Oral-History:Janeen Judah

About the Interviewee

Janeen Judah

Janeen Judah is currently the General Manager of Chevron’s Southern Africa business. Other Chevron positions include President of the Chevron Environmental Management Company and GM of Reservoir and Production Engineering for Chevron Energy Technology Company. She started her career in Midland in 1981.

Janeen will be the 2017 President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers International and started in SPE leadership as a student section officer. She has served in many leadership roles including Chair of both the Permian Basin and Gulf Coast sections and two terms on the international Board of Directors, as the regional director for Gulf Coast NA and currently as Vice President – Finance.

Janeen has been recognized for her university support and advocacy for women engineers by the Texas A&M Petroleum Engineering Department, Texas A&M College of Engineering and the Society of Women Engineers, and she serves on advisory boards for all three. She is the the second woman to be honored as an Outstanding Alumni of the Texas A&M College of Engineering. She is also Chevron’s Executive Sponsor for their relationships with the University of Houston.

Janeen earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M. She also holds an MBA from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and a JD from the University of Houston Law Center. She is a frequent speaker on industry issues, including technology, innovation and risk, as well as diversity and career development.


About the Interview

Janeen Judah: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, September 30, 2015.

Interview SPEOH000138 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.


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Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Janeen Judah
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
DATE: September 30, 2015
PLACE: Houston, Texas


ESDORN:

My name is Amy Esdorn and I’m here at the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. Today is September 30, 2015, and I’m speaking with Janeen Judah. Janeen, thank you for participating in this interview.

JUDAH:

Great. I’m glad to be here.

ESDORN:

Well, good. Let’s begin. My first question for you is: how did you get involved in the industry?

JUDAH:

I grew up in the industry. I’m a native Houstonian, grew up here around the industry. My father is an engineer and an SPE member who worked for one of the major pipeline companies. I always thought that being an engineer would give me the opportunity to solve problems and see the world, and it has.

ESDORN:

When you were a young child, did you follow him around and sort of ask him questions, or…

JUDAH:

Not really. The engineering profession was appealing to me because it’s a profession of solving problems, and so -- no, we didn’t work on cars together or anything like that, but I just liked the analytical and problem solving parts of being an engineer.

ESDORN:

Where did you go to school?

JUDAH:

Actually, I went to Houston public schools. I’m a graduate of HISD [Houston Independent School District]. And then my undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees are both from Texas A&M University. And then along the way, while I was working, I earned an MBA and a law degree.

ESDORN:

While you were at A&M, did you do any kind of internships in the industry, or…

JUDAH:

Yeah, I worked one summer as a roust-about out on the field in the West Ranch field, which is located near Victoria. A&M at that time required all petroleum engineering students to have a field internship, even the girls. I rode around in a truck and helped them with repairs and worked in the field for a summer. [00:02:00] Then I worked the summer in the office for ARCO Oil and Gas Company, and then I eventually went to work for them permanently.

ESDORN:

Did you prefer one over the other?

JUDAH:

Texas in the summer is not a great place to be out in the fields, so although especially early career I did enjoy going to the field, you get kind of cooped up in the office for a while, so we would go out for a frack job or logging job and things like that. Back then, we didn’t have all the computer wireless interactions so you actually went out to the field and sat in the truck. I did enjoy doing that on occasion. I did a lot of it because I worked my early career in West Texas.

ESDORN:

Tell us a little bit about your early career. What was your first job?

JUDAH:

I first worked out in Midland as a production engineer on fields, primarily in Southeastern New Mexico, and I spent most of the 1980s in Midland and West Texas. And during that time, I wound up working all over West Texas, the different parts of the geography out there, mostly production and reservoir engineering, just general fields that I took care of. A lot of trips to the fields. It’s a great place to learn the oil field because you get to see and do a lot and a lot of repetition of things, and you get to propose work and see it done and see the results, which you don’t always get to see when you’re offshore in some of the bigger projects. So I enjoyed my time there. By the time I’d been there almost 10 years, I was kind of ready to move on to someplace else.

ESDORN:

That’s great. When you started, how did you get your first job?

