Executive Search in Oil and Gas, Part I: Young Leaders & Diversity

Executive Search in Oil and Gas, Part I: Young Leaders & Diversity
In the first part of this two-part series, Rigzone speaks with executive search professionals about young leaders in the industry and diversity initiatives.

Many HR professionals have said the oil and gas industry is in a current “war for talent.” The most recent downturn – with its unexpected arrival and prolonged severity has left a workforce void of some of the talent it needs to remain operational and profitable in the future. And that’s not just confined to younger workers with tech skills. Oil and gas companies need the right senior leaders as well.  

Recently, Rigzone sat down with Les Csorba, partner-in-charge of the Houston office for global executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, and Chad Hesters, managing partner of the Houston office for global executive search firm Korn Ferry. Both Csorba and Hesters are highly experienced in executive search, specifically in the energy industry, and share their insights on finding the right leaders on the heels of the downturn.

Rigzone: What are some main characteristics, skillsets and/or experience you look for in senior-level leaders in oil and gas?

Les Csorba
Les Csorba, Partner-In-Charge, Houston Office, Heidrick & Struggles
Partner-In-Charge, Houston Office, Heidrick & Struggles

Csorba: In a highly cyclical and capital-intensive business, with significant disruption, we seek oil and gas leaders who are agile, resilient, transformational, authentic and have a continuous learning mindset. This includes being committed to developing others (including the next generation of leaders in the industry). Safety leadership, environmental stewardship and high integrity always remain at the forefront.

Hesters: For the C-suite, it’s important they have the ability to think strategically about the industry and have the enterprise level acumen that allows for them to tie the financial, operational, regulatory and human capital trends together. They have to be able to operate outside of just their vertical and contribute to, and understand, what’s going on in the business companywide.

Senior roles who report to the C-suite are probably defined to a larger degree by the capabilities to execute those functional or business unit management responsibilities. When you cross over into the C-suite, either as CEO or reporting to the CEO, you have to be able to come outside of your functional background and expertise to contribute as a leader across the business. It is a very notable milestone in the progression of executives, particularly in complex industries like oil and gas.

Rigzone: Considering the Great Crew Change, do you think Gen Xers and younger leaders are prepared to take on senior level roles in oil and gas?

Csorba: Absolutely. The next wave of leaders have tremendous, almost unprecedented opportunity in the oil and gas industry in the next five to 10 years for several reasons:

  • The baby boomer generation continues to retire
  • A renewed demand for technology-oriented leaders (including Big Data and analytics)
  • A lack of investment in leadership in the industry when leaders exited during the downturn (including the most recent collapse in 2015)

The next decade offers a fantastic opportunity and considerable upside for the next generation if they are willing to manage the disruption and persevere in a ‘lower for longer’ commodity environment; willing to step into stretch roles to experientially develop; and lean in and lead across the enterprise in other areas outside their functional expertise.

Chad Hesters
Chad Hesters, Managing Partner, Houston Office, Korn Ferry
Managing Partner, Houston Office, Korn Ferry

Hesters: What may be the most impressive about the Gen Xers, and certainly millennials for that matter, is their ability to deal with the volatile, uncertain and dynamic world of oil and gas. They have a unique ability to be able to absorb information quickly at a rate that is probably quicker than their predecessors. The one piece they’re missing is not a function of what generation they are; it’s a function of matriculating through the career because they haven’t had the opportunity yet to gain more enterprise level skillsets. I don’t personally buy the idea that Gen Xers or millennials are less equipped to be executives of oil and gas companies. In fact, I would propose that they’re probably a product of a world that is changing so quickly, they’re exactly what you want. Young people and mid-level managers, regardless of age, all need the opportunity to grow and gain experiences that stretch them and allow them the skillsets to become a C-suite executive. It’s highly irrational to expect to build a leadership team and not have the apparatus in place that allows for them to grow and develop.

Rigzone: In your experience, how big of a priority is diversity (women and minorities) in executive searches in oil and gas?

Csorba: More studies continue to show that diversity initiatives are not only the socially popular thing to do, but directly impact the performance and profitability of businesses by enhancing the richness of ideas and perspectives in the boardroom and the C-suite and throughout the enterprise. Promoting and grooming diverse talent in the industry has become a significant priority, especially in our highly technical industry (engineers and geologists) which historically has not been as successful in developing diverse talent. While many oil and gas companies have been aggressively investing in diversity and inclusive initiatives, which has produced greater diversity in the executive ranks, most of the diversity gains have been in non-technical or non-operational functions such as HR, marketing, legal and finance. More needs to be done to groom the next generation of diverse talent on the operational and commercial side, which will in turn create the next generation of diverse leadership in CEO and board roles.

Hesters: The thing I’m most proud about regarding this topic in the industry is it’s moving past diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s actually become a desire to have a diversity of thought and perspective because the industry recognizes that makes for a better, safer and more efficient company. It’s not just the right thing to do from a societal role perspective; it’s the right thing to do from a business perspective as well.


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