Ryan Keys started his career at Schlumberger Ltd. as a mechanical engineer, and though he enjoyed the work, he wanted more adventure, a desire that led him to petroleum engineering. After earning a master’s degree in that field, he worked in Argentina, only to come back to the U.S. when the shale boom took off. Returning to work in U.S. shales was his “first experience is a microcosm of how fast this industry can pivot,” Keys said, which led him to work for a private operator then later in the energy investment banking group at Jefferies.
In launching his own company, Keys, president and co-founder of Triple Crown Resources LLC, a private Midland Basin operator, has found a natural fit for his adaptable, opportunistic leadership style with his current team. “I like being a fox instead of a hedgehog, so I’ve never been the best at one thing. But I’ve made a point of learning from experts and specialists (hedgehogs), enough to speak their language. That breadth has been important and enables interdisciplinary cohesion,” he said.
Surviving and thriving
“I was fortunate to be exposed to so much deal volume at Jefferies, and due to the exposure I was able to discern which companies succeeded because they had good timing and which succeeded because they were really good at what they did. But my biggest accomplishment by far is building an elite team and an E&P business resilient enough to survive the current environment. It’s often not very fun, and I am working harder than I ever have, but we are going to survive this. In times like this, you have to be grateful for things like that because a lot of people can’t say the same. We’ll emerge on the other side of this more efficient than ever and with plenty of chutzpah.”
Challenges of founding a company
“I’d often read about how difficult it is to transition from getting funded and starting a company to creating an efficient business, so I thought I was informed. Four employees to 28, no production to 10,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, 100 times the budget, all within a month. I wasn’t totally prepared for that, and we were far from perfect, but it all coalesced because we assembled a fantastic group of people. Character is just as important as skill. Everyone at Triple Crown has both, and we could not have matured without the contributions from our whole team.”
The search for assets
“Living in different cities, my partner and I founded Triple Crown and worked from home until we found assets. We did almost everything ourselves and rarely outsourced. We raised enough capital to close one of the biggest deals in our sponsor’s long and successful history. There’s a really important metric that is underrated in the private-equity world: overhead costs incurred before finding assets. Ours were a rounding error compared to the size of our deal, and that’s something we’re very proud of.”
“I have never really set milestones, at least not anything very concrete. Priorities and goals inevitably change as you go. My philosophy has always been to adapt, not set expectations on things that are often out of my control, listen to my gut and be opportunistic when the opportunity presents itself. With that said, founding and running an E&P business was definitely not an expectation before turning 40.”
“Short term: survive. No one is creating a lot of value right now, but we can tread water long enough to see better days. This downturn isn’t fun but it’s making us stronger. Long-term: Independent E&P business models have to evolve, and I want to help define what that looks like.”
Advice to young professionals
“It might be tempting to leave the industry. It’s tough right now. But remember that this has been a cyclical business for more than a century. There will be more booms, even during an energy transition, and even if we have already seen peak demand. Stay and help this industry adapt by charting its path forward and be open-minded about what that looks like.”
“We must lead the energy transition, not react to it. It’s going to take decades. Let’s start now.”