The Primitive Podcast: Calder Hendrickson

Posted by The Prim Pack | September 29, 2020

The Primitive Podcast with Calder Hendrickson

As a business whose name gets thrown into the middle of many international conversations, AquaSmart aims to create value around water optimization, food security, and energy security while simultaneously building an airtight team within their company 

In this episode, we chat with CEO Calder Hendrickson about living in tension, having a sense of urgency, and balancing it all with what’s most important in one’s life. Hear more from Calder in this episode of The Primitive Podcast.


Kade Wilcox (00:00):

Hey guys. Kade Wilcox here, host of The Primitive Podcast. Thanks for joining us this week. This week, we interviewed Calder Hendrickson, CEO and one of the original founders of AquaSmart based out of Lubbock, but really serving the entire country and likely very soon internationally. I really enjoyed listening to Calder talk about his early experience, as a 25 year old entrepreneur and CEO, and just hearing all the things he's learned over the last 10 years of his business journey. So I hope you enjoy this episode and thanks for listening, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us on The Primitive Podcast and I look forward to sharing many episodes with you in the near future.

New Speaker (00:56):

Calder, thanks so much for joining The Primitive Podcast. Really appreciate your time. You've got some exciting things happening. I know you spend your time between Lubbock, Midland, and Odessa. And so I'm looking forward to those who listen to the podcast, getting to know a little bit about you. So if you're okay with it, why don't you start with where you're from and a bit about your background and then walk people through what your business does and who you are and what your role is.

Calder Hendrickson (01:21):

Yeah. Kade, thanks for having me. It's good to see you and join you on the podcast today. So a little bit about myself. I grew up in Colorado, born and raised there and grew up in a Christian home and have three siblings. My parents are still there. And if you ever meet me, I'm 6'8". So I'm a big guy. So sports was who I was growing up, playing baseball, basketball, golf, if there was a ball I was part of it. That's who I was. And so my identity was really built around my athletic ability. And so I grew up through middle school and high school really just having that identity specifically in baseball and ended up getting hurt my junior year of high school. And through that ended up going to a junior college instead of pursuing the D-1 or getting drafted out of high school. But the dream was to play baseball. And I ended up at a junior college in Colorado and I knew then God had a bigger plan than just baseball. I got to meet my wife there. And we ended up being a part of a student leadership ministry there. From there we got married between my sophomore and junior year. So I was 21. Still had the heart to go play professional baseball. And my wife was an Ag major and if I didn't play baseball, I wanted to get basically in the ministry world. And so my degree was actually youth and family ministry when I transferred over to Lubbock Christian University. So that's what brought me to West Texas was LCU. It was one of two schools that had agriculture, ministry, and baseball.

Calder Hendrickson (03:18):

So that's how I got to West Texas. So junior year again, the heart was to get drafted that year and then my shoulder went out. And so I was pretty frustrated because again, that's who I was for 21 years of my life. But now I was married, so I gotta figure out how to support my wife and finish my degree there. And then got into ministry, I was on intern staff with Campus Crusade at Texas Tech University. And then also as a youth pastor for a couple of years at a church here in Lubbock. And I just loved people. I loved interacting with people. I loved getting to know people's stories and just seeing how I could help them just be a better them and love on them. Through being at the church, I realized that there was an opportunity outside of the church in the marketplace to have an impact and got to start playing a little more golf and I met a guy playing golf I guess in 2010.

Calder Hendrickson (04:21):

And he was an older gentleman and you spend time with guys that are older, smarter, wiser, and you just start asking questions, and we built a relationship. And that was the beginning of the creation of Aquasmart. It was something that he invented and I saw some value in, but didn't know exactly what it was, but I ended up starting a company called Aquasmart in early 2011. It started with one patent and now fast forward nine years we have over 30 patents. And what we do is basically we turn commodities into technology. So we take things like frac sand, fertilizer, seed, and take different chemistries and coat them on the different commodities to ultimately create value around water optimization, food security, and energy security. And so it's been a wild ride and there's a lot to unpack there, but that's the overall backstory and what I'm doing now. So CEO of Aquasmart and we've got those four different silos of oil and gas, lawn and garden, agriculture, and concrete.

Kade Wilcox (05:37):

Is the original developer of the initial technology you had still involved in the business?

