Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked, or so Warren Buffet has been known to say.
The tide has been going down for the energy industry, and Houston sees and hears it loud and clear. Layoffs, reductions in capital expenditures by 50% relative to 2014, and by some estimate, over 50,000 job losses still to come. Over 40% of investment grade bonds of oil and gas firms are currently trading at junk levels. Big banks are expecting losses from the loans in their portfolio made to energy companies.
Those that are prepared to manage through times when the tide runs out — those that have built resilient business models and agile learning systems — will survive and thrive. Better yet, those that have shown they can be trusted will come out ahead of the crowd.
In this environment, enter Silver Run Acquisition Corp., which raised $450 million to buy energy assets. Interestingly, it was more than what the company expected to raise. They sold 45 million units at $10 per unit. Each unit represents one share and a third of a warrant to buy shares at $11.50 in a year. Additionally, it is what they call a “blank check” IPO. The company does not have any sales or earnings yet, and plans to use the proceeds to invest in assets in the oil and gas sector. Interesting again, the IPO market this year has been depressed with only 5 IPOs since the beginning of the year compared to over 25 at the same time last year, and only a fifth of the proceeds raised during the same time frame last year. This issue was the largest IPO so far this year. Mark Papa, former CEO of EOG Resources and a Bauer MBA alumnus, is the prominent player in this deal.
Under Papa, and starting in 2006, EOG began to drill for oil. This was unusual given that EOG’s core business had been in natural gas. Furthermore, the drilling was to be in North Dakota and not in the usual areas like Canada or the Gulf of Mexico. The strategy paid off, leading EOG to become the largest oil producer in North Dakota. A sound land acquisition strategy, along with technical expertise driven by scientists at EOG who identified the Bakken in North Dakota as the area that had the most potential for oil, helped the company. Papa saw the decline in the price of natural gas coming before others did and moved to oil. Most important of all, perhaps, was Papa’s strong belief in the Bakken and in EOG’s ability to extract oil, when other companies were backing off from there. This allowed the company to buy acreage at bargain prices. In addition, a conservative balance sheet helped the company emerge stronger and ahead of others in the recent downturn.
Smarts, and resilience, seem to be the Mark Papa brand. Building trust is not easy, but those that can do it have a place at the front row during good times, but more so during bad times.
Sometimes we need the tide to run out to also discover who’s been building muscle.
At Bauer College, our goal is to build resilience and develop “smart” leaders — trustworthy leaders with good judgment who can keep their teams afloat even in a down cycle. And we’re doing this, one successful student at a time.
We gathered in Hermann Park in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. We were dressed in Cougar Red, and some of us had sweatshirts with the Bauer logo. We were honoring Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK).
When MLK led the great march to Washington, no one had a GPS, nor was there social media to publicize events. Yet people gathered in the thousands to listen to him. When he spoke, his message was simple and appealing — racial injustice goes against everything that is natural; it defies the law of nature. It was a simple truth, and people listened.
When we met at Hermann Park, our students had a simple goal — to serve. And they did.
The people at the park explained to us that we would help replant some of the trees that had been placed in the wrong spots. We separated into two groups, one to dig holes so we could lower the trees into the ground, and another to dig the tree out of its current location. I was part of the first group. I had about six students with me — they were all Bauer students as were several in the groups next to us. As always, I am struck by how smart and courteous students are. Importantly today, they focused on service. We talked about Bauer College and our challenges; we talked about recruitment and placements; we discussed the perception of Bauer College outside Houston.
As I listened to each student share their stories, I was awed. These youngsters had bold dreams and a passion to do what it takes. They have career goals, and they are focused. They were in school full-time, and they worked to make ends meet. At the same time, they want to serve and give back. They care about others and about improving lives for those around them. What shone through the sunlight that bright Saturday morning was that these students were not just smart — they were also happy. Interestingly, their happiness derived from how they help each other. The more I think about the values our students reflect, I realized that these students embody what Shawn Autor refers to – Happiness is a work ethic.
We live at a time when the news we see and hear every day, every hour on TV, in the papers, on social media, is negative and divisive. So-called leaders are unable to lead, much less inspire others to follow. Can they take a lesson from our students’ playbook? Can we teach them to be civil to each other? Can we share the message that happiness has to do with reaching out and helping others? Can we share the simple message of service that our students completely embrace? Martin Luther King Jr. showed us that we can dare to care and care about all humanity.
On that bright and sunny Saturday morning at Hermann Park, I realized that our students were not just digging dirt — they were happy to wake up early on a Saturday morning, to work with heavy shovels, to help replant trees. They were happy in the knowledge that they served others. Maybe if Shawn Autor had been with us that morning, he would have commented that to Bauer students, Service is a work ethic.
The best part of my day is time spent with students. Student success has always been our driving mission. The reason why nothing else matters is reinforced every time I speak to students, when they greet me in the elevator, courteously hold the door open at the entrance to Melcher Hall, come to talk to me, or meet me in the classes I teach.
On Friday, I met with six extraordinary Bauer students. One is getting ready to graduate, and thankfully the others will be with us a little longer (I know we want them to graduate in four years but a part of me wants to hold on to students for way, way longer). The students are all part of the Bauer Ambassadors student organization, and they interviewed me for a feature on the “Humans of Bauer” Facebook account they run.
We talked about several things — coffee and coffee shops, food and spicy food, motivation and challenges. And, we talked about fear and failure — our fear of failure. What is failure? Is it a GPA less than 4.0? Is it a missed career opportunity? Is it the lack of a full-time offer in our last semester? Is it not being invited to the Super Bowl party?
It is, as one of them shared with me, a missed opportunity to improve opportunity for others. That is a lot of repetition in one sentence, and does it even make sense? If you have the opportunity to help others, if you have the ability to engage others, and if your meetings and conversations leave everyone around you feeling more enthused when they leave compared to when they came in — if you could do this at every meeting, every conversation, every event you were part of, what would you be? You would of course be a typical Bauer student.
That is what I learnt Friday. I learnt that our students define success by their ability to empower others, and they define failure as not being able to inspire others. That big job offer, that next date, that invitation to the next party, that next win when you run for president of SGA — all these are markers, but true success is defined by your ability to leave a conversation enabling others, true success derives from doing right by others, and lasting success is not defined by how it impacts you, but how you impact others.
Any more, universities are exchanges where we gather to share what we know. On Friday, it was my turn to learn — my instructors were the six students who interviewed me. Thank you students, thank you for sharing with me the true meaning of success.