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Patricia E. Yarrington – Chevron: Making Decisions That Matter: Inspired by a Sense of Purpose About the Global Energy Equation

Patricia E. YarringtonPatricia E. Yarrington started at Chevron over thirty years ago, though her enthusiasm for the field and for the company remain as fresh as the day she started. Her career can be viewed in phases or decades: the first focused on financial management, the second on general business management, and the third on corporate leadership. Today, she is Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Chevron.

Pat is part of the executive team that oversees all capital investments for the firm. “For an oil business, that is one of the primary things you have to get right,” she says. Pat also serves on the Human Resources Committee, helping to maximize the value of the people at Chevron, and on the Strategic Planning Committee, identifying future opportunities and directions for the company. “We look at the macro global economic picture, our role in providing global energy supplies, and the energy landscape of the future.”

Pat chose the energy business with a sense of purpose: “I went into the business because I wanted to be in something that would always matter. When I entered business school in the 1970s, oil prices were doubling, quadrupling. I saw an industry that gives us many of the comforts of life that we have today, a global industry that affects everyone’s daily life. It had an emotional appeal to me in terms of doing something that matters.”

Pat studied political science as an undergraduate, and she was drawn to the international aspect of the oil business. “I felt it was something I would be intrigued by for my entire career,” she says. “I wanted a career. I didn’t want to move from company to company.” She chose business school, earning an MBA at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, after first considering law. “My father is a lawyer, my brother is a lawyer. I think a desire to step out on my own led me to business school,” she remembers.

Two key experiences helped shape Pat’s career early on. “The first was our CFO at the time. I was new at the company. He asked me to do a project, and I remember thinking that I was too inexperienced. He told me to ignore job level and experience and take my full seat at the table, to trust my logic and reasoning ability. From that point on, I tried to live up to that expectation.”

The second major milestone happened when Chevron named a new Chairman and CEO. “He met with a group of about sixty staff before he took over as CEO and asked our views on any improvements we could make. I took the opportunity to offer my ideas. As it turned out, only a few of the people in the room actually sent him their thoughts. Shortly after becoming Chairman, he called me to discuss the ideas I had offered. A few months later, I was named vice president of Strategic Planning. From that experience, I learned that it’s important to have your own views and to share your perspective.”

For those just starting out and seeking to build the kind of sustained career that Pat has enjoyed, she advises paying attention to culture. “You’re going to spend more time with the people you work with than with your family,” she counsels. She found a fit at Chevron: “We have two elements that I find really attractive. First, it’s always about the enterprise, not the individual. People here are able to collaborate to do what is good for the organization and step beyond what’s beneficial for them personally. That’s very attractive to me. Second, we don’t rest on our laurels. We’ve been through periods when we weren’t as good as our competitors, and we sought steady improvement. We identified improvement targets over two, five, and ten-year periods and worked toward success in the long term. You won’t see Chevron doing 180-degree shifts in strategy. You’ll see us continually improving from the position we’ve established.”

Talking to Pat, it’s obvious that she loves the career and the community of colleagues she’s built at Chevron. “First and foremost, it’s important to find work that you love,” she says. “Your chances for continued success are best if you choose a top company in the field that intrigues you. I am still so excited about the energy business; after thirty years, it still captivates me.”

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