JUDAH:

My first job was through interviewing at A&M. Obviously, it still is a very heavily recruited school and I was a good student. Not one of the absolute top students. I was a good student, and so I had multiple offers when I got out.

ESDORN:

When was this, what year?

JUDAH:

[00:04:00] Well, my first time I got out was in December of 1980, so I went to Midland in January of ’81 and I worked for a smaller company there. And then it didn’t actually work out that great, so I went back to A&M and got a masters and came back out again in December 1983, and that’s when I went to work for ARCO.

ESDORN:

You’ve sort of -- you’ve gotten your MBA and you’ve gotten your JD. Can you explain a little bit about those decisions that you made?

JUDAH:

The decisions. I get asked that a lot. Having graduate degrees in engineering, MBA, and law—so I’ve kind of covered everything but medical school—I get asked that question a lot about what kind of graduate school to go to. The masters was partly because I didn’t like my first job, and then partly because I wanted to get my skills to a little better level. I almost did a do-over, went out, got my masters, and then came back out. Then I went to work for ARCO. In the ‘80s, there was the big price drop in 1986, and it was a real time of turmoil. So, I did my MBA at night while I was working really as insurance. It’s just another skill set to have, another tool in my box to maybe make me have a better chance of keeping my job in a downturn.

Really, it was the same thing with law school. I wound up in the late ‘80s working with some lawyers and on some lawsuits, and I realized that what they were doing didn’t seem that hard. We were doing a lot of work for them, and I thought maybe I could do that too. Then it was also an insurance. So if I wound up having to leave the industry, I had another skill set I could use. So when I moved to Houston, I took the LSAT and applied at both the law schools here that have night programs and got into both of them. So I started at University of Houston and did that at night while I was working. Both my MBA and my law degree were at night while I was working.

ESDORN:

Was that complicated or difficult to sort of balance that, going back to school and your nine-to-five job?

JUDAH:

Yeah. You give up your free time. [00:06:00] Yeah, it’s definitely a sacrifice. There were times, especially with my MBA, that I would be coming straight from the field. I’d be in boots, come out of something in the field and just go to class. But I didn’t travel a lot those times of the year with those jobs, so I was able to do it and work it in. But yeah, you give up really your nights and weekends to do that.

ESDORN:

Well, kind of speaking to some challenges and that sort of thing that we’re just speaking of, what challenges did you face in your career?

JUDAH:

There’s a lot of them, but I think I’d put them in kind of two buckets. Especially my early career, there was still a lot of open discrimination against women. In fact, part of the reason my really first job didn’t work out was I had a boss who didn’t believe I belonged there and didn’t mind telling me about it. We don’t see that now, but they still did it then. We were still really unusual, especially out in the field and a distraction. And now you even go offshore and you see women living out there. Back then you didn’t, so we were still unusual and still kind of had to prove our worth in the field.

That was one thing that was really challenging because you’re young, too, and you don’t have a lot of confidence and here’s somebody challenging you. You go, “Well, I’ve got the same degree as that guy does. I should know as much.” But they weren’t quite as enlightened as they are now. Then the other really big one that I would say is that, really, for about the first 20 years of my career, we had lay-offs about every year and a half or two years. And the downturn right now, people are really shocked about it and acting very scared about it, but it was a way of life for the ‘80s and ‘90s. You always had to make sure your skills were up. You had to make sure you were providing value, make sure that you were making your boss happy. Because it happened pretty regularly during all that time. [00:08:00] It was challenging to feel secure or optimistic. I stayed because I like it, but I always had these backup plans [chuckles] with my law degree and my MBA just in case I didn’t make the cut one time. But I did, and I’m still here. So it was really challenging in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

ESDORN:

You mentioned keeping up your skill set and doing that sort of thing. How did you meet that challenge of keeping up your skill set in terms of feeling a lot of -- especially fear from other people maybe or whatever? How did you forge ahead and continue to have a clear vision to know what you needed to do to stay competitive?

