GRIT Awards 2019: Celebrating the transition to an “experience economy”

The 2019 GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces were presented by Experience Energy on October 10, 2019.

With the third annual GRIT Awards 2019 taking place this past Thursday, October 11th, it’s only a matter of time before the ceremony becomes known as the Oscars of the energy industry. Photographers and TV crews were there to capture the moment and, while the carpet at the Westin Memorial City isn’t red, the “stars” (nominees) were out in full force, some having come from as far as Nigeria.

Let's Dance

Opening the ceremony to celebrate what Experience Energy™ calls “the difference makers in energy,” Arquella Hargrove, Owner D&I Coach & Facilitator of Arquella Hargrove, Inc., took the stage and shared her favorite analogy about diversity and inclusion with a rapt audience.

“Diversity is representation – you’re at the dance. Inclusion is being invited to dance. Equity is being asked to pick the song.

Arquela Hargrove at the GRIT Awards 2019 presented by Experience Energy

As Brittany Schaefer, Vice President of Medallia, explained to the audience before introducing the keynote speaker, “We believe we live in the “experience economy.” It’s about creating great experiences, having the tools to measure them, and making them better every day.”

"We all have the power to remove barriers."

Haben Girma, the dynamic keynote speaker, then took the stage with her seeing-eye dog, Milo.

Priceless #GRIT2019 photo. @HabenGirma speaks and the dog sleeps. What an amazing #keynote

She kicked off the event by sharing her story as Harvard Law’s first Deafblind graduate, and why she doesn’t like the word “grit.” When asked by Pink Petro CEO Katie Mehnert to explain her aversion to the word, Haben explained,

“People with disabilities have been told to work harder. I worked really hard in school and to be a good job candidate and so many employers rejected me. We need employers to remove barriers and to stop being ableist. Rather than put the burden on people with disabilities, let’s put it on employers.”

Haben Girma delivers a profound keynote address at the GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces, put on by Experience Energy.

She later emphasized that everyone has a voice and the power to remove barriers in some way.

Bringing out the best in others

In what must be an industry first, a second differently abled energy difference maker took the stage. Longtime Anadarko (now Occidental) director and GRIT Awards℠ judge, Mike Royal, who is blind, accompanied by his guide dog, Subi, sat and chatted with Emcee Josh Levs, a former CNN and NPR journalist. Mike shared how he was inspired by the stories he read during the selection process.

“I think my team would say I’m a pretty good coach and mentor, but once you think you’re pretty good at something, there’s always room to get better, so I started doubling down, tripling down, and asked my team, what can I do to help you be more successful?”

Mike Royal chats with Josh Levs at the 2019 GRIT Awards with his seeing-eye dog by his side. Presented by Experience Energy.

It was Mike’s hope that after the excitement of the moment had passed and it came time to return to work, participants would find ways to make those around them more successful.

A glimpse into the future

Pink Petro generously provided a table for 10 students from Houston’s Energy Institute High School, who proved to be some of the most inquisitive and engaged audience members, asking thoughtful questions of each speaker. Inviting the next generation of potential energy industry workers to the event granted them the opportunity to meet current industry influencers and literally gave them a “seat at the table.”

Students from the Energy Institute High School asked insightful questions at the GRIT Awards

And the GRIT Awards 2019 winners are...

Josh Levs, also known as Experience Energy’s chief storyteller, kept things moving with his animated speaking and rapid-fire commentary, although it didn’t take much to keep the crowd motivated – they came to celebrate! – and cheering on their nominee, although all winners received enthusiastic applause. The complete list of winners encompasses many companies and the diverse background that makes the energy industry thrive!

Celebration of life

Each of the winners is making a difference in the industry, as evidenced by their nominations, but there were special moments, such as when Ray Eisbrenner, husband of the late Kathleen Eisbrenner, former CEO of Next Decade LNG, accepted the Honorary GRIT Award on her behalf and shared how Kathleen would “go out of her way to create a win-win situation. She wanted everyone to feel like they won.

The husband of the late Kathleen Eisbrenner, chairman and CEO of Next Decade, accepted her honorary GRIT Award by Experience Energy.

The third time's a charm

Another memorable moment occurred when Monica Krishnan, Technology Manager, Chevron, won in the Professional category after being nominated every year since the GRIT Awards inception in 2018 (#shepersisted)! Director, Baker Hughes, Tina Unachukwu’s colleagues couldn’t contain their excitement when she was recognized in the Professional category. After swarming to embrace her, they proceeded to give her a standing ovation.

