Meeting the Leadership Challenges for Today’s Energy Industry

By Bruce Bullock, Director of Maguire Energy Institute at SMU Cox School of Business 


Meeting the global demand for reliable and affordable energy is requiring technology, investments and talents to manage them on a scale never before witnessed. Industry’s workforce is becoming increasingly global, skilled and sophisticated.

As the Baby Boom generation retires, the industry faces an impending talent shortage. At the same time, incidents such as last summer’s Macondo spill, misinformed political rhetoric regarding the industry’s practices, and a general mistrust of business contribute to a lack of trust in the industry which if left unaddressed will exacerbate the industry’s talent challenges.

In the last few years, the Macguire Energy Institute at SMU’s Cox School of Business has added a number of programs designed to prepare the leaders of tomorrow for the energy industry. These include executive leadership programs, energy clubs, coursework and degree concentrations. However, we believe it’s the common elements across our programs that provide the key building blocks for tomorrow’s generation of leader.

We emphasize that defining an organization’s larger purpose comes first. If done properly and employees are focused on organizational success, profits will follow. The millenials graduating today want to do well in their careers and do “good” in society as well.

Perhaps no other industry offers such a unique opportunity of individual opportunity and economic progress. In ExxonMobil’s 2010 Outlook for Energy, Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson writes “By enabling people to become more productive – and expanding the opportunities – access to reliable, affordable energy can transform people’s lives and the communities in which they live.” In our discussions with students, we have found this combination of opportunity and progress to be very attractive to our graduates.

Second, we emphasize maximizing value for multiple stakeholders – employees, shareholders, customers, communities and suppliers. Too often, one stakeholder group is pitted against another, or decisions forsake one stakeholder group for another. In the energy industry, this type of practice in the future will threaten its license to operate. Thoughtful, balanced management decision-making on the part of future leaders entering the workforce will provide of base of business, industry, employee and public support necessary to move the industry forward.

Third, we teach the value of trust. Trust requires transparency, courage, conviction and humility. In the past, transparency has been used against our industry. But less transparency has led to less trust, and the cycle continues. While in nearly every instance, managers in the energy industry “do the right thing,” our transparency has been lacking or has come late. We emphasize that the default mode of new leaders should be one of openness; and when asked for information, their first thought is, “Why not?”

Finally, we expose our students to the depth and breadth, myths, realities, and misunderstandings of the energy industry. No other industry combines the business, economic, political and technological complexities on as large of a scale as the energy industry does. While we can’t prepare tomorrow’s leaders with all of the answers, we can prepare them to ask the right questions.


Bruce Bullock has served as director of the Maguire Energy Institute at SMU’s Cox School of Business since May 2007. Under his leadership, the institute has implemented a new energy finance concentration within the Cox School’s MBA program, restarted the school’s Frank Pitt’s energy lecture series, and grown the school’s student energy organizations to the largest and most active organizations on campus. Prior to joining the Cox School, Bullock served as director of Corporate Communications for FMC Technologies, Inc., a leading oilfield equipment supplier in Houston, Texas.



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