JUDAH:

I don’t know if I always had a clear vision. Because sometimes, there’s a lot of serendipity that happens in your career, people you happen to work for or people you know. But obviously, I got a lot of degrees. That was one of the ways. I also looked for new challenges or new projects that I can work on or something that would give me an extra little bit of skills and a little bit more experience that would perhaps give me that differentiator for when the next cut would come. I was always on the outlook for something new to work on and new people to work with, and networking. I’ve always been a connector and try to be a link to people. I’m a very natural connector, and I’ve stayed in contact with a lot of people that I’ve worked with over the years.

ESDORN:

Speaking of the earlier challenges that you mentioned, how did you face the challenge of just maybe saying, “Well, yeah, I might be young, but I have this degree, just like everybody else”? Did you find -- were there are other people that you could rely on to help you with that? Or how did you work through that?

JUDAH:

Well, you just have to be good at your job, one. And I’m very tall. [00:10:00] It sounds weird, but in the field, my physical stature helped some. I don’t know why. But I was also good at what I did, and I worked really hard at it. I did have a guy that I worked with years ago—he was in my work team, and I’m still friends, primarily with his wife, but I was still keeping in contact with him—that kind of took me under his wing. So when I would get -- my boss would yell at me and say women don’t belong in the oil field, I would go down there and talk to him and he’d kind of talk me off the ceiling. Having those kind of mentors and people that you can go in there -- and I would say not so much vent to but get a little confidence boost really matters, especially in your early career. I don’t think they have people that act like that much anymore. I think we’ve learned that that’s not the way to motivate people. They were still around back then. These are guys that went to work in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s kind of guys. It was kind of old school military, and you just don’t see that much anymore.

ESDORN:

Well, my next question for you is can you recall a time in your career when you were worried about the industry? And what happened and how did you overcome that worry?

JUDAH:

Well, yeah. I always tell people that I can remember exactly when the first big price fall was, and it was in February of 1986 because I bought a house in Midland, Texas in December of 1985. Two months later, after I buy this house and the price falls to $9 a barrel and all these massive layoffs, you’re really concerned: did I pick the wrong thing and why am I here and why am I in Midland? So there’s been several times. This is not the first time that we’ve had a downturn, and my response has always been to work a little harder, make sure I have my skill set up, make sure my boss is happy with what I’m doing and keep on trucking, try and keep on working at it. [00:12:00] Doing excellent work and making sure you’re solving your boss’ problems are always a pretty good way to not be the one to get it in a layoff.

ESDORN:

What has made working in the industry meaningful for you?

JUDAH:

That would be too much of a sales job for SPE, but SPE has been a real highlight because it’s really built a lot of friends and network for me over the years. Then, not to sound like Dr. Seuss, but oh, the places you will go. But the places I’ve gone and the things I’ve seen, we take it for granted sometimes that we’re a global industry and we’ll pick up and travel and get on a plane. But when you talk to friends that are in other industries, they find that completely fascinating that I’m going to the Middle East this week or South America that week. And we take it very much for granted, but the whole global nature of our business and the people you meet and the cultures you interact with on a daily basis makes it really a lot of fun.

ESDORN:

Well, this is my last question for you, and it is how has being an SPE member affected your career.

JUDAH:

It’s really been one of the most profound things for me. I always tell people I started my involvement as a freshman in my freshman engineering 101 class. The guy who taught it was none other than John Lee, world famous Dr. John Lee, and he handed SPE applications out to all the freshmen. If you’re going to be a petroleum engineer, you need to be part of SPE. I’ve been a member now for 38 years. I’m 56, so since I was 18. It’s really the source of a lot of my network, my personal business network, and then it’s also the way I’ve learned a lot of my skills, not just straight up leadership but influencing without authority. It’s a lot harder to motivate people when you’re not paying them, when they’re doing it because they want to follow you, not because they have to follow you. [00:14:00] Then just some wonderful, fascinating different cultural -- there’s all sorts of wonderful people I’ve met that I never would have met if I just stayed within my company. It’s been a lot of fun to be part of the whole global party.

ESDORN:

Well, thank you, Janeen.

JUDAH:

Thank you, Amy.