Monica Krishnan scores a win after her third nomination for a GRIT Award in the Professional category. Put on by Experience Energy.
Tina Unachukwu of Baker Hughes accepts her GRIT Award in the Professionals category to the cheers and standing ovation of her colleagues. Presented by Experience Energy.

Support from the top

In recognition of the culture of support individuals have in creating change in the workplace, Best Energy Workplaces was added as a new category this year. The judges were locked in a tie with top honors for Oil & Gas Producer going to both Aera Energy and Marathon Oil Company; Oil & Gas Services was awarded to Halliburton; Renewable Power Company to SPower; and Professional Services to The Global Edge Consultants LLC.  

Community engagement

Especially poignant was the announcement that one of the three awards in the Industry Advocacy Category would go to the Oil & Gas Trafficking Advocacy Group (OGTAG), whose goal is to fight human trafficking, which includes labor trafficking and sex trafficking, a crime which disproportionately affects women.

The OGTAG team accepts their GRIT Award in the Teams Category. Presented by Experience Energy. With Alexandria, COO at OVS Group, Jen Hohman CIO at Seadrill on far right and David Reid, CMO, National Oilwell Varco.

That's a wrap of the GRIT Awards 2019

During the ceremony, audience members were tweeting live and one participant summed up the collective mood of the attendees when she posted, “I am experiencing the most inspiring moment of my life.”

It’s never too soon to start thinking about next year’s GRITAwards℠! Nominations will open in March 2020. Watch this space for more details on how to nominate someone who inspires you because of their grit. Proud of the hard work and determination that have elevated you to where you are in your career? Nominate yourself!

Nominations for the 2020 GRIT Awards presented by Experience Energy open in March.

Energy Forward: Unlocking the Potential of Gas

Lorenzo Simonelli of BH talks about the future of energy at Gastech, on Experience Energy

Lorenzo Simonelli on being at the forefront of change

Last week during his keynote address, audience members heard BH Chairman & CEO, Lorenzo Simonelli, reflect on the progress the energy industry has made – how it has “evolved” – during its relatively short history.

“It’s amazing to think where we came from and how far we’ve come,” he said, pointing to the shale revolution and the rise of renewables, and later making reference to the “digital revolution that has transformed everything we touch.”

He believes that evolution carries over into everything the industry does.

“We’re at a critical juncture and it is necessary to be the driver of the right kind of change.”

Toward that end, he says the energy industry must reevaluate and come up with cutting edge, innovative solutions.

As the industry moves forward, Simonelli says gas will surpass oil, paving the way as a transitional fuel. Renewables are on the rise and the cost is decreasing significantly. The goal is net zero emissions by 2050.

“We believe that investing in low carbon tech is paramount to achieving these goals,” he said. He also feels gas is uniquely positioned in the energy mix. “Global gas energy has the opportunity to play a leading role in the energy transition,” using technology and digitization.

“It is our responsibility to embrace change, even disruptive change.”

To realize growth and make sure gas remains relevant, Simonelli stresses industry must continue partnering to make energy work harder and waste less through the power of digital. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will allow industry to use data across all disciplines – the full value chain – resulting in safer operations and maximized efficiencies.

“We are uniquely positioned to drive these innovations at the edge because we are already there [in operations] and in the field.”

Simonelli acknowledges that industry understands how difficult it is to enact rapid change in a global environment, but collaboration and shared solutions, already being put into action, will move change forward. While there is always more to do, he says industry is seeing the commitments.

“[BH] is committed to our role and contribution. We have learned to be open to new options and models. No transformation is complete without a focus on the people who drive it. [We must] learn from them and keep them engaged.”

Simonelli believes there is no time to spare. Change is not coming; change is here.

“[This is a] unique window in history and the gas industry must act quickly to maximize the opportunity [as well as] partner and support the next generation of energy.”

“It’s better to be at the forefront – the energy industry knows this.”

Lorenzo Simonelli of BH talks about the future of energy at Gastech, on Experience Energy

About Baker Hughes

Baker Hughes is the world’s first and only full stream provider of integrated oilfield products, services, and digital solutions. Drawing on a storied heritage of invention, BH harnesses the passion and experience of its people to enhance productivity across the oil and gas value chain. BH helps its customers acquire, transport and refine hydrocarbons more efficiently, productively and safely, with a smaller environmental footprint and at lower cost per barrel. BH deploys people, machines and the cloud to break down silos and reduce waste and risk, applying breakthroughs to advance efficiencies for our customers. The company has operations in over 120 countries.


