming a marine supply service for offshore oil rigs. Contributing $10,000 each toward the construction of the first boat, the men incorporated the Tidewater Marine Service Corporation in Louisiana on July 8, 1954.

Tidewater's first boat, the steel-hulled Ebb Tide, was built and launched in 1955. A request from ODECO to lease the boat resulted in Alden Laborde's decision to withdraw from involvement in Tidewater to avoid an apparent conflict of interest. Authority for all company decisions was left up to Laborde, Jr., Ed Kyle, and Don Durant. When the Shell Oil Company heard about the new boat and contacted Tidewater to charter a similar vessel, Laborde, Jr., decided to form a second corporation for the purpose of constructing and operating another supply boat. A third corporation was also formed when Phillips Petroleum wanted to charter a boat. As the demand for its vessels grew, the initial investors in Tidewater began to discuss an expansion program and the possibility of additional financing. Arrangements were made through Rheinholdt & Gardner, an investment firm with close ties to the offshore oil industry, and Whitney National Bank of New Orleans to provide the necessary funding, including loans and an initial public stock offering. On February 7, 1956, a parent organization, Tidewater Marine Service, Inc., was incorporated under the state laws of Delaware.

1956--66: Near Disaster and a Decade of Growth

Throughout its initial period of development, Tidewater's management was informal. There was no main office, records were kept haphazardly, business commitments were made by any one of the original ten investors without regard to formal contracts or agreements, and the company's only employee worked out of his own home. Realizing that Tidewater's rapid expansion necessitated a professional management team, Laborde, Jr., consulted with the other investors and agreed to ask his younger brother, John, to accept the position of president. The younger Laborde, a graduate of Louisiana State University Law School who had served as an adjutant on the staff of General Douglas MacArthur during World War II, accepted the offer. Although he knew absolutely nothing about boats, John Laborde was very familiar with the oil industry and its operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Laborde went to work immediately; he rented office space, hired secretarial and bookkeeping help, sorted out the little documentation there was on the company, and met with the original investors, convincing them it was his responsibility alone to make agreements and arrange contracts for Tidewater. Not long after he started, Laborde was notified by the U.S. Coast Guard that one of Tidewater's vessels was in violation of marine regulations. The fine amounted to nearly $168,000. Knowing that Tidewater faced bankruptcy if the full amount of the fine were paid, Laborde explained the circumstances of the violation, which was due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the crew, and negotiated a settlement of $2,000 with the Coast Guard. This exchange with the Coast Guard led Laborde to educate himself on all aspects of marine laws and regulations so that he could formulate operating procedures for Tidewater.

During its first fiscal year, Tidewater recorded a loss of $10,027. Yet Laborde remained optimistic, largely because of a gross revenue amounting to over $400,000. The company's fleet expanded to 11 vessels. Near the end of 1957, Tidewater became the first offshore marine transportation business located in the Gulf of Mexico to make a foray into foreign waters. Laborde reached an agreement with a small boat company, Semarca, to transport supplies for an over-water oil and gas firm operating on Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. By the end of the second fiscal year Laborde's optimism was rewarded; Tidewater doubled its gross revenues to $851,156, while net earnings jumped to over $97,000.

Tidewater grew rapidly during its first decade of operation. In 1961, just five years after the company's first boat was launched, Tidewater had already made a major acquisition by purchasing the Offshore Transportation Corporation. By taking over OTC's fleet, Tidewater increased the

number of its revenue-producing vessels to 56. The Venezuelan venture was contributing nearly 40 percent of the company's total earnings. Individual stockholders in the company had grown from under 50 to over 800. Most importantly, the company reported gross revenues of $4.88 million for 1961, and net revenues of $584,444, an increase of 59 percent over the previous year.

In 1962, Tidewater suffered a small decrease in revenues from the previous year, but the Venezuelan venture continued to be very profitable, and the company expanded its operations to include the coastal waters off California and Trinidad. One year later, Tidewater continued the development of its American West Coast operation by initiating business in Alaska and by locating a base at Santa Barbara, California. In 1964, the company's fleet of vessels was working regularly in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Suez, the North Sea, Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, the Gulf of Mexico, off the coastal waters of Trinidad, and along the entire U.S. Pacific coast. Having purchased T.J. Falgout, a Galveston, Texas-based competitor in the Gulf of Mexico, Tidewater's fleet amounted to 104 vessels. That same year, Tidewater passed one of its most important milestones; it increased profits to over $1,000,000. Gross revenues were reported at $7.62 million, a leap of almost 50 percent over the previous year.