Calder Hendrickson (05:45):

No. So we ended up buying the patent. So we put together a group of our initial investors that bought him out completely. And so our big dream was how to revolutionize sports fields around moisture management. So we had guys like the New York Yankees groundskeeper, the Rockies, the A's. Some industry experts that saw the technology and saw an opportunity. And that blossomed into, if we can take things like sand and make it absorb water and slowly release it, then there's probably opportunity in other industries. And so that's how it got into the agriculture space and oil and gas space and in the concrete space. So we ended up buying him completely out and just put together a team of people that has continued to innovate around really just why we exist is figuring out ways to create environments for people to thrive.

Kade Wilcox (06:39):

That's cool. Do you have one of those segments that you really excel in more than the other? You mentioned those four areas, is there one that's really kind of blossomed more so than others for you?

Calder Hendrickson (06:53):

Yeah, absolutely. So I think you know, we got into sports and then agriculture, then oil and gas and that has really been the forefront. The majority of our time and energy, no pun intended, is spent on that space. And so obviously in the last 5 to 10 years in North America, hydraulic fracking has become a very big industry. Obviously in 2020 it's taken a massive hit with COVID and energy prices, but the oil and gas space is definitely a front and center focus for us around just how do we unlock energy at lower breakevens costs. So in the Permian, for instance, how do operators or EP companies make money at $30 a barrel or $25 a barrel? And can we take our technology and help lower break even costs while at the same time, our R&D and technical teams are looking at solving problems like food security. How do we grow food in the middle of the desert in Africa? And so we kind of balance a near term fruit that's in front of us as well as a long term impact that we can generate with the technology we have.

Kade Wilcox (08:02):

That's really cool. So you're here roughly nine years into this. How do you see your role as the leader of Aquasmart? Like when you think of leadership, when you think of your role within the company and the organization, what comes to mind? How do you view that?

Calder Hendrickson (08:18):

Yeah, so I would say it's changed a lot. When you start as an entrepreneur, you are everybody, you have your core team, but you're the CEO, the sales guy, the ops guy, the bookkeeper and everything else. And as your company grows, hiring the right team and people becomes essential. And so my role has evolved a lot over the last 10 years and specifically within the last year. And so for me as CEO I've really been convicted and it's wise that my job is to put the best possible team on the field that I can and keep us focused on the big vision, the mission and basically just keep encouraging that core team of people towards that vision and the execution of that. And so I view myself as the captain of the ship that says, here's where the ship is heading. Here's why we're heading there. And putting together a team of people that are way smarter than me to work in the ship, to help grow the ship, to take care of our people, to take care of our customers. So as CEO of AquaSmart, 10 years ago from where we are today, is a much different type of position, even though my title has been the same.

Kade Wilcox (09:47):

You mentioned vision. What does it look like for you as it relates to the vision in the future of the company? I mean, really practical, is there a specific way that you view vision and that you cultivate vision? Do you disappear for a week out of the year? Do you spend time every week on it? What does that look like for you as it relates to vision?

Calder Hendrickson (10:13):

Yeah, great question. So there's five of us on the executive team. We just got away recently, because we made a strategic hire with a new president and COO of Aquasmart. He's a great guy. So our core team got together and just said, why do we even exist? Why are we showing up every day in the morning? What's the purpose? What are we doing? What's our core values? And so I think what came from that is that we exist to create environments for people to thrive. And so everything that we show up every day, every morning, we're looking at through the lens of are our customers thriving, are our vendors thriving, are our own people thriving in where we're heading. And so with that, then our core values of Aquasmart played out on our day to day basis.

Calder Hendrickson (11:07):

And that's hard to do, especially as you're growing and you get more and more people instilling that in our team. So one thing I really appreciated about our new president and COO, he's really good at stuff like this to instill in our team, including myself, how do we really build a culture and ethos around this division and mission of where Aquasmart is heading. And so it starts with a team and then where we're going. We'd love to continue to grow our oil and gas and domestic lawn and garden, agriculture, and concrete space. We'd love to be in the Middle East and Africa figuring out how to unlock energy as well as food security and infrastructure. And we're in the middle of those conversations. But I think for us, it's what's right in front of us, the 30 day, 60 day, 90 day executing on that while not forgetting the five year plan.

