David Williams ’79, Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO of Noble Corporation PLC, kicked off the Mays Transformational Leaders Speaker Series with an overview of his industry and some advice for Aggies. He spoke to MBA students, undergraduate students, and faculty and staff members.
Mays Dean Eli Jones said when introducing Williams that he was a good fit for the series. “A Mays transformational leader is someone who has an ethical mindset, a global mindset, is analytical, and has the ability to embrace change and to try new things,” he said. “That’s what you are, Mays students, and that’s what Mr. Williams is. He is one of us.”
Williams obtained his bachelor’s degree in marketing at Texas A&M University. He was selected one of Mays’ Outstanding Alumni in 2009 for his career achievements, as well as his service and dedication to Texas A&M. His first job out of college was in a shipyard in 1979, and he has been in the offshore drilling service industry since 1981.
“I have traveled just about everywhere except Antarctica, and I wouldn’t trade my job for anything,” Williams said. “It’s hard sometimes, it’s volatile sometimes and our work is complex, but our business model is really pretty simple: We punch holes in the ground for money – that’s it. Our oil company clients hire us to drill wells below the oceans of the world for a fee.”
Noble is one of the oldest offshore drilling companies, having been in the business since 1921. Its fleet of 28 units runs around the clock 24/7, 365 days a year. “The technology in our equipment is amazing,” he said. “There are offshore drilling rigs and then there’s the space shuttle, and there’s not much in between. The technology is magic.”
Williams described Noble as “a people-focused company that has no peer in employee development.” The company’s basic premise is empowering the team and trusting your colleagues. “Noble has a long history of taking people and shaping them,” he said. “We adopt them and they adopt us.”
He is proud of the company’s safety record, saying, “Statistically speaking, it is safer to be on one of our rigs than it is to be at home.”
Changing with the times
Williams said he tells his children, “Blind luck is not a career path, but it has worked out OK for me.”
His strategy, and the one he advises for others, is to always be preparing for the next cycle. “Steady states never happen for long, so the trick is in not getting so far over your skis you can’t deal with the inevitable change, it’s the only constant in life,” he said. “We’re in a challenging time right now in the oil field, but we’re positioned well to come out of it ahead.”
Williams has held numerous leadership roles within the oil and gas industry, and in January 2008, he was named Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Noble.
Outside of his responsibilities at Noble, Williams is a member of the Executive Committee and past Chairman of the International Association of Drilling Contractors. He is also a board member of the American Petroleum Institute, director of the Well Control Institute, and a member of the National Petroleum Council, the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and the American Bureau of Shipping. He also serves as a member of the Houston Museum of Natural Science Board of Trustees, the Board of Spindletop International, a Houston-based charitable organization, and on the board of the National Ocean Industries Association.
Williams urged those in the audience to make themselves valuable to their employers, “Become an expert on something,” he said. “Know more than anyone else about something in your business so that they can’t imagine doing business without you.”
He also said it is important to learn to embrace change, as it is inevitable. “If there’s something that scares you – if public speaking scares you – do it every chance you get. That’s the only way to conquer that fear.”