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[Editor's note: Influential Women In Energy 2021 is a supplement to the May 2021 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.]

Marcia Backus grew up with 3D seismic maps all over her house. Her father, a geophysicist, not only worked in oil and gas, but also headed up the geophysics department at the University of Texas. So at an early age, she was exposed to the industry and the people who made it what it is.

“When I started practicing law, there weren’t very many women at law firms, but I was always supported by my male colleagues who gave me lots of opportunities and helped to promote me,” Backus said. “I took those opportunities and proved that I would always work hard and be creative. I am very direct and that helped me as well.”

After Backus had been practicing for a few years, she went to one of the partners and told them she had observed that the men who started with her were getting better work.

“I said I loved where I worked, but that if I stayed, I wanted to do M&A work, for a few specific named partners,” she said. “They made the changes to give me those opportunities, but I also note that I earned the right to ask for that by having worked incredibly hard on everything I was asked to do before that.”

“I think trying to learn from experiences and be willing to be self-critical, while at the same time being resilient, has been helpful.” 

Being direct helps 

“One of the clients at the firm I worked at had a deal, and I was going to be the lead. The client called and said the team on the other side was really tough and they thought it would be better to have a man as the lead. Since the client had not met me, it was not personal. But I thought about it and told the relationship partner (also the managing partner of the firm) that I thought it was inappropriate for a client to say (and assume) that a woman couldn’t be ‘tough’ enough. There are many things I can work on to improve, but anyone who knows me would agree that being tougher is not one of them. So the firm told the client (their biggest client) that we would not make decisions about who worked on matters based on gender, and we would not represent them on that matter. It made a big impression both on the firm and the client in a positive way.”

Memorable moments 

“Our company, Oxy, had an arbitration that had been going on many years against the government of Ecuador. We won a final award of more than $1 billion dollars. I was told by many people, inside and outside lawyers and businesspeople, investment bankers and executive management that I would never be able to collect on that award because of Ecuador’s financial difficulties. One of the most motivating things anyone can say to me about a matter is that it can’t be done. I analyzed the situation and handled it by myself. I came up with a multi-pronged strategy and did all the negotiations myself. We collected more than a billion dollars in a few months.”

Career milestone 

“At my firm I was on the management committee, was chair of the partnership admission committee, head of the energy transactions and projects group, and co-chair of the corporate department. My colleagues helped me to achieve that. At Oxy, I am the general counsel of a public company. My clients, including at Oxy, helped me to achieve that.”

Formative experience 

“The best advice I ever received was from my first boss, Rush Record. He told me that being smart was necessary but not sufficient—that the people who work the hardest, have intellectual curiosity, are open to new ideas and are passionate about their work are the ones that succeed and are also happiest in their jobs. He was right. He also pushed me constantly to do things that were out of my comfort zone. That experience gave me the confidence to tackle new areas and has been invaluable to me in my career.” 

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