Brandy Yelton is the Director of Treasury and Marketing for Surge Energy America. As a student in the Walton College of Business, Brandy was the recipient of the Boyer Fellowship -- the largest awarded on the University of Arkansas campus. In this episode of the Be Epic Podcast, she explains how her involvement in SAKE, study abroad, and other Walton College experiences set her up for success in her life post-graduation.
00:08 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to, Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education and your life today. I have with me today, Brandy Yelton, commercial and treasury director for Surge Energy. Brandy, thank you so much for taking time to meet with me today.
00:40 Brandy Yelton: Yeah, and thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk.
00:42 Matt Waller: Now, Brandy, you went to the Walton College and graduated, but you were quite a special student because you held the Boyer Fellowship, which is the largest fellowship at the University of Arkansas. Was that fellowship helpful to you as a student?
01:03 Brandy Yelton: Yes, the Boyer Fellowship was so meaningful to me in my experience that I had as a college student and still today, for a couple of different reasons, but being the recipient of the Boyer Fellowship was extremely helpful, and one of the best pieces was actually getting to know the Boyers personally, they were amazingly generous, not just with their money with endowing the fellowship, but with their time. I think all of the Boyer fellows have a chance to meet them personally. They were very involved. They were at university events, they were at dinners. My freshman year of college in September, I got to have lunch with Mr. Boyer personally, and he's a busy guy, he's got a lot of things on his plate, and the fact that he took the time out to have that meeting with me so soon, it was very impactful and it started a relationship that lasts today, almost 20 years later.
02:04 Matt Waller: What year did you graduate?
02:04 Brandy Yelton: 2005, almost 15 years ago.
02:07 Matt Waller: Well, that is true. We don't have very many donors that stay as involved as they do with the recipients, and it does make a difference, there's no question about it. The reason I got in contact with you was because I wanted to follow up on some of the recipients of the Boyer Fellowship, just to find out how it affected them, how it helped them as a student and what they're doing today. So it's really interesting to see what you're doing today. Would you mind talking a little bit about what you do?
02:47 Brandy Yelton: Sure, yeah, I definitely see the Boyer Fellowship as kind of the catalyst for my college experience and then moving into my career, it definitely opens some doors for me to have some great experiences at the university that I think translated well into being an attractive new hire. So been out of school for 15 years almost, and I went to ConocoPhillips initially straight out of school, worked there for five years, and then have been at two smaller oil and gas companies. Since then I currently work for Surge Energy, and as you mentioned, handle our commercial and Treasury Department, so get to do corporate financing, treasury functions, and then also sell the oil and gas that we produce every day.
03:36 Matt Waller: So Brandy, are you originally from Arkansas?
03:40 Brandy Yelton: Yeah, I grew up in a very small town, but just south of the university in West Fork.
03:45 Matt Waller: And now you live in one of the largest cities on Earth. How have you lived in Houston now?
03:51 Brandy Yelton: I moved here in 2005, so going on 15 years. We did a short stint in Tulsa, Oklahoma, another oil and gas town close Brandy Yelton, but ended up coming back to Houston because it's the hub for oil and gas in the US, and so my husband and I are both in the oil and gas industry, so we felt it was imperative for our careers to be here, but Arkansas is home, I travel back with my family as much as I can.
04:19 Matt Waller: So Brandy, would you mind telling me just a little bit more about Surge Energy and what they do?
04:24 Brandy Yelton: Sure. So Surge Energy is a US onshore independent or an oil and gas company, we operate in the Permian. We're currently running four rigs, so we're one of the more active operators in our area. We started in 2015, and we're a pretty unique company because we are actually owned Brandy Yelton Chinese investors. So in China, the stock is traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. So although we're a US Company, we roll up to a Chinese parent company, and so we're also an international company, and it's a pretty interesting dynamic, especially given the current environment of US-China relations, we're obviously highly interested in how that's proceeding.
05:14 Matt Waller: The oil industry has had some tough times because of the low oil prices. What's the outlook in your mind?
05:24 Brandy Yelton: It feels like we're at a very unique point in the industry right now. It's challenging from a financing perspective, companies are having trouble getting financing, I should say non-investment grade company, so companies similar to my size, smaller, mid-cap companies are struggling to get financing through the debt or equity markets, and then there's also just increased exposure to environmental concerns, and that's becoming a very real part of our industry, and definitely you're seeing companies take a more active role in addressing the concerns that people have about how we operate and how it affects the environment. So there's certainly some challenges coming at us, but with anything, that presents opportunities too, so it's forcing us to make really good investments and also focus on how we can improve operating to be better stewards for the community.
06:24 Matt Waller: Brandy, thinking back to your time in the Walton College, we had been the Walton College for just a few years when you started, we received that gift in 1998, which was a big game changer for us. I was wondering, what are some things that stand out most to you about your time in the Walton College?
