MAGNOLIA RIVER – The Story From the Bedroom to the Board Room
Ronnie Hoff on Thursday, 08 August 2013.
Magnolia River started back in 2000 over pillow talk with my wife Kim. It was just us two then. Today, we have 100 employees, including professionals in five disciplines: pipeline services, energy solutions, GIS, software, and surveying & mapping. Learning the gas business through my eight years at Alagasco and four at Wheeler Basin Gas, together with Kim’s management and administration expertise, we were able to lay the foundation. With onsite field work taking most of our time and effort, I had figured we could stay small enough to perform the office jobs from our living room for the foreseeable future. Instead we’ve expanded across Alabama and into strategic locations across the South. We have been blessed by great clients, super employees, and key business teammates to provide comprehensive infrastructure and geospatial solutions.
I thank Kim each day for her encouragement and commitment to grow Magnolia River. I knew then and still know now she will always be this way. This did not make me less nervous about telling her I had quit my job with no way to support her and our two young daughters when I walked away from Wheeler in 2000. I just knew she and I both had the passion and perseverance to create a company where we could whistle while we worked while making a living.
It still took courage to go out on a limb and hire our first employee in 2001. The responsibility of providing for someone else felt like you feel when you’re expecting your first child. The work continued to come in though, provided by clients who liked us and trusted us to deliver value-added services that saved them time, money, and kept their gas maps up to date. So by 2003 we even hired a full-time office manager! Now, if we had only had an office for her to actually manage from! I still could not stomach an outlay for office rent, so we continued working from the living room up until we took a really deep breath and hung out a sign in 2004. This helped us maintain the work-life balance necessary for a husband and wife business. We also hired a salesman that year to expand our business development efforts which gave us a little more time for life, which helped Kim and I actually remain husband and wife.
We watched with interest the development of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) market in the gas industry. So in 2005 we committed to entering that segment and won our first project for GIS database development services. At the time, I was not sure where the GIS market was going, but since then, it has become a core business for us. We now have a devoted GIS software and services department supported by staff in Hartselle, Huntsville, Atlanta, Little Rock, and Orlando.
In 2008 what started as a $1,800 gas-service project grew into a multi-million-dollar utility replacement program. This was obviously a game changer. It expanded our corporate resume and supplied the financial leverage to take even bigger steps. One of them was our venture into the software development world, with the creation of the Esri-based tools that have since become the backbone of our flowGIS product line.
We focused on marketing and brand management in 2010 with a fresh logo, a new website, brochures, and bright smiles at trade shows and conferences across the country. We were growing. We were moving fast. We were going to outrun our coverage if we did not focus and coordinate our efforts on communications and operational excellence. So, 2011 was devoted to expanding our management team and our services to include surveying & mapping. We acquired Aeroquest Optimal that December and blended the two groups through cross-training and re-arranging roles and responsibilities through 2012.
Now, in 2013, I contemplate where we’ve been and where we’re headed. It’s not always been easy along the way. We have had ups and downs. We have had challenges we never anticipated. But we have continued to do what we know and what we love. When our clients tell us they appreciate the work we do and how we do it, I’m happy. When our employees tell us they love their jobs and the projects they support, I’m thrilled. When our competitors tell us they respect us and what we’ve accomplished, I’m humbled. And when Kim tells me she loves me and is proud of what we’ve accomplished, I’m joyful and thankful for all of our many blessings. I can’t wait to get started implementing our new, five-year strategic plan. I’ll keep you posted as we go.