December 1980, at minus 20°C, supervising oil rigs in Alberta, Canada—that’s where I started. It would have been impossible for me to predict that 25 years later Iwould be writing this from the executive suite of the same company—Chevron. It has been an incredible journey for me intellectually, professionally, and personally, and has taught me valuable lessons about success in business and life.
As you start your own journey, recognize that your education is your entry ticket, not your destiny. I’ve learned that, while strong grades can get you a job, strong performance gets you a career. In the years since I started in the field, I have never practiced civil engineering.
Be open to all possibilities, because your potential is far greater than you can imagine. However, turning your potential into performance is the key. No matter what role you have in a company, at any level, understand the value proposition and which results and behaviors get rewarded. Set goals that exceed what is expected of you. Acquire deep job knowledge, act with integrity, take risks, be decisive and forthright, and deliver impactful results.
Never lose sight that your objective is to create profits or shareholder value. A track record of producing impactful results can lead to advancement, bringing with it both opportunities and challenges. Be prepared to make tough choices and trade-offs. Most importantly, make your decisions based on your life’s goals, not just your career interests.
The higher you advance in leadership, the higher the expectations. Setting vision; building teams; instilling confidence; drawing out the potential and, ultimately, performance of others—these are just a few of the skills you will need, skills you did not likely learn in engineering school.
Be prepared to learn. A successful career brings with it a commitment to continuous learning. When your learning stops, so likely will your advancement.
When you reach the executive ranks, there will essentially be only one major question to answer: have you earned credibility with your superiors, peers, and employees? The sum of your experiences, performance, actions, and interactions will form the opinions of those looking to you for leadership. That’s why it’s so important to make every action, interaction, and decision along the way count. When I visit our oil rig operations today, my early experiences are now an essential part of my credibility.
In the end, business success means little if it comes at the expense of a successful life. Above all else, find the balance that’s right for you, set your own path, and enjoy your life’s journey.