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Oil and Gas Investor

Way back in 1975, the New York Times published an article titled “Wildcat Oilmen a Dying Breed.” The article highlighted the oft-perpetuated image of the independent wildcatters who built the American oil and gas industry as “two-fisted, hard-drinking, leather-faced Texas yahoos with a nose for crude oil, an eye for wild women and a wallet stuffed with $100 bills.”

Even then, that image was being relegated to history and Hollywood.

Of course, that article came out long before any of our 2021 Oil and Gas Investor Forty Under 40 honorees were even born, so suffice it to say that the men and women leading our industry in the future are a far cry from those images. But that doesn’t mean many of them don’t have a wildcatter’s penchant for creative thinking, a nose for business and drive to succeed in an industry many in the general population don’t quite understand. 

Like the wildcatters of yore, these 40 professionals have faced obstacles, acted on hunches and learned from their peers and mentors.

“No challenge is too big, and that is the ethos with which I have lived my life,” said Ashley Zumwalt-Forbes, co-founder, president and director with Black Mountain Metals, Black Mountain Exploration and Black Mountain Carbon Lock.

Many of this year’s honorees come to the industry well-prepared for success in the new age of energy transition, sustainable practices and changing demographics of the workforce. Some hold MBAs. Some are Ph.D.’s. Some hold engineering degrees. Some are self-made. Some are the products of a lifetime of exposure and love of the industry.

There are graduates of top universities not only in the U.S., but around the world. They come from many walks of life and many places. In fact, this year, we honor our first two internationally based honorees.

In addition, this year’s group of honorees is the most diverse in the program’s history, representing the increasing diversity of the industry. And they work not only in traditional oil and gas but also the energy transition.

Hart Energy will be highlighting a Forty Under 40 honoree daily. Click here for Oil and Gas Investor’s 2021 Forty Under 40 special report. Additionally, take a look at video interviews and more featuring this year’s honorees at

Oil and Gas Investor Forty Under 40 2021 logo

One common trait among this year’s honorees is that they all tell us they are firm believers in the oil and gas industry and its ability to lead the way to a more sustainable energy sector that not only protects humanity from the dangers of climate change but also offers humanity the chance to have energy security for the future as well as lessen or even eliminate energy poverty around the globe. Many expressed their intentions to lead with a mind toward sustainability and a mind toward the changing needs of the energy sector workforce.

“The oil and gas industry is known for its bureaucracy,” said Abhishek Deshpande, adviser and key commodity analyst with OMV and based in Vienna, Austria. “Today’s leader must eradicate such hurdles in order to transform an oil and gas firm into a successful energy company with sustainable goals.”

That shift in focus is certainly underway as the next generation of leaders move into top spots at their companies and firms.

“The energy business is in the midst of significant transformation today,” added Michael Mitchell, vice president with Energy Spectrum Capital in Dallas. “The industry is full of bright and talented individuals that must continue to promote positive change for the industry by being innovative and open to new ideas and concepts.”

In short, this isn’t the industry of those old-time wildcatters, and today’s leaders have woven more altruistic intentions into their business plans.

Laura Preng, Partner at Preng & Associates, and long-time sponsor of the Forty Under 40 program, thinks todays leaders in the industry bring a unique skill set to the table, one that is much needed as the industry traverses an ESG- and energy transition-focused world.

“Moving forward, someone who is adaptable and flexible is going to be very important in a leader because they’re going to have to be,” she said. “In this industry things are changing daily, and they need to be innovative and embrace new technology, and be prepared for what’s next in the energy industry.”

Preng knows what those abilities mean to energy companies these days as her firm works to fill leadership positions for companies across the sector.

One thing is certain, the future of the energy industry is in good hands. No matter what challenges, obstacles and opportunities the coming years bring to the sector, the next generation of leaders is here and ready to take it to new heights.