In 16 years as a naval aviator, Brian Brurud, who flew under the call sign Bru, survived 436 carrier landings, 99 combat missions, 17 missile attacks, and one ejection from an aircraft. After retiring from active service in 2007, Brurud turned his experience into Check-6, based in Jenks, Oklahoma. The company recruits pilots, astronauts, and Special Forces veterans to improve safety conditions in hazardous environments, such as mines and oil rigs, on six continents.
I'm a farm kid from Oklahoma. When I graduated college in 1984 with a degree in geology, I got a job with Schlumberger working on oil rigs. I worked on the only oil rig inside of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Two years later, when the price of oil plunged to $10 a barrel, I saw an ad in a newspaper that showed an aircraft carrier at sea, with a tag line that read, Get an office with a view. I called up the number listed on the page. Six months later, my head was shaved and a Navy instructor at flight school was yelling at me.
Over my career in the Navy and, later, flying for FedEx, I learned how those organizations train people and manage risk. FedEx, for example, has 4,000 pilots who, because they fly from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., are physically degraded. They have interesting ways to manage that risk.
I got a call one Sunday morning from an acquaintance of mine, a Canadian deep-water engineer. He said he was reading an academic white paper that said the oil and gas industry would be well served if it used the same safety techniques used in naval aviation and the space program. Even better, the training would be more effective if pilots and astronauts taught it. My friend asked me if I could develop a training syllabus to drill the crews who manned his oil rigs. I said, "Sure," and hung up. Then I asked myself, How am I going to do this?
Necessity is the mother of invention. I called up Yarema Sos, who taught me to fly F-14s, and we created a hybrid program out of the Top Gun syllabus and Air Wing training programs that would provide safety and efficiency training for people working in dangerous environments. Yarema's call sign was Yarko; he's our CEO.
We dumb everything down and make it simple. The key is to standardize everything, including smoke breaks. When you're out at sea, 200 miles offshore, there is no such thing as just a smoke break. We measure success based on billions of dollars in efficiencies gained and countless lives saved.
Check-6 is a tactical term. It refers to a culture of leadership, enforcement, and safety. On a plane, 12 o'clock is the nose and 6 o'clock is the tail. Every pilot has the responsibility to check the 6 of his wingman. The only reason I'm here is because of a Check-6—because Igot shot at 17 times, and I was never the first one to see it.
When we recruit, we obviously look for skill. Most everyone we work with is a combat-seasoned veteran. But we also look for people who have a presence and who are comfortable in their own skin in a way that allows them to operate on the rig and in the boardroom.
We don't invent anything in our business. What we provide is the credibility of our people, who have been through the evolution of this training in the Navy, Air Force, or special operations. What we do is apply the lessons they've learned to drilling.
IMAGE: Ben Baker
From the September 2011 issue of Inc. magazine
DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.