Derek Nixon

President and CEO, Varel Energy Solutions, Dallas

Derek Nixon is living proof that hard work and dedication pays off. Moving from Scotland to Dallas at 20 years old, he became Varel’s youngest vice president at 34 before being appointed the CEO to guide the company through the COVID-19 pandemic.

When he’s not running his company or spending time with his wife and kids, Nixon is an active board member and vice president of philanthropic organization Family Promise of Lake Houston, which supports homeless families.

Why did you enter the oil and gas industry?

“My father was in the industry, and I grew up in it and consistently surrounded by its influence. It was a natural feeling to grow up interested and curious about our world’s reliance on energy and how I could contribute to it.”

Which of your professional achievements are you most proud of?

“Early in my career as a field sales professional in the Barnett Shale, I worked for Varel International and experienced extraordinary growth and market share gain. I was surrounded by amazing people who taught me and pushed me to excel far beyond my young and novice capabilities. Together, we secured ourselves as the No. 3 in market share position—which, for an independent drill bit company, was a monumental accomplishment.” In addition, [there] would be the opportunity to lead Varel Energy Solutions as a first-time CEO through the COVID-19 pandemic. I took responsibility for the business in March 2020 with virtually no working capital and an intensive focus on cash preservation. Many very difficult decisions were made, but I am so proud of the resilience and tenacity of the teams around the world, resulting in a stronger foundation for growth as we’ve emerged successfully from two years of market headwinds.”

What is a career milestone you reached sooner than you planned?

“I was the youngest vice president in the history of the company at 34, responsible for our legacy downhole products business. I was able to achieve this by always taking on challenges that were scary that I did not have all the answers for. I surrounded myself with a great team to offset my weaknesses. The best lesson I was ever taught was to hire people that want your job that are as good as you, if not better. Poor leaders hire people that are not as good as them.”

What has been your most challenging project to date, and how did you accomplish your goal?

“Navigating through COVID as a first-time CEO, we had to make many hard decisions without all the information. I let my instinct take over. You can never make all the right decisions, but when you make a wrong one, own it and change it.”

What has helped you develop your leadership abilities during your career?

“My favorite book is called “Legacy,” and it is about the all-Black rugby team. They have a no-ego team; after each game, they leave the changing rooms clean as they found them. Nobody is above any job, [and] we all sweep the sheds.”

What transformations do you think the industry must undertake for it to thrive in the future?

“We have to be faster learners and adopters of new technologies around us. The oilfield is still way behind aerospace and automotive [industries] as for new tech, be it materials or processes.”

What do you think young industry members as a group have to offer that is unique to them? 

“Perspective! Every generation has different views, and we must be adaptable for our future needs.”

What advice would you give other young professionals in the industry and/or in your sector? 

“Ask when you don’t know, be curious, speak up and don’t sit quietly. If you want to progress, go above and beyond on everything.” 

Three More Things
  1. I have a confused accent having spent half my life in Scotland and the other half in the U.S.
  2. I am a huge foodie—love trying new things and experiencing new culture.
  3. I went to boarding school at Gordonstoun, the same boarding school as King Charles