David W. Williams ’79 would be the first to tell you that he didn’t get to his current position as chairman, president and CEO of Noble Corporation based on his college GPA. “A solid C student,” as he calls himself, Williams channeled his efforts into work instead of school.
He learned the value of hard work at a young age, and shared his experiences and advice in a recent lecture and small discussion with Mays Business School students.
Noble Corporation CEO David Williams ’79 stressed the importance of motivating people during a recent lecture to Mays management students: “If they don’t trust you, they won’t trust your plan.” (view more photos)
The Houston native graduated from Texas A&M University in 1979 with a degree in marketing. He paid his way through college working as a form carpenter, and worked in a shipyard for two years after graduating from A&M. Before coming to Noble Corp five years ago, Williams served as executive vice president at Diamond Offshore Drilling, a company he was with for more than 20 years.
“I’ve worked my whole life,” Williams says. “I never aspired to be a CEO, but I was always up for the next challenge.”
Williams knows diligence, which is key to running the world’s second largest offshore drilling company. Noble Corporation has 79 rigs around the world and employs more than 7,000 people of 64 nationalities. The Switzerland-based company is celebrating its 90th birthday this year and, according to Williams, it will celebrate many more. “The world runs on oil and gas, and that’s not going to change,” he says.
The drilling business has allowed Williams to travel all over the worldâ€”South America, Canada, Africa, China, Indonesia, the Middle East, to name a few, and the place he and his wife currently call home, Geneva, Switzerland. His extensive exposure abroad has made for several unique experiences. Williams says he “thrives in this business, and if I’m not travelling, I get restless.”
“The bottom line,” says Williams, “is that we are in business to make money for our shareholders.” To accomplish this goal, his management style is “all about motivating people. If they don’t trust you, they won’t trust your plan.” Williams has gained this trust by relating to and respecting all levels of employeesâ€”from the rig workers to the board members.
Of course, he runs into many challenges along the way to delivering value to Noble’s shareholders. For example, he spends more time on safety management than on just about anything else. “Statistically speaking, you’re now safer on a Noble rig than you are at home,” he says.
Williams’ unconventional leadership style has brought him to the success he stands on today. He offered his unique outlook and honest advice to the Mays students and shared his opinions on how to succeed in the current job market.
“The good news is, you’re at a great university,” he says. “The bad news is you still have to earn respect and earn your stripes. No one makes it without help. Williams explained that half a dozen people took a chance on him throughout his career, and their risks paid off.
“Be willing and open-minded,” Williams also says. “If a company wants you to move to Egypt, move to Egypt. If you don’t want to go, it might not be the right company for you.”
He says a sense of entitlement is the biggest risk in searching for jobs, and recent college graduates must be willing to take on any task, “even the crummy ones,” thrown their way. “You have to start at the bottom,” he says.
Finally, Williams advises students to become an expert at some aspect of their company for the impact it will have on their career. He illustrated the importance of this idea by sharing that early in his career, he became the “go-to guy” for information on rig competitors, and that gave him an opportunity to shine.
Williams is familiar with each rung on the ladder of success. Starting at the bottom, he pushed his way through the ranks until he hit the top. He has learned the drilling industry inside and out and now claims, “I want this company to be the best. I want people to recognize that we have the right strategy, and I want shareholders to get the credit for what this company has become.”