Tiffany Polak took an unconventional path to the Permian Basin. The development director for Marathon Oil Corp. got a bachelor’s degree in professional zoology and master’s in disease control epidemiology before earning a master’s in petroleum engineering. 

“My dad was in oil and gas, and I grew up interested in rocks. But, me working in oil and gas was pretty serendipitous,” says Polak. She started as a file clerk for a small private independent while studying disease control in Houston. “By the time I graduated, I had learned enough in oil and gas to get started and wanted to explore that further before jumping out to the medical field. 

“The energy field appears to have won for now.” 

Click here for the 25 Influential Women In Energy special report.

Take a look at all of the Women In Energy honorees.

As one of eight directors overseeing Marathon’s four main unconventional assets, Polak currently supervises about 35 people on the Permian team. She focuses on the geoscience, engineering, production, planning and regulatory parts of the business. Her team player spirit often takes her from Marathon’s Houston office to the field, motivating crews to chalk up science wins. 

Polak recalled one point in her career when she joined an asset that was striving to improve on deliverability. Technically, she took a deep dive into the details, leading her team as they improved well results and productivity. She also worked on “building trust, understanding their motivation and finding the small wins along the way, to improve morale” she says. 

While delivering “optimum, capital efficient production” is Polak’s intent, she feels that teambuilding is a crucial piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, she explains. 

“Once, after a particularly busy period, I took my team for popsicles in the park,” she says. “Getting outside and having some fun can be a great stress reliever.” 

Knowing employees’ strengths and how to leverage individual talents makes a difference. Perhaps just as important is transparency, specifically acknowledging workload struggles. 

Polak describes her leadership style as empowering. She’s a known integrator and collaborator. “I believe in the power of the expertise of others around me.” 

To Polak, having diversity of voice at the table—particularly in unconventionals—is a must. 

“Unconventional shales are a very fast paced business. They often have variability across plays,” she says. “To create the best solutions and hence the most wins, it’s important to have integrated teams with all disciplines providing insight to solutions. 

“Often, the best and most innovative answers come not from the expert in the discipline but the person standing back seeing the bigger picture and exhibiting divergent thinking.” 

This type of mentality makes Polak a standout amongst her peers. 

“Tiffany has a special gift for connecting with people and motivating them to give their best,” Lindsey McCarty, managing partner and COO of Selenite Energy Partners, said in nominating Polak for the honor. “People of all backgrounds can connect with the gifted woman who never forgets that she started as a tech and is proud of it.” 

Polak worked as a reservoir engineer at Hess Corp. for about 11 years while simulataneously working toward her master’s in petroleum engineering. She joined Marathon in 2013. Within two years, she was integrated technical project manager for the Bakken, Eagle Ford and Midcontinent and less than a year later subsurface development manager. She was named Permian development manager in April 2018, taking on the subsurface and production and facilities field operations roles. 

Being a woman in a top leadership role, Polak is often asked about challenges she has faced. “At this higher level in the industry, there are fewer women,” Polak says, noting certain leadership styles can stand out more in a male-dominated industry. 

Her pillars of support, or “mountain range” in her words, include mentors from within and outside the business. Having confidence in tough situations is some of the best advice Polak says she has received. 

Her advice to young professionals in energy: Be patient and soak up every opportunity given because “you really can’t go back.” Having worked in the industry for some 20- plus years, the Texas A&M University grad said she’s interested in joining efforts advocating on industry issues. “

The oil industry hasn’t always told its story effectively,” Polak says. She believes she could have an effective voice. Broadly speaking, she aims to continue winning with whatever asset in hand.