Back in 1980, Ken Arnold left Shell Oil Company, where he was managing 150 engineers, and started two new companies with friend and oil industry veteran Guy Carriere. One company was called Modular Production Equipment (MPE), and the other was called Paragon Engineering Services. Paragon focused on facilities design, while MPE served as an equipment supplier. Each company pitched in on marketing efforts for the other. Eventually, MPE went off on its own under Guy’s leadership until he sold the company, after many years of growth and success, to Natco.
Paragon's own history is a bit more complicated. Famously starting as a telephone and some documents on Ken’s dining room table, Paragon grew to include four equal partners and enough employees to require significant office space in the Jersey Village Bank building on Highway 290. Jersey Village Bank later became Sterling Bank, and, within a few short years, Paragon outgrew its office space and moved into another building on 290.
Jimmy Johns, who first joined the company as a draftsman in January 1983 and now manages the electrical engineering and design department, remembers the move vividly.
"We moved a lot of the company ourselves in our own pickup trucks," he says. "As we were leaving with a load, the old bank dick saw some of us coming out of the elevator and said, 'Y'all are taking everything but the kitchen sink." That spawned an idea in one nameless employee's head. So a couple of anonymous designers who are unfamiliar with the statute of limitations in Texas went back up and took the kitchen sink and countertop and threw it on my…er, their truck. The original – and only, for a good while – sink and countertop at the new building was literally stolen. Or so I'm told."
Grace Brady, a member of the company's administrative staff since becoming the first Paragon employee in October 1980, has fonder and less incriminating memories of the early days.
"We all were like one family," she says. "We were asked to take a pay cut when things were very bad in the marketplace. We agreed, and things turned around for the business and for Paragon too!"
AMEC Paragon Facilities Design Coordinator Walt Wilson, who joined Paragon in July 1984, remembers some fun Christmas parties as well as an embarrassing moment in the company's design/drafting history when longtime employee Charlie Colwell locked himself in the men's toilet.
"I don't know if anyone ever figured out how he did that," says Walt.
During the late '80s and early '90s, with the oil business recovering steadily, Paragon grew to employ more than 150 people, but unrest among the four partner/owners also grew, coming to a head in 1993. The story is long, contentious, and uncomfortable – especially for those who lived through those times – but the outcome was simple: Ken retained Paragon, and the other three partners formed Alliance Engineering.
Soon after the split, Paragon's management team embarked on a long-term plan that involved part-ownership by larger companies. According to Ken, continued growth required close collaboration with companies that were equipped to deliver the larger projects that began to dominate the oil and gas industry.
First came Dresser-Rand and a lot of employees who remain with AMEC Paragon today. Then came M.W. Kellogg and the move to Paragon's new building on Clay Road in 1998. Halliburton soon merged with Kellogg's parent company, Dresser, and retained the ownership stake in Paragon. Soon afterward, irreconcilable differences necessitated a separation from Halliburton, and Ken Arnold briefly became sole owner of Paragon.
Continuing with its growth strategy, however, Paragon attracted part-owner Stolt Offshore (now Acergy) in 2001 and even formed a joint venture company with Stolt in France called Paragon-Litwin. By 2003, however, Stolt changed its business focus in such a way that its ownership stake in Paragon no longer made strategic sense.
Clearly, a change was in order again, and UK-based AMEC was one of several companies interested in moving things along. On January 20, 2005, AMEC became the first company to acquire Paragon outright, forming AMEC Paragon.
As for the future, who can even guess what the next chapter of the AMEC Paragon saga will bring? But it’s sure to be interesting, challenging, and rewarding. And if we move to another location, someone better keep an eye on the sinks.