In 1978, Ralph Crabtree accepted a position at Houston-based Baker Hughes, an oil-field-services company that has since become one of the world’s largest. A student body vice president and history major from California State Polytechnic University–Pomona, Crabtree had been pursuing a master’s degree at USC but wound up leaving one class short when Baker Hughes offered him the job. The decision turned out to be a good one; just a few years later, in 1984, the company centralized its real estate function, and Crabtree became its first director of real estate and was eventually promoted to vice president of real estate and facilities—a position he still holds now, 30 years later.
On Crabtree’s first day as director, Baker Hughes had $3 billion in revenue. Today, the Fortune 500 company has 60,000 employees in more than 80 countries, and its yearly revenues hover around $22 billion. By leading strategic planning initiatives for all the company’s built or leased facilities worldwide, Crabtree has been able to witness its explosive growth firsthand. He’s currently responsible for the management of 800 facilities, totaling about 30 million square feet, and this task has taken him to 75 countries and helped him log more than 10 million miles across every major airline.
Most recently, Crabtree has zeroed in on creating collaborative environments that incorporate emerging technologies in order to attract and retain talent while addressing costs and efficiencies. And, going forward, his company is committed to sustainability and innovation. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve, lead in the industry, and make sure we continue to do things the right way,” Crabtree says. Here, he takes us through some of his and his company’s landmark work.
Western Hemisphere Training Center
A little more than 30 miles north of Houston, Crabtree and Baker Hughes recently completed a breakthrough education center that they hope will help students begin lifelong relationships with each other and with the company. A large entryway filled with glass leads to a common area packed with digital screens, interactive elements, the latest in video game technology, and USB ports and docking stations; it’s a space that encourages students to relax and converse between classes. The facility also includes the largest mosaic of TV screens in the country, which helps Baker Hughes’s trainers relay information to students.
Classes at the center are anything but traditional, too. Students sit in small pods with separate technology stations and 3-D screens, and hands-on workshops make specialized training easy. Students who will eventually work on rigs, for example, get to test out their skills on one of two active training rigs.
The center accommodates 500 students a day, or 50,000 each year. “We hope it is a space where students can play, talk, and bond,” Crabtree says. “We want people focused in groups and have created an atmosphere that allows that.”
Western Hemisphere Training Center (Photo: Aker Imaging)
Eastern Hemisphere Regional Headquarters
Crabtree has tapped into his international expertise to help his firm find success in Dubai, where it recently built a regional headquarters and a training center for its work in the Eastern Hemisphere. The project, consisting of four major buildings, is important to Baker Hughes’s global vision. “We wanted to come up with a brand, and this property represents the start of how we’re branding ourselves around the world,” Crabtree says.
Each building, located in Dubai’s TechnoPark, boasts luminous glass and curved façades done in what Crabtree calls “Baker Blue.” Lush landscaping, large atriums, and natural light fill the state-of-the-art training center, which accommodates approximately 300 students per day from all over Asia, Africa, and Australia.
Central City Industrial Park
In the early 1900s, one of Houston’s most well-known residents, Howard Hughes, Sr., the father of the famous multi-industry magnate and pilot, opened a massive manufacturing facility on what became the city’s east side. One of the companies that he started was later acquired by Baker Hughes in 1987, and with it came the industrial park, which Baker decided to redevelop and restore to its original splendor.
“If we had padlocked it and left, it would have devastated the community,” Crabtree says. “We decided to go in and create a vibrant business park.” Baker Hughes invested $20 million into redevelopment and built what was, at the time, the largest urban industrial redevelopment by a private company. Crabtree leased the entire facility and sold an existing four-story office building to the State of Texas, and after a few years, the business park had turned from a ghost town into a lively community of 4,000 employees, who helped stimulate the local economy. Baker Hughes also partnered with local constables to put an electrical substation in the business park, and the company worked with neighborhood associations to reduce crime.
For Crabtree, one of the most fulfilling aspects was watching the business park grow. Since no chamber of commerce existed, his company helped form one. Its first awards dinner, hosted at a local hotel, held just 100 people, but five years later, it had to rent out the Houston Rockets’ Toyota Center to accommodate all the guests and keynote speaker Barbara Bush. Baker Hughes sold its interest in Central City 10 years ago—but not before helping kick-start redevelopment all over Houston’s east side.
Sustainability at Baker Hughes
Despite such notable projects—in addition to his other accomplishments—Ralph Crabtree is most proud of his firm’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact. Over the past five years, Baker Hughes has lowered its overall kilowatt hours by 120 million across its entire real estate portfolio, and it has also cut greenhouse gases by 85,000 metric tons and conserved more than 16 million gallons of water.
In one facility near Bakersfield, California, Crabtree and his colleagues now use a cogeneration system to produce 75 percent of the electricity they use. “We’ve done everything you can do,” Crabtree says. “If you go down the checklists, we’re doing it all because sustainability and economics go hand in hand.” These efforts aren’t just for show, either—the company has developed sustainable standards that it uses on all its projects worldwide, regardless of location or local mandates.