Shirley Hammer, president and owner of Norman-based Hammer Construction, is no stranger to boom and bust in the Oklahoma energy industry.
Hammer Construction started in 1958 when Shirley’s father Jack Hammer – a man with a name made for the construction industry – two of his uncles and several laborers began selling roustabout and construction services to Oklahoma oil companies. The company still primarily serves the energy industry to this day.
Shirley Hammer came into ownership of the business as the state was reeling from the 1982 Penn Square Bank crash, which precipitated Oklahoma’s most recent energy bust. She had come on board to help in some of her father’s oil drilling ventures when he told her he was unable to continue running the company he built due to his failing health.
“I remember clearly the day my father told me he could not continue,” Hammer says. “I told him I wanted to continue and him being the father he was, he thought I needed to pay for it so I would take care of it.”
In July 1988, Jack penned a sale, and he and his daughter shook hands on it.
Hammer was now in charge of the company during one of the worst times for the energy sector in Oklahoma history and beyond assisting her father, she had no experience in the construction and energy field.
“I was so naive and green and I bought this business on a heartstring,” Hammer says. “I didn’t realize what depths the industry was in at that time. Had I known I might not have bought the business.”
Working in a field that is seen by many, including Hammer’s father at times, as a man’s domain has never been a challenge for the founder’s daughter.
“I have never thought of it as a field dominated by men,” Hammer says. “I made a choice 25 years ago to continue the family business, and I have faced many challenges, but none that are gender related.”
In fact, the hardest challenge the company has overcome is a familiar one to Hammer – an ailing economy.
“I think (the Penn Square Bank crash) taught me a lot about survival,” Hammer says. “It taught me not to give up.”
At the height of the 2009 financial crisis, many companies were feeling the squeeze, and Hammer’s jobs in the state dried up.
Hammer Construction employed nearly 300 people at the time of the 2009 financial crisis. It now employs fewer than 200.
Hammer, however, managed to stay afloat by downsizing, selling off equipment and aggressively pursuing out-of-state work in West Virginia and Pennsylvania to keep equipment in use and the employees busy. Since 2010, the company has had more work in Oklahoma and today primarily operates in this state, Kansas and Texas.
Though Hammer Construction has been through ups and downs, Shirley Hammer plans to keep the future of the business in the family.
“I am proud to say the legacy and future for Hammer Construction continues with my son, Taylor Jennings, as manager of CNG fleet conversions, and son-in-law, Robby Moore as vice president of operations.”