Kerry's Unconventional Path
From ballet to water management, Kerry has been forging new paths throughout her career.
Kerry has been forging new paths throughout her career. Now as Manager of Regulatory Policy & Sustainability for Marathon Oil, she's helping to forge new practices and policies for the onshore oil and natural gas industry. Representing our company as part of a coalition of industry operators, she recently helped secure the passage of legislation in New Mexico that promotes the recycling of produced water and revises how the state manages wastewater from onshore operations.
Kerry never saw herself in a role at the front line of environmental issues. In fact, her career has taken a number of surprising twists along the way. Growing up as a military kid with her grandparents' ranch as her only permanent base, she studied ballet and dreamed of being a professional ballet dancer, but set that aside to focus on a more practical path: aerospace engineering, inspired by Kelly McGillis' flight instructor character in the movie Top Gun.
"The idea of a woman as a technical expert was new to me," she recalled. "While both my parents have Ph.D. degrees, my mother's is in liberal arts. But she encouraged me to consider engineering since I was good in math and science." When Kerry realized the reality of aerospace engineering didn't live up to the Hollywood image, she re-evaluated her choice and decided to pursue chemical engineering instead.
Kerry graduated from the University of Texas – and into a market where oil was $10 a barrel and not a lot of hiring was going on. She found a position in technical services in the Virgin Islands – not quite the paradise one might picture, she points out: "We were in camp housing right off the refinery. Hours were long and it was definitely not a vacation."
But at 23, she found herself in charge of a refinery stream processing 400,000 barrels of crude a day. "I learned a lot very fast," she said.
Two years later, she returned to Texas and eventually found a way to use her chemical knowledge in a completely different way – as an emissions trader in the newly deregulated Texas utility market.
When she left, it was to pursue an MBA in finance from Rice University. "I wanted to fill out my educational profile," she said. "I wanted to be able to mesh my technical knowledge with economic and financial implications." While at Rice, she interned at JP Morgan Chase, and ended up working full time for them after graduation in syndicated lending for oil and gas service companies ("a super cool job – but the hours were killer").
Looking for a more manageable work-life balance, she began interviewing, including talking to Marathon Oil about a supply chain role. That was in 2007 and she hasn't looked back since.
After taking a role with the Company in strategic sourcing, Kerry was asked to look into issues around water managment. Realizing it was more than a supply chain issue, she began digging deeper, and eventually ended up setting up a strategy for water management in the Eagle Ford as we began focusing on unconventional resource plays.
It proved to be the role that brought together all the expertise she'd accumulated: engineering, environment and economics. "I had everything in place to look at water from a holistic perspective," she said. "And water management is a critical issue for oil production. Yet companies had been looking at it in a fragmented way, which not only was less sustainable, but less efficient. I'm a person who picks up coins off the floor. I hate to see inefficiency."
The role came with a lot of freedom – and challenges. "In south Texas, they had been dealing with a 500-year drought. People were frustrated. We developed a program that let us operate without being part of that frustration." The program involved sourcing 90% of the water needed from brackish (non-drinkable) sources.
Based on what she accomplished – and learned – in Eagle Ford, she took on a broader role that eventually led to her current position advising all assets on water management.
"Marathon Oil gives people a lot of running room to think outside the box and be creative," she said. "There will be hurdles, but as long as you can show that you are helping solve a problem, you're encouraged to think about the company as if it's your own business."
She also began working in an advocacy role within the Texas Oil and Gas Association and other industry groups.
Though she never pictured herself in the role of advocate, she is comfortable tackling the big issues: "I was taught you need to stand up for what you believe in. And my early ballet experience means getting up in front of people doesn't scare me."
While juggling a complex role within the organization and representing Marathon Oil in industry settings, Kerry, who now has two pre-teen children, says she has taken on a second job as a chauffeur – "or it feels that way!" She still manages to fit in ballet classes, and is active in community theater with her son and daughter, including a recent role as the Wicked Witch in Shrek. (Her husband prefers to be an appreciative audience.) She also stays true to her farm roots, raising a menagerie of pets and rescuing any stranded wildlife she comes across.
She is very appreciative of the managers who have allowed her the running room to shape her Marathon Oil career.