By the end of its first decade, company operations had expanded to the Persian/Arabian Gulf, and plans were being implemented to provide marine services to Nigeria, Iran, Canada, and Australia. More boats were added to the Tidewater fleet, some newly constructed and some purchased used, which brought the total to 180 vessels. Not surprisingly, revenues and profits continued their upward spiral. In 1966, Tidewater revenues soared to $19,733,881, an increase of 90 percent over the previous year. Profits jumped 30 percent over the previous year, and were now close to $3 million.

1967--83: Acquisitions, Restructuring, and the Oil Boom

In order to capitalize on its success, during the following years Tidewater's strategy was to concentrate on diversifying and expanding its operations. In 1968, Tidewater merged with Twenty Grand Marine Services, Inc., its closest competitor in the Gulf of Mexico. This acquisition brought in Twenty Grand's tugboats and other vessels, and Tidewater's fleet increased to a total of 358. Tidewater also purchased Sandair Corporation, a leader in the air and gas compressor market; entering the air and gas compressor business was regarded by Tidewater management as a logical extension of its specialized services for the offshore oil industry. Foreign partnerships were established in the Netherlands and Iran. In 1969, the company acquired Hamer Hammer Service, Inc., a firm that supplied both equipment and personnel for the on-shore and offshore driving of oil well casings, and South Coast Gas Compression Company, Inc., a provider

of natural gas compression equipment and services for the offshore oil industry.

The 1970s were just as successful for Tidewater as the company's early years. In 1970, Tidewater reported revenues of over $50 million, and over $5 million in profits. In May of the same year, Tidewater joined the select list of 1,300 companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1971, Tidewater acquired interests in offshore oil production in Indonesia, Java, and Sumatra. At the same time, the company created Pental Insurance Company, Ltd., a Bermuda-based firm insuring all of Tidewater's vessels. The company was soon providing services in the Adriatic Sea, and its large supply and towing-supply vessels were commanding higher and higher rates wherever they operated. Hilliard Oil and Gas Company, Inc., an American oil and gas exploration firm, was purchased in 1977, the same year the board of director's decided to change the name of the Tidewater Marine Services to Tidewater, Inc. Tidewater, Inc., reorganized to function as a parent organization for its many subsidiaries, formed six divisions, including Marine Services, Compression Services, Oil & Gas, Insurance, Real Estate, and Contractor Services. By 1979, total revenues shot past the $200 million mark, and profits exceeded $30 million.

1984--91: A Reversal of Fortunes and an Attempted Corporate Raid

Revenues and profits continued their meteoric rise during the early 1980s. However, when the oil and gas industry was sent into an historic decline by plummeting oil prices, Tidewater's fortunes went spinning downward. The company's position was exacerbated by an inundated supply boat market, and a sudden decrease in day rates for its vessels. The most significant threat to Tidewater, however, came from hostile takeover attempts. In 1984, Irwin L. Jacobs, a corporate raider, purchased enough Tidewater stock to attempt to take control of the company. When Jacobs's first offer was rejected by Tidewater's board of directors, he engaged in a complicated series of corporate and legal maneuvering over the next five years to wrest control of the company from the directors. Frustrated by his inability to acquire Tidewater by legal means, in 1989 Jacobs made another offer to purchase Tidewater at $11 per share. With John Laborde still providing sound leadership, Tidewater's board of directors sidestepped Jacobs by agreeing to facilitate the sale of Jacobs's stock and arranging a registered secondary stock offering. As a result, Jacobs withdrew his offer to acquire Tidewater and disposed of his shares with a handsome profit.

The takeover attempts and the continuing slump in the oil and gas industry had deleterious effects on Tidewater. In 1985, the company reported it first loss since 1957, and by 1987 losses amounted to a record $56 million. With losses continuing to mount, John Laborde proved his leadership with a calm, confident demeanor and astute decision-making skills. Although Tidewater was losing money, Laborde's earlier decision to enter the natural gas compression business seemed prescient. During the worst years of the oil and gas industry recession, Tidewater's compression business provided a steady flow of revenue that kept the company afloat. Laborde also decided to sell all of the company's Indonesian oil interests. In 1987, Laborde restructured debt payments with Tidewater's primary lenders and by 1990 had pared downed over $60 million of the company's senior debt. During the same year, Laborde convinced Tidewater's board of director's to make a public offering of over five million shares of common stock. With revenues starting to increase, Laborde thought it best to continue expanding Tidewater's international operations by placing 41 pieces of towing equipment in and around West Africa.