Rebecca Hofmann: Be A Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself 

Rebecca Hofmann GRIT Award winner profile on Experience Energy

Equinor is an international energy company with a proud history. Formerly Statoil, it develops oil, gas, wind, and solar energy in more than 30 countries worldwide. The company is dedicated to safety, equality, and sustainability building a global business based on its values and the energy needs of the future.

Rebecca Hofmann’s 18 years of experience in the oil and gas industry (including the last eight with Equinor) coupled with her willingness to focus on making positive change within the industry, have culminated in her current role as Founder & Chairman of the OOC Oil & Gas Blockchain Consortium.

The energy industry has faced its own challenges in the last few years and this has necessitated a workforce that is willing to embrace transformational change, something Rebecca says most people resist. To effectively bring about change, she says,

“It needs to come from the very top of an organization and be adopted culturally. 

She encountered that resistance when she began exploring the emerging technology, Blockchainwhich can be used to establish a common digital ledger, and what it could do for the oil and gas industry and, specifically, Equinor. While she is captivated by the potential Blockchain holds, it has been a challenge to be at the forefront of this emerging technology when the people around her may not always have appreciated her vision. 

“There was a lot of opposition and it made me doubt myself sometimes, Rebecca admits, but the words of her mentor, retired engineer Mark Schaaf, kept coming to her.  

“If I went to him with a challenge, I always got the same answers, ‘So what?’ or ‘Does it really matter?’ It was very frustrating at first, but I finally understood the point. Change and challenges are a part of everyday life, so [we have to] stop focusing on the change and the challenges [themselves], and focus on what [we] can do instead. Even though he is enjoying retirement overlooking a lake in Tennessee, his words are forever in my head when change and challenges come my way. 

By continuously learning and constantly communicating the potential and possibilities of how this emerging technology could add value not just to the company, but to the industry as a whole, Rebecca ultimately found gratification in people’s reactions when “they finally got it and became advocates. 

Taking an idea, starting an industry-led forum, and watching it grow over the year to an average of 100 people representing 80 companies – this culminated into her starting a separate consortium of 10 energy operators all working together to develop value-added digital solutions for the energy industry – this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. 

When Rebecca says, There is a lot of excitement when you are part of something bigger than yourself on an industry [and] world level,” she could just as easily be referring to her work as Director of the Advisory Board of Pathways for Little Feet, whicgives interest-free loans to help families with the adoption process, as she is to bringing the value of emerging technology to Equinor. 

Rebecca Hoffman GRIT Award winner profile on Experience Energy

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This is Life: Living Beyond Blindness

Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the 2019 Experience Energy GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Who is Mike Royal?

He holds six (totally blind) world records, among others, in water skiing.

He won a bronze medal in the downhill at the 1996 Chevy Truck Disabled Alpine Ski Championships.

He ran in the 1993 Boston marathon, where he finished third in the visually impaired category, and in the 1998 NYC marathon.

Don’t call him the Super Blind Guy. He’s just a regular guy (albeit a gifted athletic one) who happens to be blind.

Losing his sight

Blindness is part of who I am, not all of who I am,” says Mike Royal, Director, IT Audit at Occidental, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder, although he was the first in his family to have it. Despite experiencing a noticeable loss of vision by the age of five, he obtained his driver’s license at 16. With his trademark dry humor, he says he eventually gave it up “for the betterment of pedestrians everywhere.”

At 18, he was declared legally blind, although the diagnosis was something he struggled to come to terms with. In college, while earning a Bachelor of Science in Accounting & Management Information Systems from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and later an MBA, he was still hiding his blindness and compensating for it.

Coming out of the “blind closet”

Because of the nature of retinitis pigmentosa, which is characterized by loss of peripheral vision, Mike still had nearly 20/20 central-sight and says, “What I could see, I saw well; it was the things I couldn’t see that got me!” Finally, he says with self-deprecating humor, he came out of the “blind closet,” so to speak. In May 1993, he got his first seeing-eye dog and says it was the best thing he ever did for himself. Unlike the folding cane he had used for years, he couldn’t hide a 65-lb. Lab in his backpack!

Leveraging technology

Mike, who has been employed in the oil and gas industry for 25 years, doesn’t read braille. Instead, he uses Job Access With Speech (JAWS) technology, which speed-reads what’s on the computer screen, an iPhone with built-in Voice Over accessibility, as well as Smart Glasses combined with a virtual assistant at Aira. His advice to those with disabilities holds true for all employees as we move into a more digital world – “Make sure you leverage technology to your greatest advantage.

