By: Zack Z. Smith
Ex-Frog football players build debt-free, fast-growing land services firm.
A football game begins with a coin flip to determine which team kicks off and which receives the ball.
Fort Worth-based Purple Land Management L.L.C., an oil and gas land services firm launched by two former Texas Christian University football players, also began with an act tantamount to a coin flip—a random drawing to decide who would be CEO of the oil and gas leasing firm.
Horned Frog teammates and best buddies Bryan Cortney and Jesse Hejny (“Hay-nee”) viewed themselves as equals in founding PLM six years ago, when both were only 26. But attorney Don Pierson (now judge of Tarrant County Court-at-Law No. 1) advised them to designate a chief executive as the titular head in forming a limited liability company, while also naming a president.
Pierson wrote on two slips of paper “CEO” and, jokingly, “President for Life” and put them in an envelope. Hejny drew the “President” slip, so Cortney became CEO when PLM was founded Jan. 26, 2010.
Cortney and Hejny, now 32, still consider themselves as management equals. They draw the same salary and each holds a 50 percent stake in PLM, which Inc. Magazine last year ranked in the top-quarter of the 5,000 fastest-growing U.S. companies, based on 2014 revenues.
PLM notched $33 million in revenues, with Inc. ranking it No. 1,038. The company quadrupled revenues in three years and added 150 jobs.
Despite a collapse in oil prices and drilling in 2015, PLM’s revenues rose more than 20 percent, to $40 million, Cortney and Hejny told FW Inc. in a recent interview.
PLM’s net income dropped significantly in 2015, but it remained profitable and debt-free, the executives said. The privately held company isn’t required to make public its financial results.
Although crude prices recently hit 12-year lows, PLM projects a 25 percent jump in 2016 revenues, as it keeps gaining market share.
PLM is now rolling out its new Overdrive data management software system, touted at www.purplelandmgmt.com. Overdrive promises quicker, easier and more comprehensive access to mapbased data on oil and gas lease properties. PLM hopes Overdrive will help the company further increase its market share. PLM partnered with Esri, a California-based developer of geographic information system (GIS) software, to create Overdrive.
“We’re very much invested in technology,” Cortney told FW Inc. “It’s given us a competitive advantage and allowed us to offer something that’s different, we believe, and ultimately…a superior product.”
PLM expects to move, in February or March, into new headquarters in the historic Winfield Place Building at 210 E. 8th St. in downtown Fort Worth, a 97-year-old, three-story, 36,000-square-foot structure that Cortney and Hejny bought in 2014. PLM now leases space at Water Gardens Place on the southeast edge of downtown.
PLM is gutting and renovating Winfield Place. When finished, it will include a novel feature—the Elevator Conference Room, a mobile facility that can move up or down to allow a meeting on any of the building’s three floors. A large, ancient freight elevator is being rehabilitated to provide the floor for the conference room, which Hejny describes as “cool.”
The mobile room was the brainchild of Fort Worth architect Michael Bennett, who said the idea “just popped into my head” in touring Winfield Place prior to his Fort Worth-based Bennett Benner Partners architectural and planning firm being hired by PLM for the Winfield redo.
PLM is gaining admirers as it continues growing amid a brutal oil industry downturn.
Fort Worth banker Glenn Monroe, who as CEO of Meridian Bank Texas of Fort Worth loaned Cortney and Hejny money to get PLM started, said the duo has been “extremely successful…they’ve hit it out of the ballpark, and it’s all because of their effort.
“We thought we’d take a chance on those guys, and they exceeded anyone’s expectations,” said Monroe, now regional president for Tarrant County for Northstar Bank of Texas.
Larry Brogdon, board chairman of the TCU Energy Institute and a partner in Fort Worth-based Four Sevens Oil Co., said of Cortney’s and Hejny’s leadership of PLM, “They have built quite a machine over there, employing a lot of people.”
“They took a leap of faith and were very frugal and saved up money to start this company,” Brogdon said. “The thing that impresses me most about them is that they’re very good businessmen… They’ve got a plan, and they’ve executed that plan beautifully.”
Cortney and Hejny said their business model has been to hire quality people with a solid educational background and strong work ethic, do high-quality work to ensure enduring relationships with clients, gain a technological edge over competitors with tools such as Overdrive and think long-term rather than being in it for the quick buck.
During the downturn, PLM has “gained market share” in the areas in which it operates, Cortney said. The company has kept open all 11 of its U.S. offices, which include Fort Worth, Midland, Houston and eight out-of-state offices in oil-patch locations from Canonsburg, Pa., to Bakersfield, Calif.
Hejny said PLM is “so blessed” to have gained market share and revenues in a downturn, although “you can’t charge as much for your services.” The company has strived to maintain “the same quality” of service, and “we’ll be better off for it” when the industry rebounds, he said.
Oil and gas exploration and production companies seeking to secure mineral leases are PLM’s primary customers, providing “the lion’s share” of its revenues, Hejny said.