Kade Wilcox (12:13):

Yeah. That's the tension of being a leader, isn't it, it's being responsible for the here and now, but never losing sight of the future. And it seems like sometimes leaders can tend to want to do one or the other more, they want to live in the future or they just want to live in the here and now. So it's an interesting dynamic to have live in both.

Calder Hendrickson (12:31):

Being able to zoom in and zoom out is essential for any leader, I think. And you have to create space to be able to zoom in and zoom out. So if you're just going through the everyday chaos, it's really hard to zoom in and zoom out just cause you're reactive versus active. And I'm definitely a culprit of that for many years, especially being an entrepreneur and a growth company. It's hard to do both really well, but that is the tension that all of us face.

Kade Wilcox (13:04):

Yeah. That's really good. Let's talk a little bit about failure. How have you treated failure in the last nine years of leading the organization? And again feel free to be as practical and pragmatic as you can.

Calder Hendrickson (13:18):

Yeah, so I think failure is a perspective and everyone's going to fail. I mean, I fail every day. You know, I probably did something today, even with my kids that probably wasn't the wisest thing in the world or my wife. Or I didn't go for my run this morning cause I hit snooze on my alarm. Or big failures like I made a big bet on a business decision and it didn't go as planned. And so I think failure is all about what you are going to do with whatever it is that just happened. And facing the reality of that failure. So what's the core of it? And then are you just gonna let it bulldoze you or are you actually going to do something about it and learn from it?

Calder Hendrickson (14:10):

And so I think for me as I've grown as a leader I think failure is something that is always there on a daily basis. Be aware of it, ask yourself the tough questions, face the reality of what is not working and then, how do you change it and what do you need to do from a habit standpoint on a daily basis or depending on what the failure is how do you change it? And so I would say, I treat failure as an opportunity to grow and to do better and not anything other than that.

Kade Wilcox (14:49):

Yeah, that's really good. How do you approach your own personal growth? You talked a little bit about the leader's responsibility to zoom in and zoom out and to create space for vision and not getting too consumed with the here and now, do you feel similar to your own personal growth? How do you prioritize your own personal growth as a leader? And what does that prioritization look like as you fend off the here and the very natural things that come with managing and leading?

Calder Hendrickson (15:22):

Yeah. Another great question. So I think for me, one thing that I've really done, especially as a young entrepreneur, I started AquaSmart when I was 25 and I just wanted to sit at the feet of men and women that have been 20 years ahead of me or 30 years ahead of me. And if you spend much time around me, everyone says, you ask a lot of questions. And I do cause you've got 30 years more experience than me. So what can I learn in the next hour from you? So for me as I've had my own personal growth I've put myself around other people that I want to become more like. Additionally, because of my relationship with Jesus and being a believer, spending time in God's word has been huge on my own personal growth of what is truth.

Calder Hendrickson (16:15):

Who did Jesus spend time with? How did he live his life as a leader? How did the disciples interact as leading a church? And so for me it's been really spending a lot of time with people, asking questions, getting in the word of God, and just saying where's truth. And I think that's where my inspiration has come from is when everything's said and done, there's not a whole lot that lasts besides relationships. So we've been given businesses, we've been given family, kids, and everything else. And when everything's said and done, regardless if you have a cool product that makes oil and gas better, or food security, what relationships have been impacted in and through that lens of the business or opportunity you've been given is what is most important.

Kade Wilcox (17:07):

That's really good. Are you into reading podcasts or are there other things that you lean into for some personal growth?

Calder Hendrickson (17:16):

Yeah. I listen to your podcast all the time. I read through a book every two weeks.. And so I've always heard my father in law say leaders are readers. It's so true. You get some of the smartest minds in the world putting their thoughts down, whether it's a podcast or in a book, and you can capture that in a book. And so I definitely go through all sorts of different podcasts. Craig Rochelle has a great leadership podcast that I listen to. StoryBrand guys have a great podcast. And I read all sorts of different books from personal leadership, to scaling businesses, to theology. And so I definitely find that my personal growth comes from just learning from others.

Kade Wilcox (18:17):

That's good. How do you balance life? How do you balance work? How do you balance travel? You've got young kids and you've got your family, you've got your spiritual life. One, how do you balance all that? What's your approach? And then two, when you're not balancing it well, what are those triggers for you that help you see and understand I'm out of balance here. What does that look like for you?