However, Mike says, despite technological advances, the unemployment rate among the blind community stands at 70%, just as it has since the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. Mike has never had a blind colleague and certainly knows what it’s like to be in the minority. “I’m usually the only one in the room with a dog,” he says without irony.

Taking action on inclusion

Last year, Mike attended HERWorld2018 with nine of his female colleagues and noticed only about 10% of attendees were men. He left thinking, “Are you kidding?” and resolved to be a better advocate for women and those with different abilities in the industry. In mid-2018, he became a member of Anadarko’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee (DISC) in order to have a bigger platform. He says he has spent the last year or so trying to smooth out “the rough edges.”


“I’m trying to listen better and consider how my actions affect others.”


Challenging himself

Royal’s attendance at HERWorld2018 motivated him to “challenge myself” and sign on as a judge for the GRIT Awards, which he says “is not something I would have done in the past.” In all that he does, Mike is guided by the words of his stepfather, who used to run 70 – 80 miles with him to train for marathons, and whom he considers his mentor.


“He told me, ‘This is life. This is not how you need to do it because you’re blind.’”


Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the
Experience Energy™ 2019 GRIT Awards℠  and the Best Energy Workplaces℠.
Reserve your table or become a sponsor today and learn more about Mike at


Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the 2019 GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Haben Girma: Helen Keller In the Digital Age

Haben Girma keynote speaker for 2019 Experience Energy GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Advocate and Activist Haben Girma

Muse, incentive, influence, motivation. These are all synonyms for “inspiration” and disability advocate and activist Haben Girma asks that we (particularly the media) learn to use them instead of the trite, clichéd “inspiration.”

Certainly her myriad of accomplishments – surfing the waves in California where she was born and raised; helping build a school in Mali; graduating from Harvard Law School (‘13) – are enough to strike awe in anyone. Haben, 31, doesn’t believe being born Deafblind (her preferred spelling because “it’s a cultural identity”) should prevent her from pursuing the life she wants. There are over one billion disabled people, comprising the world’s largest minority, and our communities miss out on this immense talent pool when we don’t choose inclusion.

Haben’s mother, Saba, who fled the war in Eritrea as a 16-year old refugee, spending three weeks making the dangerous trek on foot to Sudan (and eventually finding her way to the US with the help of a Catholic aid agency), motivates Haben to “have courage and go on my own adventures.”

Conquering Barriers

Haben has discovered one of the greatest barriers facing people with disabilities is ableism, the belief that people with disabilities are inferior to the nondisabled. It’s when communities remove ableism that Haben feels most included, such as climbing an iceberg in Alaska with friends. She describes her many exciting adventures in her new book titled: Haben The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law.

However, it was something as simple as trying to find out what was on the college lunch menu, which was only available in printed form and therefore not accessible to Haben or other blind students, that led her to become an advocate for others who might not be aware of what they are entitled to under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law which “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.”

The same lessons Haben has learned as part of the world’s largest minority can be applied to women and other non-dominant members in male-dominated industries, such as energy: teach people what you need, develop self-advocacy skills, and know your rights so that your requests are not viewed as special treatment, but simply compliance with laws that are in place to ensure equality for everyone.

An Opportunity for Innovation

Haben, who communicates through an electronic keyboard which sends the writer’s comments to her via a braille keyboard, knows firsthand how access to the right tools, particularly technology, opened doors for her and eventually led to the distinction of becoming Harvard Law School’s first Deafblind graduate. As industry enters Energy 2.0 and the world as a whole becomes more digitized, this access is critically important for the disabled.

As she told President Obama in 2015 at the White House celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),

“Technology can bridge the gap for people with disabilities and, as Internet services open more opportunities for people, we’re going to see more people with disabilities employed and succeeding.”

That sends a powerful message to the energy industry – and any other sector – seeking an innovative and inclusive workforce. Haben does not see disability as something to be overcome, but rather one of the many facets of human diversity that can be used to build a better world. It is her belief that all obstacles, whether physical or psychological or technological, are created by humans and we each have a responsibility to remove those barriers that hold back others and ourselves.

Just as women have long struggled to have their voices heard in male-dominated industries, Haben wants the energy industry to include the voices of people with disabilities.

Haben believes disabilities are part of the human experience, and an opportunity to develop new solutions.

“I teach people to view disability as an opportunity for innovation.”

Haben Girma keynote speaker for 2019 Experience Energy GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Haben Girma is the keynote speaker for the
Experience Energy™ 2019 GRIT Awards℠  and the Best Energy Workplaces℠.
Reserve your table or become a sponsor today.