HR Discussion

Neal Gillenwater, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Weatherford International

For this interview, we visited Weatherford International, Houston, to speak with Nearl Gillenwater, Senior Vice President, Human resources.  Weatherford has been one of the fastest growing oilfield service companies, with 48,000 employees, and is one of the largest in that industry sector.  Gillenwater discussed a range of issues, including the impact of oil price volatility and the economic downturn on his company and the wider industry and the motivation of employees in today's uncertain business environment.  Deepak M. Gala, Marie Van Steene, and Gopi Nalla, Editors, HR Discussion


Is there a shortage of human resources (HR) professionals and what expertise is required to work in our industry?

Although there is not necessarily a shortage of HR professionals, there does exist a shortage of HR professionals with global experience. In today’s international business environment, HR professionals are required to have multicultural HR expertise to be effective in our industry, with an eye towards global trends and challenges.

Since every country is unique, how do you handle the diverse HR needs of every region?

Each country does hold its own business standards and cultural norms. To that end, Weatherford employs local HR professionals who are diverse and knowledgeable concerning employment in their respective countries. However, it has been my experience that employees’ needs are basically the same wherever they work. All employees expect strong ethical leaders whom they can trust. All employees want to be treated with respect, paid fairly, and have the same opportunities as their peers.

How does Weatherford address employee motivation and retention in the current business climate, with the huge surge in oil prices followed now by an equally dramatic drop in those prices? Should young professionals (YPs) be worrying about layoffs?

Weatherford will not change our strategy as far as Weatherford employees are concerned. We will continue to work with an entrepreneurial spirit, and we will continue to offer competitive careers in the markets where we conduct our business. Our strategies remain unchanged.

Regarding layoffs, we will continue to keep an eye on cost and the price of oil and make any decisions based on the economic outlook. During 2008, Weatherford increased its employee base by more than 10,000 employees. I don’t anticipate that type of growth to continue in this economic environment.

What advice would you give to YPs about their careers in the industry? 

I met recently with a group of YPs who also raised this question. My advice was that the best thing anyone can do, regardless of the industry in which one works, is to continue to work hard, do your best everyday, and not to worry about the things in which you have absolutely no control. Each of us has the power to control how well we perform our job. The better we perform our job, the more valuable we are to our employer. Focus your energy on superior job performance and not on worrying about the things beyond your control.

Do you believe it will be worthwhile to invest time during this downturn in more extensive training of YPs to meet the inevitable growth in demand for skilled professionals, once the upturn comes along?

Training is always a good investment, provided it is the correct training. Even though we are all focused on the financial crisis, we must not forget that we continue to face a global shortage of skilled labor, along with an aging global workforce. While balancing cost, we must definitely continue our industry training, where it makes sense to do so. To that end, Weatherford continues to invest in building regional training centers to meet its training needs.

How does Weatherford maintain a competitive position in today’s global market?

Our customers are willing to pay for quality. In order to continue to provide quality products and services, it comes down to the employees who work for Weatherford. We must continue to develop and retain our employees to meet this demand. In a service company, it’s all about the people.

What plans are in place to raise awareness among employees regarding efficient use of nonrenewable resources and what they can do to reduce their ecological footprint? 

Weatherford has various regional programs to raise employee awareness of the environment. One example of this is our “Go Green” program in Houston, which encourages recycling in our homes and offices. Another example is our “Weather-Life” program in Latin America. Originating in Brazil, this program promotes a complete lifestyle enhancement for employees, encompassing health, fitness, and environmental awareness.

What do you expect the impact of the current economic situation to be on HR growth strategies?

As a general statement, global HR growth strategies will be impacted in all industries—simple cause and effect. No one knows how long this economic crisis will last, and therefore, most employers either are already reducing headcount or assessing how their businesses will fare, before coming to any decisions. Global hiring has slowed and will continue to slow until the economy improves.

Specifically for my employer, yes, there also will be an impact. Weatherford is a growth company. That is what we do; and we have a successful 20-year history of solid growth. During 2009, we will continue to grow, but we will not grow at the pace we have experienced the past few years. From the HR perspective, we will reduce our hiring in certain regions and continue to hire as normal in others.

What would you say to someone considering joining the oilfield-service industry?

The oilfield-service industry will be a very strong employer for many years to come and can present you with the opportunity for an exciting career with unlimited possibilities. If you are considering this kind of career, take a good look at Weatherford.


Neal Gillenwater is Senior Vice President, Human Resources (HR), Weatherford International. As a psychology major from Troy State University, he began his career as a regional HR manager for the Phillips-Van Heusen Company. Throughout his career, he has gained valuable HR experience working for a diverse range of global companies, such as Sikorsky Aircraft/United Technologies and Schlumberger. In 1997, he joined Energy Ventures, which in 1998 bought Weatherford Enterra and kept the Weatherford name. Over the last 11 years, he has experienced firsthand the excitement and hard work that comes with phenomenal growth. During that time, which has included some 250 company acquisitions, Neal has played a key role in helping Weatherford evolve. Today, the company conducts business in more than 100 countries and employs 48,000 people around the world.


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