NOV CEO: Leadership Optimism Is Key During a Downturn

In addition to the massive drilling operations his company designs and manufacturers, during the last 18 months, National Oilwell Varco Inc. veteran Clay Williams has had to keep a firm hand on the helm of his company, which saw the departures of his longtime mentor, then-CEO Pete Miller, and CFO Jeremy Thigpen.

Miller went on to serve as board chairman for NOV and a company spun-off from NOV, DistributionNOW. He’s also newly appointed as the chairman of the board at Transocean Ltd. About a year later, Thigpen took over as CEO at Transocean, a move that Williams describes earnestly as a great opportunity for his former colleague.

In fact, when asked how he took the news of Thigpen’s departure – Was he mad? – Williams responded with a hearty laugh.

“No, I’m really excited for Jeremy Thigpen. It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “He’s very talented and [Transocean] is a large customer of NOV’s. And really, I wish him well.”

Not one content to perform double duty as CFO and resuscitate his time as CFO, Williams has a search underway for a new CFO, which includes both internal and external candidates.

“Our chief accounting officer, Scott Duff, is serving as our interim CFO, and he’s done a super job,” Williams said. “We’ve got a great finance team there.”

So in this downside of the cyclical energy industry, what exactly does a leadership team need?

“Optimism,” Williams said.

“I think our most important job – and this is something I try to communicate to my team – is to make sure our employees see prosperity on the other side of this downturn. They need to see a future. They need to see that this company is going to emerge better and stronger. They need to be treated like adults and acknowledge we’re going through a difficult period, but there’s prosperity on the other side of this. We’re the best oilfield services company in the business and we’re going to emerge better and stronger.”

That whole “treating employees like adults” isn’t just lip service with Williams. Unlike other large multinational corporations, you won’t see endless meetings for meetings’ sake at NOV.

“I’m more analytical, but we function on kind of on an ad-hoc basis depending on what’s going on in [the management teams] businesses and lives. We went through a pretty big reorganization last summer and set up new segments with new leadership. We’ve had a number of new employees in new roles. It’s been a fun year in terms of helping them settle into new roles and get to know the company better and get to know them better. But it’s very ad-hoc,” he explained. “I like to give people a lot of room to run. I’m here to serve them, so I tell them to come to me for what they need.”

An award-winning journalist, Deon has reported on energy, business and politics for almost 20 years. Email Deon at


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Jerri Babin | Aug. 26, 2015
I think that having a positive and can-do attitude will get us to the other side of this - it is how you lead when times are tough that makes all teams stronger.

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