Krista Caldwell: Empathy and the Expat Life

Krista Caldwell headshot

If you’ve ever dreamed of being able to travel while making a living, you can probably see the upside to working in the oil and gas sector. The industry spans the globe, and if you get a job with a company that operates outside your home country, you may find yourself traveling to all sorts of interesting places.

The upsides of foreign postings are obvious. As Sally Vardy, the former senior vice president of human resources for North America at Aker Solutions, told the Houston Chronicle in 2013: “It’s an opportunity to transfer knowledge to and learn from the host country, such as technology and culture, and to develop leadership skills that broaden international exposure. Expat assignments are a development opportunity and a global experience, and they build self-esteem.”

But it’s not all excitement and glamor and professional growth. Traveling and the expatriate life have their downsides – jet lag, culture shock, time away from home and family, and more.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone like Krista Caldwell working to smooth your landing.

Krista Knows the Challenges of Expat Life Firsthand

Krista, an expert in global mobility who is now working as the Regional Global Mobility Director in the Americas for Worley, has firsthand knowledge of the challenges of expat life. She’s spent part of her career in the Middle East, and she’s helped many oil and gas professionals establish their footing in foreign lands.

“In 2006-2007, I was asked to join the team on our Parsons Iraq Joint Venture Project in Basra, Iraq,” she recalls. “I was 25 at the time, and the only international experience I had at that point was a study abroad program in Spain.”

Krista describes her time in Iraq as a high-stakes, high-pressure assignment. “Working and living on a British air base in Basra was a challenging and eye-opening experience. The work was fast paced, and everyone was accepting a high level of risk by working in that location,” she says.

The Risks She Took Influenced the Course of Her Career

On the one hand, she learned how to make the right calls quickly. “As part of the HR team, I was responsible for ensuring that employees’ movements into and out of Iraq were well managed and as safe as possible,” she says. “We were often faced with immigration, government, and safety challenges that had to be managed on the spot.”

On the other hand, she gained skills, confidence, and an understanding of her own professional goals. “That experience provided me with opportunities to grow as a person and professional,” she reports. “It pushed me to become more decisive and confident in my decision-making ability, as I could not waste time doubting myself or my decisions. The experience formed the foundation of my career in global mobility.”

Her Empathetic Attitude Helps Others Transition

Krista also developed a strong sense of empathy for the expat workers she was serving, and her fellow feeling has fueled her passion for handling the challenges that employees of international oil and gas operators face.

“Relocating from one country to another is one of the biggest events that can occur in someone’s life. It’s an incredibly stressful experience,” she says.

Understanding firsthand just how stressful such a change can be drives her to do her best. “I find it very rewarding to work with an individual and their family throughout a relocation to ensure a smooth transition,” she says. “When I know an employee has been through the move and is settled and happy in the new location, I know I have done my job well.”

We are proud to know Krista Caldwell and honored to distinguish her as a GRIT Award winner. Know somebody else who’s got GRIT? Head over to the GRIT Awards page for the most current information or check out Faces of Energy to meet more inspiring people.

Maitri Erwin on discovering her talents

Maitri Erwin GRIT Award Winner from Experience Energy

Introducing Maitri Erwin

GRIT Awards℠ winner Maitri Erwin is a talented geosciences and technology teams leader who has worked for some of the biggest names in the energy business. As a graduate student, she carried out summer assignments at BP America and Mobil Technology. After earning her second master’s degree, she began working for Shell Exploration & Production, contributing her skills as a geophysicist to several upstream projects in the Gulf of Mexico. She is now Manager of Global Exploration New Ventures Latin America at CNOOC International where she worked her way up from exploration geophysicist to technical team leader to her current position as the technical and administrative leader of a team that was formed to pave the company’s way into Latin America and the Caribbean.

But Maitri’s perspective isn’t limited to her experience with major corporations. She also spent two years as director of technology for Technigraphics, an independent geospatial engineering company.

Meanwhile, she’s also an active member of professional associations. She serves on the board of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Foundation, was first vice president of the Geophysical Society of Houston, and is a founding member and former chair of Women’s Network division of the Society of Exploration Geologists (SEG). Additionally, she gives generously of her time to the University of Wisconsin, where she earned two graduate degrees, acting as a senior advisor to the Department of Geosciences’ Board of Visitors.

Maitri is a leader – not just because of her credentials and qualifications, but also because of her ability to make the most of her own innate qualities. She describes herself as “an unabashed extrovert” and says one of her chief joys is fostering the talent of young co-workers.

“I love people and helping them realize and bring out their best possible selves. Be it at work or in my committed involvement with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network and Geophysical Society of Houston, it is so rewarding to watch a young professional discover their abilities, take the baton that was passed to them, and run with it. There is no greater feeling than knowing you contributed to someone else’s success.

