In a way, Suzanne Browne, a senior account manager with ENSCO Offshore, grew up around the oil industry. She was raised in Tulsa, Okla., when it was still a big oilfield town. And her mother worked for Gulf Oil (now Chevron) for more than 30 years in the downstream segment. Her mother’s successful career left a good impression of the industry on Ms Browne, but going into college at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1980s, she recalled having no specific intentions of becoming a second-generation oilfield worker.
In fact, she said she ended up picking economics as her major because it provided a variety of different career options. “It seemed like it would open up a lot of doors and would be so flexible in doing lots of things with it,” she said.
Perhaps it was just coincidence then, that after she got her degree in 1990, Ms Browne still ended up going into the oil business after all.
“The market was not great at the time, and I really wanted to go back to Tulsa,” she recalled. After sending out her resume to the few companies that were left in Tulsa at the time, it was Helmerich & Payne that called back.
Going to work for H&P as a drilling analyst, Ms Browne described her first job as “a little bit of everything,” from sales to contracts to invoicing to communicating with customers. “Back then, H&P was a pretty small drilling contractor. And the job was a good way to get a taste for how a drilling contractor company actually worked.”
She added that her older sister had also gone straight into the oilfield after graduation, though, like their mom, her sister went into the downstream segment as a crude scheduler. Although she was able to see how successful both of their oil industry careers were, Ms Browne still had never had any direct contact with drilling contractors – or any expectations of what the drilling industry would be like.
Those first two years at H&P were definitely an eye-opener, and Ms Browne recalled loving the work she did there.
In 1993, when a family move to Houston led her to take a job with Enron as an engineering technician, the new job made her quickly realize that she wanted to go back to the drilling contractor industry.
“At the time, Enron was the company to work for, and the work was interesting, but I missed all the things I was learning about the drilling contracting business. I had only been at H&P for two years, but I just knew that was what I wanted to do,” she said.
She got her wish a year later, taking a job at Sonat Offshore Drilling (now Transocean) as a contract analyst, focusing on sales and marketing for the company’s offshore fleet. In 1998, she went to ENSCO as a marketing analyst and has been serving as senior account manager since 2006, handling outside sales for the company’s North and South America Business Unit.
Ms Browne said that to this day, she still thoroughly enjoys the drilling contracting industry and the customer interaction that is vital to her job. “It’s very rewarding when you feel like you’re doing something that’s really valuable to the company. If we weren’t out there finding work for the rigs, they would be stacked and nobody on the rigs would have a job,” she said.
As of August 2008, ENSCO had 13 jackups located in the Gulf of Mexico, plus one each in Mexico and Venezuela. Ms Browne said she believes Hurricanes Rita and Katrina have significantly impacted the region’s shelf market – definitely making her job a bigger challenge.
“There were a couple of years when operators didn’t want to drill in the Gulf during hurricane season,” she said. Dealing with the regulatory changes imposed after the hurricanes has been another challenge, as well as finding prospects when reservoirs on the shelf continue to deplete. “I think the Gulf of Mexico shelf is really going to be a challenge from here on out,” she said, but added that demand appears to have picked up in this hurricane season compared with the last couple of years. “We’ve had plenty of demand especially for our smaller 250-ft jackups,” she pointed out.
A woman in a man’s world
There’s no denying that men still dominate the oil industry, but Ms Browne said she must have been lucky because she’s never really had to struggle with that. “I think you still need to have a good understanding about the market and this business and be on top of your game in order to get where you want to be,” she said. “But it’s gotten a lot better now than when I first got into this business. You see many more women in sales, not just on the drilling contractor side but in the overall industry.”
And for the young women who are either new to this industry or considering joining it, Ms Browne said: “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that this is a male-dominated business and you won’t ever amount to much, because that’s not true.”