Calder Hendrickson (18:48):

Yeah, that's an awesome question. And it's so important, especially in today's society, we're on this performance treadmill that is hard to get off. So this idea of balance I haven't been good at it to be honest. When I started Aquasmart I felt like everything was urgent. And so when everything's urgent, nothing's urgent. And it just piles up. And so for me balancing really what's most important. So starting with my relationship with the Lord to my wife, to my kids, then my business. And so by no means do I have this figured out. I think it's a daily thing for me, just constantly figuring out what rhythms do I best function under on the emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental aspect and how to become the best me. And then looking at my priorities of saying, have I spent the time that I need to with my wife today? Have I given her 30 minutes of my undivided attention to focus on how her heart is, or how my six year olds day was in kindergarten? And what did he learn today? And did I play Legos with him?

Calder Hendrickson (20:00):

And so I think for me technology is great, but it's also a curse because it's always connected to you. So this has definitely been one of the hardest things, as a man and as a leader, how do I balance these rhythms. I've gotten better at it, but I definitely am not where I want to be either. And I think that goes back to what I said earlier. I think when everything's said and done, we're probably not going to say, I really wish I would have put 60 hours in at work that one week.

Calder Hendrickson (20:36):

But I think that six pound bass that you caught with your six year old and saw his face light up, those are moments you're never going to forget. And I think that's the reminder for me just to step back and make sure that I'm being intentional with my friends, my family, and really spending time with what matters. And God's given us our company for a reason. And I put a ton of effort into that and steward that well, but it also can take over your life if you aren't careful with that kind of performance treadmill and just pursuing the American dream.

Kade Wilcox (21:16):

Yeah, that's all really good. I think one of the most challenging aspects of leading is how to balance aspiration and responsibility. Responsibility to our faith, responsibility to our family, responsibility to our friends, and balancing those responsibilities. And those very good things, those most important things with aspiration. And so I appreciate that answer and I wish there was like a formula. It's like X, Y, Z and it all works out perfect.

Calder Hendrickson (21:52):

Right. I just read a book that was really good. And it was The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, where you just slow down. What does Sabbath look like? What does rest look like? Are you even hearing the birds chirping in the day? Are you seeing the beauty around you and just slowing down, especially with COVID right now. I heard a stat the other day that in 2019 it was like 7% of society had anxiety issues, and this year it's like 36%. And so all of a sudden with this uncertainty of what this COVID is and how people are interacting with each other. And it just makes you pause and just say, why am I doing what I'm doing? Am I being intentional? Do I have rhythms that are being impactful? But it all starts I think with yourself and your spouse and your kids and at the home, and if that's not in order, then you're going to see the impacts of that in the office, church, wherever else.

Kade Wilcox (22:57):

That's right. You mentioned that you love to spend time with people that are 15 or 20 years ahead of you and ask a lot of questions. Who are one or two people that have been super influential in your life and some of the things that really jump out to you that you've learned from them? Can you identify a few of those people, but even more importantly, what are some things that really jump out to you that you've learned from asking them questions and from being around them and spending good time with them?

Calder Hendrickson (23:26):

That's another great question. There's so many people that have come alongside me on my journey specifically, the last 10 years for my wife and I. And I pull nuggets from different people, depending on what I'm talking about with them. So we have couples that are very business minded entrepreneurs that have kids and just say, how do you grow a business and have six kids? We only have two. But I think as I talk with all the different types of families we spend time with, I think the consensus that everyone has communicated is life's not a sprint, it's a marathon. Learn how to Sabbath really well, figure out how to turn off and root yourself with the truth of scripture. Being a follower of Jesus scripture is where truth exists and the Holy Spirit alive.

Calder Hendrickson (24:32):

And I think for us, it's been relying not on yourself, but on Him and he'll direct your paths. And so I think as we spend time with those people it's been rooted in that within a heart of generosity. If you're going to build up an organization that has wealth, what are you going to do with the wealth? And I think that's been another thing that a lot of families have encouraged us with that have significant wealth is the generosity behind it. Are you going to give back and create more value for those that don't have food or don't have shelter or don't have water, or even disease and so forth. And so I think those are things as we spent time with people that have a generous heart and being rooted in intentionality, Sabbath, etc. have been some pivotal conversations that I've had and need to continue to have and just trusting and not just staying on that performance treadmill to do everything on my own.