Maitri’s emphasis on empathy, enthusiasm, and empowerment serve her well in her current position where she leads the technical team tasked with evaluating exploration opportunities in Latin America, while also serving as the representative of CNOOC’s Global Exploration group in Houston. When she first took the position, she said, she had to build her new unit from the ground up while also securing the trust of every member.

“At the time, the infrastructure for such a team did not exist, and I was faced with creating from scratch technical and administrative work plans, and budgets. A complicating factor was being a younger woman of color in a new managerial role, which brought with it the added work of having to establish my ability and authority at almost every turn. Professional persistence, genuine care for my team and the support and trust from my own leaders was how I overcame it — and still do on a regular basis.”

She also said that taking a wrong turn on the career track had helped her realize the full extent of her skills – not just as a scientist, but as a manager. “Six years into my career, I briefly stepped away from the world of oil and gas to live closer to my family and to try my hand at research and business development for a small geospatial engineering company,” she explained.

“While I soon discovered that the job was not a fit for my skills and personality, the variety of business opportunities that I managed revealed that I am not just a scientist, but one with commercial and managerial aptitude. Returning to the oil and gas industry soon after, I was essentially reinvented, with a renewed sense of purpose and fresh career goals and aspirations.

We look forward to hearing more about Maitri as she moves ahead with her career. She’s not just pushing CNOOC International forward, but also nurturing the next generation of GRIT Award winners!

Grit award winner Maitri Erwin on Experience Energy

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Kara Byrne on chalking up wins and discovering true passions

Kara Byrne GRIT Award winner profile on Experience Energy

Introducing Kara Byrne

Kara Byrne is Americas Commercial Leader for Control Valves at Baker Hughes, a GE Company (BHGE), one of the biggest oilfield service companies in the world and she’s got GRIT.

Kara has spent more than a decade living and working in Houston, but she hails from Wisconsin. She earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she developed her talent for fundraising in her home state where she began volunteering for United Way, Junior Achievement, and Habitat for Humanity.

Since her move to Houston, she has remained very busy – and not just at BHGE, serving for the last 13 years as a commercial manager, setting up teams to bid for major equipment contracts. She’s also an active member of the Houston chapter of the Women’s Energy Network (WEN) and began serving as the chapter’s President in 2018.

Unmatched tenacity

Kara’s track record at BHGE is replete with evidence of her grit and determination. She told us that her achievements owed much to her skills in team-building.

“I have been a very successful project manager of indirect reports, securing strategic projects for the past 12 years with a very high win rate in a very tough market,” she said. “Customers, colleagues, and BHGE leadership can depend on me to tackle a difficult project with tenacity and put together a team to win a project and deliver results – inclusive of securing many firsts for the company, such as many mega LNG contracts and other projects in a very risk-averse market.”

She also stressed, though, that her successes could not be measured in major contract awards alone. “My toughest challenge has been getting out of my comfort zone, moving past the self-imposed barriers of being an extremely successful individual contributor for my company and becoming an inspirational people leader,” she said. But she found a powerful reason to confront that challenge after suffering a personal setback: the destruction of her home in Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Changing focus

Kara says that rebuilding her home after Harvey helped her realize that she was ready to change her focus. “I found it difficult to stay motivated by individual project successes. That, coupled with the personal setback – I realized I was stuck in my professional growth. I had to look deep within myself to understand what my passion was and was shocked when it wasn’t the winning of highly visible projects, nor the individual recognition,” she said.

Instead, she realized that she wanted to cultivate more human connections. “My passion is truly helping and motivating others to live up to their full potential,” she said. Kara found a way to translate that insight into action through her involvement in WEN, especially after she became the president of the organization’s Houston chapter in 2018.

“The 2018 board was very new, so [we] had an uphill challenge of learning our brand, our vision, our mission, and our sponsors’ needs. However, in the first half of 2018, I was able to bring the board quickly together as a team, and we were able to sell out of all the first five months of WEN Houston events, engage three times as many partners, and re-invigorate the executive events to have all time attendance records,” she said. “Seeing the growth of each individual on the WEN Houston board brought me immense pride in their achievements and provided each board member with such confidence that I knew I had to continue to help others to achieve similar success.”

Kara starts a new chapter

These achievements helped Kara start a new chapter in her career at BHGE. “After three years of knowing I had to make a change and give up some of the prestige and high visibility of my current role, I was able not only to identify my passion but also push through a very difficult personal setback with being displaced from our house while rebuilding from Harvey,” she stated.

“I am now in the process of transitioning from an individual contributor to a people leader role within BHGE and will put my tenacity into helping others achieve the level of personal and career success [that] others have helped me to realize.”

That’s a true display of GRIT that Kara Byrne will no doubt carry into every chapter of her energy story.  

Kara Byrne GRIT Award winner on Experience Energy

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