Cortney and Hejny said in a recent interview they hadn’t even yet discussed whether to give themselves performance bonuses for 2015. Hejny said they have given employees year-ending bonuses for 2015, as thanks for “how much they busted their friggin’ tails” to make PLM successful.
PLM had only an office “pot-luck” year-end party for employees, rather than holding a much more expensive event at a restaurant such as Joe T. Garcia’s, as in the past.
Cortney and Hejny declined to disclose their annual base salary, but said it’s remained the same since they founded the company.
Cortney said PLM employs about 300 people, with roughly 200 company personnel and another 100 who are independent contractors. About 80 percent of persons working for PLM are petroleum landmen, who negotiate the purchase of oil and gas leases and seek to correct, or “cure,” potential defects in titles to properties that could result in ownership issues being contested in court. About one-third of the landmen working for PLM are women, Hejny said.
Hejny and Cortney met in Fort Worth after coming to TCU to play football, where the 6-3 Hejny would become a starting defensive end and the 6-4 Cortney the starting punter. Cortney grew up in the San Diego area in California and Hejny lived in Fallon, Nevada, and other areas. Both transferred to TCU after playing junior college football in California.
After college, Hejny got a job doing leasing work in the Barnett Shale gas play in North Texas and Cortney soon joined him. After four years of such work, they struck out on their own, using money from their savings and also borrowing from the Meridian bank headed by Monroe, a former TCU baseball star.
The bank granted PLM a line of credit “that allowed us to meet payrolls early on,” Cortney said. PLM paid down an approximate $250,000 line of credit and began building cash reserves as the company grew, he said.
Cortney said PLM is now debt-free. Separate from PLM, Cortney and Hejny paid cash for Winfield Place, while borrowing money to pay for gutting and renovating it. Altogether, Cortney estimates they will put “over $8 million” into the purchase and renovation. But they will gain a headquarters of their own, with an interior layout tailor-made for their company’s operations.
They plan to honor the building‘s long history by preserving the Winfield Place name. “We’re going to light up the original Winfield Place sign and backlight it,”Hejny said, while also identifying the building on the outside as holding PLM offices.
The revamped building is to include a reception area, management offices, employee work stations, a company cafeteria and select areas where small groups of employees can gather to brainstorm or socialize. There also will be a small number of indoor vehicle parking spaces.
Cortney and Hejny also keep busy as parents with young children.
Hejny’s wife, JimAnne, was on the basketball and track teams at TCU after being an exceptional multi-sport star in high school in Cisco. They both enjoy attending TCU athletic events. They have boys, aged 10 and 5, and a new baby boy expected in February.
Cortney said his off-the-job activities also center around his family. His wife, Katelin, is director of public relations for Catholic Charities and a distance runner. They have a son, two and a half years old, and a daughter, six months old.
Cortney and Hejny said they live very “comfortable” but not extravagant lifestyles. The Hejnys recently moved from Aledo into a 5,189-square-foot home in the TCU area that is valued at $815,500 by the Tarrant Appraisal District. The Cortneys live about a half mile away, in a residence of 2,304 square feet with a TADappraised value of $410,500.
Cortney and Hejny say TCU Coach Gary Patterson taught them not only about how to deal with adversity, but how to handle success.
Although only 32, they’ve experienced considerable success as the plucky, determined guys who started, built up, still run and own outright Purple Land Management, with the “Purple” coming from their association with the purple of TCU athletics.
Now, they’re dealing with adversity as they seek to weather a brutal downturn in the oil industry.
“We’re betting on the future,” Cortney said. “We’ve placed a bet that it’s going to come back, and it will. But the million-dollar question is, when will it come back? Will it be tomorrow, six months, a year, five years?”
Down the line, Hejny said he hopes he and Cortney will be able to look back and recall that “when things got tough, thank God that we continued to push forward and continued to bust our butt.”
Hejny offered a football analogy.
“I want to know that when I go to bed at night, that I left it all out on the field.”
Primary Business: Securing mineral leases for oil and gas exploration and production firms.
Workforce: About 300 people, including roughly 200 company employees and 100 independent contractors. Most who work for the company are petroleum landmen.
Headquarters: PLM expects to move soon into new offices at the historic Winfield Place Building at 210 E. 8th St. in downtown Fort Worth, a three-story building that the company bought in 2014 and is extensively renovating. PLM now leases space at the downtown Water Gardens Place building.
Ownership and Management: PLM is a privately held, limited liability company owned by CEO Bryan Cortney and President Jesse Hejny (each with a 50 percent interest). The two ex-TCU football players, both 32, founded PLM in January 2010 at age 26.
Revenues: Approximately $40 million in 2015, up more than 20 percent from $33 million in 2014.
Earnings: The company does not divulge its net income. It said it remained profitable in 2015, despite the deep oil industry downturn, but was less profitable than in 2014
Major 2016 Initiative: Rollout of its new Overdrive data management platform designed for quicker, easier and more-comprehensive access to map-based data on oil and gas properties. PLM partnered with Esri, a California-based software firm, to develop Overdrive.
Source: Purple Land Management L.L.C.