Kade Wilcox (25:49):

That's good. Last question for you. If you could go back 10 years ago, when you were starting Aquasmart and talk to the 25 year old Calder, what are some of the things, knowing what you know now, what would you tell him and what would you tell him to maybe do differently? Based on your wisdom now.

Calder Hendrickson (26:10):

Yeah, so I think what I would tell the early Calder is what I just said, this is not going to be a sprint, it's a marathon. Because I went out of the gates super strong and fast and hard and had been on that journey for a while. And it really was about six years ago that when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, that it forced me to stop and pause because I physically had to. And so it's funny how God brings things like COVID or Lyme disease or events in life that make you just pause and say, why am I doing this? And so I would just tell that young Calder to slow down, make sure you're giving yourself enough space to know where you're heading, why you're heading there, and make sure you pay attention to what's really most important. And not everything is urgent.

Calder Hendrickson (27:08):

And you don't have to control circumstances. You need to show up every day and give it your 110%. And I think also from a business side, build a team of people that are way smarter than you, realize where your weaknesses are, and be okay with those weaknesses. Not that you're not going to work on them, but allow other people to thrive in areas that you just don't need to thrive. So I think for me, that's been where I'm heading towards, is what am I personally really good at as a CEO? How do I live in what God's gifted me at? And then how do I put together other team members that are really good at the other aspects of a business to allow our company to thrive.

Kade Wilcox (28:02):

Yeah, that's really good. Have you enjoyed building a team? It sounds like that's been a journey you've been on in the last few years. Has that been really rewarding?

Calder Hendrickson (28:10):

Yeah, it has been. Hiring and bringing team members on just to see how they are skilled and how everyone's so different. You know, I think that's one unique thing about bringing on team members is empowering the others. You look at big movements and it's never just been one person. It's always been a person that looks at three and that looks at 12. And then says, how do we dive into them? And then multiplication happens. And so I think that's been exciting for me that I don't need to be all things to all people, but how do I really invest in a few people that are awesome at what they do. And luckily, our executive team is really great at what they do with excellence. From our chief technology officer, to our new president and COO, to our commercial officer, to our finance team we really have put together a team of people that can then steward what we have. Cause there's a lot of great products that just sit on the shelf, but it's the people that really differentiate any company.

Kade Wilcox (29:21):

Yeah. That's really good. We have similar trajectories. We started our company nine years ago this coming October and I think the early days were really similar to what you were saying, just sprinting and white knuckling it and just by sheer force of will making things happen. And certainly, there was a lot to be learned and a lot of really great things, but over the last couple of years, we've actually built out a leadership team. It's really the first time we've really succeeded, because you have the right people in the right place doing the right work. And it's really remarkable. Probably the richest experience I've ever had in my life. Having people that are so much more gifted and right for that role than you are, even though you thought you were good at it, you really weren't in hindsight. And it's by far the most rewarding thing I've ever gotten to do.

Calder Hendrickson (30:19):

And I think for young entrepreneurs like us that are in our thirties, that's something we're going to continue to learn is that building that team of people and allowing other people to thrive is so rewarding. And to be able to love on them and ask questions and what can we do for our teams to help them do their jobs better? So that's really the lens of, at this transition of Aquasmart in growth phase, how do we put the right people on the bus as Jim Collins talks about, what seats are left that need people in them and then how do we rearrange the bus so we can go as far as possible? And so the whole saying of if you want to go fast go alone, and if you want to go far go together. So I think that's where we're sitting back and slowing the breaks down a little bit to make sure we have the right team in the right place. And then for us, the strategy of growing domestically and then internationally to create value in the markets we're in. And this is the vision we're heading towards.

Kade Wilcox (31:36):

That's awesome, man. I'm really proud of you. It's really hard to build a company and you're doing it. And so I hope sometimes you have time to reflect on the real value of that and what you've accomplished with God's grace and a lot of people's help. And so I really appreciate you being on the podcast and thanks for giving of your time.

Calder Hendrickson (31:57):

Absolutely. Thanks Kade. Appreciate man.

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