Katherine Hargis is Senior Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Key Energy Services and a member of the Energy Workforce Advisory Board. She recently shared her thoughts on women in oil and gas.
Energy Workforce: Why did you get involved in oil and gas?
Katherine Hargis: I needed a job in Houston, and Key was hiring. I wanted to get into oil and gas because it seemed like there would always be jobs in Houston in this industry. Key was international and much larger than the company I left.
EW: What are the major changes you’ve seen during your time in the industry?
KH: More women leaders! More women in the field and in higher level functional support positions. Restructurings, consolidations, negative 37 oil, COVID impact, more restructurings, large public players leaving the space (going bankrupt), investors leaving the space, limited access to capital markets, the advent of ESG, vilification of the industry, belief that the industry is a dinosaur and will soon no longer be necessary, diversity and inclusion showing up in a very real way — playing a part in the discourse and education of a nation on the importance of our space and the need to evolve, innovate and expand.
EW: What do you think companies could do to retain female employees?
KH: Do market analysis on positions in the company to ensure equal pay, make sure managers are conducting performance reviews focused on career progression — goals, including what is it you want to do, what we can do to help you get there, outlining things to work on, and identify what different avenues are available to reach those goals. Also, encourage talented female employees to apply for open positions before the individual may think they are ready, and provide mentor programs that include male and female mentors.
EW: Do you have a mentor, and if so, how has mentorship helped you towards your career goals?
KH: I have had four mentors — two General Counsels and two CEOs.
- The first GC who hired me in-house at U.S. Concrete, Inc. in 2006 was a mentor in the sense that he not only allowed me to take ownership of things I had never done before, but he also expected it. I was given the freedom to do things I had never done before with very little supervision, and actually doing them gave me a great deal of confidence. Not only did I learn a lot, I was able to engage on a daily basis with members of operations because he was so busy dealing with board and C-suite matters. Those relationships, along with the experience of operating outside my comfort zone, made me believe I could take on the GC role before I thought I was actually ready. When given an inch, I went for the mile.
- My second mentor was the third CEO at U.S. Concrete, Bill Sandbrook. He joined the company about a year after its restructuring. When the GC who hired me left without notice on a Friday, Bill called me on a Sunday night (so as not to ruin my weekend) and asked me to go look at what was on the former GCs desk in the morning and handle it. It turned out that week we had two 8-Ks, an amendment to our credit facility, and quarterly board and committee meetings. I attended my first board and committee meetings that week and at the end of the board meeting Bill said, “I told the Board I want to see if you can do this and to call off the GC search.”
I was not given an extra person or title at that moment, but I was given an increase in pay and the opportunity to prove myself. He threw me into the deep end of the pool to see if I could swim. So I swam. I became their GC and Secretary and was able to hire an Assistant General Counsel.
Bill always asked my opinions and gave me his. He sent me to a four-day intensive negotiation seminar with several of the other executives, and then he allowed me to run our divestitures and acquisitions, negotiating the major deal points. I watched how he took the company from a $2 stock price to over $80 per share. I watched how he integrated operations and functional support. I heard how he would talk to everyone in the field and take notes with a little black notebook (drivers, admins, dispatchers – everyone’s voice counted).
When he moved the corporate office to Euless, TX to co-locate with operations, my daughters were one and half, and three and half years old. I commuted every weekend for an entire year. I finally could not be away from my husband and daughters, and my husband could not move. I left and joined Key as their Assistant General Counsel of Corporate and Securities.
- My third mentor was the GC who hired me as the assistant General Counsel at Key, Kim Frye, in the summer of 2013. I had never had a female executive for a boss. She was a force. Tall, confident, assertive with a voice you could hear all the way down the hall. She believed I could be her successor and treated me as such from the beginning, including me in all board and committee meetings, investigations and transactions. She allowed me to change rules I thought needed changing, clean-up things I thought needed cleaning, and pushed me to get out of my comfort zone in a social manner (something that was extremely difficult for me).
She told me the board was concerned that I was quiet. This was a good lesson for me. I was quiet. I never volunteered to speak unless spoken to in a board room. When she left in July of 2015, the company did a search for a GC. During the search I was in front of the board on a regular basis and made an effort to be more vocal. I was appointed GC effective January 1, 2016, reporting to the new CEO Robert Drummond, who is now CEO at NexTier. Embracing constructive criticism and constantly pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is the key to growth. Good mentors will give you the criticism and push you to move beyond where you have grown comfortable.
- My fourth mentor is my CEO at Key, Marshall Dodson. He constantly pushes me outside my comfort zone. He provides me with constructive feedback. He accepts me as I am with all of my idiosyncrasies and allows me to actively engage in shaping and executing the company’s strategic vision. He has allowed me to get in the field and be part of operations more than any of my prior mentors. He does not see me as “the lawyer” and thus, I no longer see myself that way either. I am extremely grateful to work for someone who appreciates me as I am, pushes me to be more, includes me, respects me and empowers me. #Bestboss
EW: What advice would you give women thinking about a career in oil and gas?
KH: There is no better time than now. This industry is not going away. It is evolving, expanding and critical to our economic and national security. In order to evolve this industry and achieve energy expansion, we must have diversity of perspective at all levels in our workforce. The need for diversity and inclusion is now recognized and supported by leaders of the industry and investors in the industry. There is a lot of work to be done and we need new voices.
It is not an easy industry – it is complex, volatile and geopolitical. But that is what makes it interesting, challenging and rewarding. If you don’t like rollercoasters, it may not be the space for you. But if you don’t mind a ride, then buckle up and take the opportunity to be part of an industry that is evolving, innovative and dynamic.
Join a company that is lean and you will get to learn a lot more. This will make you much more marketable and also keep you from getting bored. When a mentor presents to you – take the opportunity to learn all you can. Advocate for yourself and also advocate for others who may not have the same position or voice (male or female). Look for the good and create the better.
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