1992--2000: Emerging as World Leader in Marine Support Services

Perhaps the most important of Laborde's decisions involved the acquisition of Zapata Gulf Marine Corporation in 1992. Tidewater's biggest rival, Zapata was an amalgamation of the company's four most important competitors. By consolidating Zapata's vessels with its own, Tidewater doubled its marine fleet. For Laborde, the timing of this acquisition could not have been better; after one of the worst freezes of the century in the Gulf of Mexico, a spring thaw led to a doubling of day rates for workboats. With the largest fleet in the Gulf, Tidewater took advantage

of this opportunity to put all of its newly acquired vessels from Zapata into service.

By the end of fiscal 1994, Tidewater had completely recovered from the recession of the offshore oil industry, increased its fleet to 594 vessels, and expanded its overseas ventures. Over 70 percent of Tidewater's fleet operated in foreign waters. With nearly 85 percent of its revenues from marine operations and the remainder from compression operations, Tidewater reported total revenues amounting to $522 million. A good cash flow and increasing offshore marine contracts from around the world enabled the company to eliminate its entire debt. In October 1994, confident that he was leaving the company in good financial condition, John Laborde stepped down as CEO and president and was replaced by William C. O'Malley, the former chief executive officer of Sonat Offshore Drilling Inc. In consultation with Laborde, O'Malley immediately directed Tidewater's expansion of its compression services through a $240 million acquisition of Brazos Gas Compressing Co. (a unit of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp.) and the Haliburton Compression Service.

Over the following year, Tidewater made some changes in its corporate structure in order to improve its profit margins, increase its cash flow, and build its revenues in core marine and compression services. To that end, Tidewater eliminated about one-third of the work force at its company headquarters, saving an estimated $3.3 million annually.

In 1996 and 1997, following its restructuring and slimming down, Tidewater purchased two major companies. The first was Hornbeck Offshore Services, acquired in a trade in which Tidewater swapped nearly 8.8 million shares of it common stock for the 13.2 million shares of Hornbeck's outstanding common stock. The deal added 61 vessels to Tidewater's domestic fleet operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The second major acquisition was O.I.L. Ltd., a part of the U.K.-based Ocean Group, which added 100 vessels to Tidewater's overseas fleet. In 1998, in order to help offset the $535 million price tag on the O.I.L. purchase, Tidewater sold its compressor unit to the merchant bank Castle Harlan for $360 million.

These moves prompted significant gains by Tidewater. In the fourth quarter of 1998, the company's net income, on sales of $278.6 million, climbed to $126.5 million, up $81 million over the previous year. It was the best performance in the 42 years of Tidewater's history as a public entity. O'Malley indicated that high per diem rates, strong world markets, and the expansion of the company's fleet fueled the impressive performance.

Although a slump in the oil industry in 1999 slowed exploration and production, negatively impacting all oil service companies, Tidewater was looking beyond the inevitable potholes inherent in the industry and concentrated on plans for future expansion. In October 2000 it sold its 40 percent holding in National Marine Services for $31 million in order to channel its resources into the purchase of additional vessels, thereby increasing the company's offshore service capabilities. At that time it announced that it had agreed to buy two 236 foot UT755L platform supply vessels at a cost just under the $31 million it received for its share of National Marine Services. The company also revealed plans to invest $300 million in building new support vessels for servicing oil platforms constructed in depths up to 10,000 feet. Clearly, Tidewater was positioning itself to go wherever the offshore oil industry was headed at the start of the new century.

Principal Subsidiaries: Quality Shipyards Inc.

Principal Competitors: Global Marine Inc.; Nabors Industries, Inc.; R & B Falcon Corporation; Schlumberger Limited; Trico Marine Services, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Bradford, Michael, 'Program Causing Ebb in Lost-Time Accidents,' Business Insurance, September 27, 1999, p. 3.
  • Fletcher, Sam, 'Tidewater Earnings Rise Despite Weaker Market for Supply Vessels,' Oil Daily, July 22, 1998.
  • Hartley, Lynn, 'U.S. Service Sector Follows Majors Abroad,' Platt's Oilgram News, July 2, 1992, p. 3.
  • Mack, Toni, 'Shipshape,' Forbes, January 2, 1995, p. 158.
  • Sheets, Ken, and Gregory Spears, 'Drilling for Dollars,' Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, February 1997, p. 63.
  • 'Tidewater Has Buoyant Quarter, Best Year Ever,' Oil Daily, May 5, 1998.
  • 'Tidewater Sells National Marine,' Oil Daily, October 11, 2000.
  • 'Tidewater to Sell Hilliard Oil Interests to Graham Resources Affiliates,' Oil Daily, December 3, 1985, p. 4.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 37. St. James Press, 2001.