Born and raised in Laredo, Cliffe Killam entered the oil patch with an English literature degree and “a desire to get my hands dirty working as a gauger and roustabout,” he said. His family had been in the industry for 100 years, but it wasn’t until working in the field that he knew oil and gas was the place for him. “I remember standing at 3 a.m. on a flowback that lit up the night sky across South Texas. In those fields, a passion ignited in me to pursue, acquire, develop and apply my skills, experiences, business acumen and entrepreneurial drive to become a leader in the industry,” he said.
Killam helped transform his family’s multigeneration oil business into a more efficient organization driven by clear communication and common goals. Prior to joining his family business, he received a master’s degree in energy and mineral resources from The University of Texas at Austin. He also worked at Wood Mackenzie doing research and consulting and at Standard Chartered Bank in their energy investment banking group. Cliffe has worked at Killam Oil for a decade and during that time received his Executive MBA at the McCombs School of Business.
Killam also pioneered a petroleum engineering program at Texas A&M International University. Through the new program, Laredo-based students will be able to receive an education that prepares them for entering the oil and gas industry.
“When I joined Killam Oil 10 years ago, I faced a stiff challenge: changing a multigenerational company that did not believe change was necessary. I knew that change was going to take creative organizational thinking in an industry that generally likes to set distinct lanes and keep them that way.
“By listening carefully to employees, I realized that in order to create an exceptional company the employees needed to do a better job of listening to each other. In this industry of distinct lanes, I began to cross-pollinate the organization, not through a restructuring, but through personal invitation [of different departments to meet with each other].
“Individuals began seeing the larger picture in their individual decisions. They became more confident in their decision-making because silos no longer limited their vision of the company’s ultimate goals.”
Creating a new degree
“Helping to create a petroleum engineering degree plan at Texas A&M International University is by far my greatest achievement outside of work and for the industry. I worked for almost a decade to make this become a reality: initiating the idea, gathering support, raising funds and legislatively advocating for the program. I am extremely proud that TAMIU will now be able to offer this degree, especially since more than 60% of these South Texas students are the first of their families to ever go to college. These are young people who are low income and, for financial or family reasons, are often unable to go to school outside of Laredo.”
Advice to young professionals
“If you can, choose opportunity over money. Think about the skills, relationships, mentors and future career paths a particular job may open or close for you beyond the compensation. In doing this, you come to understand yourself, what you enjoy and what you ultimately want to do.
“Ideas are abundant; execution is a critical commodity; but the will to succeed paired with a unique idea and operating expertise is what separates winners from losers.
“Entrepreneurship is about having the confidence that you don’t know everything but you can find a way to figure it out.”
The oil and gas story
“The oil and gas industry brings together a diverse group of hardworking, brilliant and entrepreneurial people. Yet we struggle telling our story as an industry. We must better communicate that American energy is the most reliable, the safest and most environmentally friendly. Furthermore, the products created by the oil and gas industry help make the modern world function and have transformed people’s everyday lives. That’s the impact we have had, and if we don’t tell that story ourselves, who will?”
“We need to be better storytellers. What we do has transformed the world and continues to make it a better place.”