Greg Davidson - 1990

CSEG Medal Recipient Greg Davidson
by Dorothy-Ann Reimer

Greg Davidson, this year's winner of the CSEG Medal, has an abiding belief that if he listens closely to the needs of clients today, he'll be there tomorrow or a year from now. This philosophy of growing with his clients has allowed him to establish his company, Geophysical Microcomputer Applications [International] Ltd. (G.M.A.) as a highly respected name with Calgary geophysicists.

G.M.A.'s P.C.-based software development began at a time when very little was known about the potential of micro-computers for geophysical applications. At that time P.C.'s were being built in basements and workshops from kits; they were exciting toys and Greg Davidson was one of those who played, hardly dreaming where such an avocation would eventually lead him.

Getting Started

It is difficult to believe that today's president and co-founder of G.M.A. nearly didn't make it into the world of geophysics. High school was finished, his plans were made for a career in surveying, his application approved at BCIT and his bags were packed for the trip to Vancouver, when he received acceptance in the Physics program at the fledgling Simon Fraser University. He had applied at his father's suggestion only a few weeks before. When asked why he choose SFU, a college with a still-to-be established reputation, Greg said that it was new, everyone else was going to U.B.C. and he wanted something different.

The university years were busy. Married at the end of first year he found keeping up with a full program in solid stale physics and working for Hertz part-time a demanding life.

Following graduation in 1970 with a B.Sc. in physics, he joined Amoco who, he believes, was the only oil company to recruit at SFU that year. Amoco's policy of hiring exploration people from differing backgrounds meant that Greg walked into an environment where people were continuously learning about other disciplines, about exploration, about computers. In those first years, he built his knowledge of geology and geophysics through more classes, mainly on his own time.

In 1974, Greg moved to Mobil as an interpreter. One of the exciting projects he remembers was a program in Hudson's Bay. He expressed the feelings of many geophysicists working in new areas when he said of this time "When you're shooting new seismic, you're seeing things that have never been seen before!"

Greg's first introduction to micro-computers came when he joined Forest Oil in 1978. Forest used a system from Bell & Murphy, a Houston-based company providing interpretive software on a Wang computer for seismograms and modeling. He started writing some or his own programs to augment what was available.

It was also at Forest Oil that he first met Ron Newman who was later to become one of his most valued supporters and a founding partner of G.M.A.

New Directions

Moving to Total Petroleum in 1980, Greg found himself using CGG's system of in-house terminals connected to an outside main-frame computer. He soon realized that the economics of such a system made it too costly for many oil companies. Now the idea of providing geophysical applications software to run on small micro-computers had taken root in his mind and in late 1981 the chance came to make his move. Total Petroleum was reviewing their corporate strategy and offered their employees a 6-month incentive bonus, payable in 6 months time. The extra money would help start his business.

At this point, Ron Newman stepped back into Greg's life and provided some key advice and direction; don't do this on evenings and weekends, do it full time. Greg gives much credit to Ron who helped obtain financing, made office space available and, most importantly, believed in the product enough to share his industry contacts.

Total Petroleum was highly supportive of the new venture and April 1983 saw the installation of the first system in their office. Of this system Greg commented:

"That first software — we've been talking about trying resurrect it. A synthetic — you could have one wavelet on a synthetic. Video graphics on a P.C. were no existent at the time we got started. Everything was done on text screen. There was no screen graphics on our systems at all and the Hercules video board was the only thing available.

We first talked to Hercules abut installing one of their boards. I talked to one of the founders of the company. These 2 guys were practically operating out of their garage in California. That's what Hercules was — barely a 2 man operation in a garage.

Modeling — the system may have had a 2-well model, that's all. Two-diskette system, no graphics, no hard disk, a far cry from our system today."

Memories of those first couple of years arc of naivete, hard work and enthusiasm. Many geophysicists who saw the system wanted it immediately but their managers were slower to act. Sales took six or more months instead of an expected one month. Work days stretched, work weeks were barely long enough. But the excitement of bringing formerly big company resources into the hands of small company geophysicists was exhilarating.

What Is Next

What about the future? Now that the company has grown, Greg has been able to turn much of the administration over to others and become more involved in the technical work again. He hasn't set long term goals, preferring the freedom to respond to the needs of the geophysical community. Serving his clients will remain the priority.

With only his younger son still at home, he and his wife Marilyn look forward to more leisure time. Hiking, cross-country skiing and cycling around Glenmore park take him outdoors in all seasons.

When asked if he had a dream holiday, he described the one he took last year rock climbing for a week on a course in the Rockies. He thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, observing I used to look at these rocks and they were insurmountable. I wanted to see them, not as obstacles, but to be able to keep going right over. Learning to climb changed my outlook towards the rocks — now I can handle them when I choose.

The Future

Greg expresses concern about the major task he sees for the geophysics profession: finding enough oil for the future. Looking ahead to retirement, he says, "What worries me is, am I going to be able to fuel my car in the year 2020?" He speaks of apparent production gluts that hides the challenge for exploration and hopes "there are people out there finding that oil."

It seems that Greg Davidson has been meeting that challenge himself for several years and will continue to do so in the years ahead.