ExxonMobil honored an old friend Nov. 16, 2010, in a simple ceremony full of significance for people familiar with the rise of Thunderbird Corporate Learning and the school’s close ties to global oil and gas.
Thunderbird Professor Ed Barrett, Ph.D., came to campus in 1990 with a passion for oil and gas that he leveraged to jumpstart business when he took over the school’s fledgling executive education unit. One of his first clients was Exxon, which later became ExxonMobil.
Barrett has taught hundreds of high-potential managers in various ExxonMobil programs since then, but he is now easing into retirement as an emeritus professor. On Nov. 18, 2010, he taught his last course as academic director of the Gas Business Fundamentals program with ExxonMobil Gas & Power Marketing. Tom Walters, President of ExxonMobil Gas & Power Marketing, flew to Arizona to participate in the program and to thank Barrett for his years of service.
“He has been the mainstay of this program,” said Walters, who presented Barrett with a plaque thanking him for “Enthusiastic Teaching, Insightful Questions, Unwavering Dedication and Steady Direction” since the program started in 1996.
Thunderbird President Ángel Cabrera, Ph.D., attended the ceremony with Senior Vice President of Corporate Learning Beth Stoops. Thunderbird Vice President of Global Business Development Jan Mueller, who has worked closely with Barrett on the ExxonMobil account since 1997, also attended the event, along with Thunderbird Professor Andrew Inkpen, Ph.D., who will replace Barrett as academic director of the Gas Business Fundamentals program.
Barrett did not inherit much when he took over Thunderbird executive education in 1990 after arriving from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A staff of two or three people worked out of a trailer on the edge of campus, and Barrett needed new corporate clients to jumpstart revenue.
“I had contacts in the oil and gas industry, so that’s where I started,” he said in a 2009 interview with Thunderbird Magazine. “I knew who the players were.”
Barrett picked up at Thunderbird where he left off in Dallas, bringing rising stars in the oil and gas industry to the Arizona desert for executive education programs.
Before coming to Thunderbird, Barrett had worked with Gulf Oil in Geneva while on the faculty at Harvard Business School. He then taught for more than a decade at Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute.
He followed his friend, Roy Herberger, to Thunderbird when Herberger became president of the school in 1989. Things went better than expected when Barrett reached out to ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies.
“The tie was stronger than we thought,” Barrett said. “It’s hard to find an industry more global, and therefore more complex, and therefore more interesting than oil and gas. It affects every country in the world, and that ties very nicely to who we are at Thunderbird.”
Global partners such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and TNK-BP started coming toThunderbird — along with oilfield services companies such as Baker Hughes, Integra and Smith International, and state-owned enterprises such as the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India.
Thunderbird Corporate Learning, which grew out of the cramped trailer on the edge of campus, has modern facilities today that include the Thunderbird Executive Inn, four auditoriums and a two-story administration/classroom building. A second site in Geneva oversees operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Many factors have contributed to the growth of Thunderbird Corporate Learning, but the specialization in oil and gas remains key. Professors such as Kannan Ramaswamy, Ph.D., Michael Moffett, Ph.D., William Youngdahl, Ph.D., and Inkpen have joined Barrett over the years as industry experts who speak the language of global energy executives.
“We’re doing something right or they wouldn’t keep coming back,” Barrett said. “We’re winning contracts with oil and gas companies because we understand the complexity with which they live and can offer them some hope or help in trying to deal with that.”
Mueller, who arrived at Thunderbird 20 years ago and moved to Corporate Learning in 1997, said Barrett deserves much of the credit for the growth. She said he emerged as a Corporate Learning legend who earned the nickname “Executive Ed.”
A Thunderbird industry
One of the things that has kept Barrett’s interest in oil and gas over the decades is the global nature of the industry. The search for new energy deposits often leads companies such as ExxonMobil to remote locations that other industries simply ignore. Geopolitical, cultural and organizational complexities come with the territory.
“A lot of times when people talk about going global, when you drill down, they’re talking about doing business in modern cities like Singapore, London, Tokyo or Shanghai,” Barrett said. “The oil and gas industry is everywhere, including some very culturally and socially different places in very difficult regions. You’re likely to find new oil in places like Turkmenistan, which, as best as I can tell, is on nobody’s vacation list.”
He said benefits from Thunderbird’s long relationship with the oil and gas industry flow in both directions. Working professionals gain knowledge of best practices and theory, and Thunderbird professors gain real-world experience that keeps their courses relevant.
“We are focused on managing in a global setting,”Barrett said. “To understand what is different about global, you have got to be involved with people who are global, who have to wrestle with the issues on a regular basis.”
Other high-profile T-birds in attendance at the ceremony included Chief Academic Officer and Dean David Bowen, Ph.D., Chief Financial Officer Tim Propp, Associate Vice President Joy Lubeck, Thunderbird Professors Paul Kinsinger and Karen Walch, Ph.D., and Adjunct Professor Guntram Werther, Ph.D.