Some 30 years ago, Wendy King had a skillset that made her the odd man out among her counterparts in the oil and gas business: She could use spreadsheet software called Lotus 1-2-3. 

“I was a hero with some of the technical subject matter experts in our company because I could run a spreadsheet,” she says. 

King, the vice president of ConocoPhillips Great Plains Business Unit, oversees operations in the Permian Basin and the Bakken as well as the company’s interests in Wyoming, Utah and Oklahoma’s Anadarko Basin. Her career has largely been built around being heard—by foes of the industry, the general public and within her own company—and earning the right to self-determination. 

More than three decades ago, she started her industry career in Hobbs, N.M., which she remembers for its constant softball tournaments. Now, in a corner office overlooking the steady traffic on the Katy Freeway in Houston, she is going back. 

“The Permian Basin was the start of my career, and it’s where I’m at again 32 years later,” she says. 

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The intervening years have taken her across the globe, with stints in Holland, Scotland and Nigeria before working for the company’s Alaska North Slope gas development. Most recently, she led ConocoPhillips’ Australia East Business Unit as president. She spent eight years immersed in the country, until taking her new position last spring, and still catches herself when she reverts back even to small things like imperial measurements. 

“It’s interesting to use the term miles again,” she says. 

She missed much of the U.S. transition from conventional to shale, working to bring ConocoPhillips’ two-train Gladstone-based LNG project online and shipping cargoes of natural gas to China and Japan while continuing to provide domestic gas to markets within Australia.

“I was very much focused on supporting our teams to get the project up and running and moving forward into steady state deliveries,” she says. 

King grew up in Nebraska, the daughter of an agricultural family, where the crop of choice is corn. She was the first in her family to go to college. After showing an aptitude for math and science in high school, a teacher recommended King pursue engineering, and a relative told her petroleum engineering might be interesting. Eventually, she visited the Colorado School of Mines, where she met a member of the faculty, Ramona M. Graves, who also happened to be from Nebraska. 

“She was wearing Wranglers while she was teaching mud lab,” King recalls. “Just her down-home nature and the fact she was a female … all of that just kind of clicked, and I pretty much decided then that petroleum engineering and Colorado School of Mines was where I was going to go.” 

Those years learning the business, her diverse work experience with ConocoPhillips and her keen sense of curiosity for understanding the geology led to perhaps the pinnacle of her career. Last year, she was offered to lead the Great Plains Business Unit, though her husband and son would remain in Australia. 

“To not have people make assumptions about me and my family … to allow us to decide what was best illustrates to me the steps that at least our company is making in diversity and inclusion,” she says. 

“The fact that I’ve been granted that ability to make this choice, I couldn’t be prouder of that.”