The Faces and Voices of Energy

Challenging the Status Quo

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Say hello to Jerri Babin, the vice president of reliability and sales operational strategy for National Oilwell Varco (NOV).

NOV is the largest global manufacturer of oilfield equipment. It builds, repairs and services equipment for every segment of the upstream supply chain.  Jerri’s division focuses primarily on the land and offshore drilling equipment.

In our conversation, we spoke with Jerri, who was honored with a GRIT Award, about having “the right people on the bus,” setting clear expectations and being willing to challenge the status quo.

EXPERIENCE ENERGY: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?

JERRI BABIN: I was sitting in a leadership meeting discussing areas in need of improvement in our division. Four of the five areas were in sales support. At that time, I was in a project management role, but I knew this was the job I wanted. After convincing my new boss (and myself) that I could change “sales prevention” into sales support, I took on the challenge.

My kickoff leadership meeting got off to a rough start. Most of the team was new to NOV and had no idea what I had in mind.  However, we established our goals and set to work immediately. With survey facts in hand, we reworked the organization to fit a dynamically growing environment.  My managers rocked it!

A mere 10 months later, we had another leadership meeting. This time NOV’s president was in attendance.  I counted more than 10 compliments on our new team.  We had overcome “sales prevention” and were recognized as the team behind the success of our climbing sales backlog.

Having the right people on the bus — and setting clear expectations — changed the course of our department. Plus, it created awesome career opportunities for each of my leaders.  Not being afraid to challenge the status quo enabled our team to succeed.

EE: What’s one mistake you made, and what did you learn from it?

JB: I have made many mistakes, but the one that comes to mind is when I took a job even when my “gut” feeling was to pass it up. I wanted to diversify my experiences at NOV. So I accepted a position in another business unit and set about “changing” the inside sales department.

The group consisted of several acquired businesses, grouped together with no common goals or mission. I learned a lot about change management — what worked and didn’t work — and how to adjust. I made hard personnel changes and increased my network within NOV and the industry.

I wanted to be a project manager, but it didn’t seem possible at that time. So, I decided to try for the project manager position again after making this change. And it worked. Changing business units was risky, but I do not regret any time spent in that position. I realized that I was good at changing environments and could make a positive impact with hard work and great people.

EE: What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?

JB: The most rewarding part of my career was creating a startup business in the Middle East.  I entered this role in 1996. I was not sure about being a female change agent in this part of the world.  And the dangerous images of the Gulf War were fresh in my mind.

However, it was a blast! I can honestly say that I believe I am now equipped to meet any challenge. We exceeded all sales expectations right out of the gate, and I made lifelong friends in almost every country. Just getting it done was a journey.

I worked with the local team in Jebel Ali while living in Houston. Every day had something interesting in store for me. My children even got involved in daily conference calls in my car. So, they got a firsthand experience of the international economy. This facility is now the hub of our operations, and I know that I had an influence on its success.

EE: Who’s been a “gritty” role model for you and why?

JB: I have a friend, Lenore Gordon, who is absolutely my gritty role model. She was the first female I ever met who actually “worked” on a rig. I had always thought I was a pioneer until I met her. She worked right alongside the service techs and engineers to design and repair jacking systems in India, Singapore, Oman, and many other countries. She even managed to break her ankle while working on a jack-up in Oman.

For our first meeting, she brought an ancient parts manual and wanted me to help her source parts. I have no idea where she found that manual, much less where I was going to find the parts. From that meeting on, we formed a lifelong friendship. And I thank her for paving the way for all females in non-traditional roles in our industry.