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Rodeo star to entrepreneur: Murphy’s SM Fencing & Energy Services expanding into multiple areas

SM Fencing and Energy Services CEO Seth Murphy stands outside of his company's building north of Dickinson on April 11.

Seth Murphy is one of the most successful entrepreneurs under 30 years old in North Dakota.

Not that anyone would ever know.

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Around noon on a weekday, the hulking 29-year-old walked into the Brickhouse Grille, a downtown fine dining establishment frequented by business types — a place where there’s more wine and martini choices on the menu than food.

Surrounding Murphy were men and women in business attire. Like most days, Murphy wore a pair of work jeans and boots, and a jacket and hat with his company logo on it. He had six business meetings that day, though he admits he’d much rather be out working in the field with his guys.

“That’s when I’m the happiest, when I’m out working, using my hands,” said Murphy, who grew up on a ranch north of Killdeer.

Murphy is the founder and CEO of one of the fastest-growing companies in the Oil Patch, SM Fencing & Energy Services.

He started SM Fencing in 2006 before he even graduated from Dickinson State University.

When SM Fencing started, his teenage cousin was his only employee. They worked alongside a local construction company installing chain-link fence at oilfield sites.

Today, the company has around 100 employees, offers more than 35 oilfield-related services and has about 75 clients. They recently added “Energy Services” to the company name because of its expansion into different areas.

They do everything from providing roustabout services and emergency spill response to utility line locating and vegetation eradication.

“We don’t build the pad or drill the hole,” Murphy said. “We do about everything else.”

‘The Murphy factor’ Aaron Marxen has only been with SM Fencing since January 2013, yet the company’s controller and chief financial officer said he’s still amazed by the company’s continuous growth and expansion.

In 2012, he said, they had approximately 3,000 invoices. In the first quarter of 2014, they had already processed 2,500.

“I failed to anticipate, ‘the Murphy factor,’ let’s put it that way,” Marxen said with a laugh.

Marxen said Murphy has set himself and the entire company apart from its competition because of his work ethic and business approach.

“Seth has got this personality, this can-do attitude about everything,” Marxen said. “He doesn’t say no. If someone comes to him with a unique issue or problem that needs doing, Seth it’s like, ‘We’ll figure it out.’”

Marxen said there have been times when clients have asked Murphy if he could provide more than just one service. If SM Fencing didn’t have that service, Murphy would arrange for training, rental or purchase of equipment and new hires in order to meet the client’s needs.

“That’s his attitude toward things,” Marxen said. “We will do our level best to get the job done and get it done right, no matter what we have to do.”

Murphy added: “(Clients) appreciate the quality job you do in one area and say, ‘Can you help us with this?’ You may not know everything, but as long as you can continue focusing on that quality and carry that quality into other areas, they want you to do the work for them.”

Rodeo dreams Growing up, Murphy had no idea this is what he’d end up doing.

He envisioned himself bulldogging steers in Las Vegas at the National Finals Rodeo — and he was well on his way to achieving that dream.

He was one of the top college steer wrestlers in the nation and was making strides in the PRCA’s Badlands Circuit, winning titles in the all-around, steer wrestling and tie-down roping.

But Murphy said, rodeo is now more of a hobby as he has a responsibility to his wife and two young children.

“I just basically sat down and viewed it as irresponsible of me not to put it on hold to focus on what we’ve built here,” he said. “It’d be silly and irresponsible to sacrifice the direction we were going with the company to go and throw steers down. … There’s a difference between what you want to do and what you need to do.”

Building and giving back Murphy said he has been approached about selling the company, but said he has no plans of doing that.

He enjoys the job is said he’s proud of what he’s built and continues to build. Plans are in place to move out of their shop just north of Dickinson to a bigger space at the Five Diamonds Industrial Park by the Stark-Dunn county line.

“We’re blessed to be where we’re at,” he said. “We’re very appreciative of all our great clients. I was born and raised here. We’re from here and we’re here to stay.”

He wants to see SM Fencing grow into a company remembered for its philanthropy as much as its product. This spring, it will be one of the main sponsors of the 3-on-3 Hoopfest in Dickinson. Murphy said he wants to donate to children’s groups, hospitals, rodeos and youth extracurricular activities.

“I feel a heavy responsibility. That’s not just because of what people think you should do,” he said. “We try to give as much back as we can.”

Dustin Monke

Monke came to The Dickinson Press in July 2006 as the newspaper's sports editor and was hired as its managing editor in March 2013. During his tenure at The Press, Monke has won multiple awards for sports reporting, feature reporting, column writing, page design and photography. He was a key part of The Press winning the North Dakota Newspaper Association's General Excellence and Sweepstakes awards in 2009 and 2012, and oversaw The Press' Sweepstakes and General Excellence wins in 2014, as well as its national first-place honors for Community Leadership in the Inland Daily Press Association and contributed to the first-place Inland award for Investigative Reporting. As the newspaper's editor, he writes an occasional Sunday column, is a member of The Press' Editorial Board, contributes feature stories and breaking news, designs pages, and oversees the day-to-day operations of the newsroom and editorial staff. In his free time, he enjoys watching sports and action movies, exercises whenever his schedule allows, and spends every minute he can with his wife and son.

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