06:48 Brandy Yelton: Yeah, it was a very amazing experience that I have, and I really... I feel like I would put my experience at the Walton College up against any other university that's out there, and part of what made it so special is, it was a small environment, you really felt like people knew who you were in the school. I feel like the faculty did a great job of getting to know the students and taking an interest in them personally. I personally had a very good relationship with John Norwood, who was leading the honors program at the time, and he just did a great job of getting students involved and building a community instead of it just being going to class and going home every day. So we spent... I was kind of nerdy. But I spent a lot of time in the Honor Study Lab. I don't know if it's still there, the fish... We called it the fish bowl, 'cause it had a big glass window, but I had a lot of friends who were specific to the Walton College in the honors program, and we spent a lot of time in the study lab, not necessarily studying, but eating pizza and hanging out and talking, and just having a good time.
08:06 Matt Waller: You participated in the SAKE program, SAKE stands for students acquiring knowledge through enterprise, where the students run a business. Would you tell me a little bit about your experience?
08:18 Brandy Yelton: Yeah, that was really fun. It forced you to go beyond just kind of a typical group project that you get assigned to work with a few people to actually developing a small organization that function for an entire semester, and we had the opportunity to get feedback from the other students on how we were interacting with each other. And some of that feedback, I actually still use today. Because it's interesting, just your natural inclination, I like to come in and take charge. And that was kind of my first experience where I realized you have to do it in a way that doesn't alienate people at the same time, and so that's been critical advice that I've implemented for a long time. And it was just interesting to put that together and work with the students, you really got to know the students who are in that class well, 'cause you were working so closely together.
09:18 Matt Waller: Yeah, since you took the SAKE course, we actually have a SAKE innovations class, I don't know if you've heard about that. So it's another course, but it's more... 'Cause SAKE is about running the business. This is more on the innovation side of the business, coming out with new products, new processes, that sort of thing, and there's also an internship program associated with it as well, so it continues to develop and do well. So the Boyer Fellowship, because it's so huge, some students use some of the money to engage in study abroad. Did you do that?
10:00 Brandy Yelton: Yes. I was fortunate enough to go to Italy to do the consortium study abroad that was between KU and the University of Arkansas. And with Molly Rapert, she goes on that trip, and that was a fantastic experience, and actually, our class is focused on international business, and I still use... Some of that still comes up in my business today because we are partnered with a Chinese parent company, thinking about cultural aspects and cultural impact to our interactions with them is something we have to be very aware of, 'cause it is a different culture, and all of that was discussed on that study abroad program, and it was just... I mean, just a great experience to get to go see Italy, get out of the United States and see how other people live. The pace of life seems different than the United States, and it was interesting to see that and come back and be able to appreciate both sides of it, I wanna trade it for what we have here, but it was eye-opening to see.
11:13 Matt Waller: The Walton College, we're fortunate to be in an area that's got so much business, we've got three Fortune 500 companies and 1,500 consumer products companies with offices there, and now there's a lot of technology companies that are cropping up, but we often have speakers, guest speakers in our classes, do any guest speakers stand out to you?
11:41 Brandy Yelton: Definitely. So Mr. Boyer was a guest speaker in my classes a couple of times, he came in and spoke to us, and one of those times I've never forgotten. So now, probably 20 years later, I wish I had taken better notes 'cause I did not write down exactly what he said, but he talked to the students in a very engaging way about the fact that you can really make an impact to people. And one of the ways to do that is to give people more than they expect, and I've really used that as foundational career advice throughout my career, there's lots of opportunities where you can do more than people expect, both professionally and personally, but I do keep that in mind, and it can be something as simple as answering an email. It might be a simple yes or no question, but really, if you can elaborate a little bit, that gives the person that's requesting that information the context they need to apply it, and I think when I know when I see people doing that consistently, it makes a huge, it stands out, it makes a big impact to me and thinking like, "Wow, that person is really going above and beyond just the minimum." And that's impressive.
13:10 Matt Waller: Yeah, and he clearly lives that out, the Boyer Fellowships were the biggest fellowships on campus, so he's giving more than anyone would expect, but he does that in other ways too, I mean, really just the fact that he stays in contact with you for 20 years, that's way beyond what you would expect. I really think that is good advice. That's a advice all of our students need to know. You're right, it helps, sometimes a hand-written note, and you mentioned, you know Professor Rapert. She is so good about writing notes, giving gifts, really going the extra mile, and the class she teaches, a marketing class actually has an advisory board. It's the only class I've ever heard of that has their own advisory board made up of alumni of that class that are business people, and the business people help provide content for her course that she teaches. Brandy, based on your experience and your career, do you have any advice that you would like to share with our students?
14:23 Brandy Yelton: That is a hard question, 'cause there's a lot of advice, but something that was meaningful for me is the term, networking, gets thrown around a lot, and these days it's very easy to stay connected with technology and social media, but I found that it was very helpful for me, to develop some really meaningful relationships in my career, and some of those meaningful relationships have persisted over a long time, and I would say I wasn't really good at networking early on in my career, 'cause it seemed kind of forced or uncomfortable, I'm not a super outgoing person. So what helped me was finding people that I really enjoyed working with and who supported and also challenged me, and one of the people that I worked with was Dexter Burleigh, and he was VP of Finance at ConocoPhillips, and I actually worked for him my second rotation at ConocoPhillips had a great experience working for him. We had some really late nights and challenging assignments, but he was such a supportive boss. And then he left ConocoPhillips. He took an early retirement and went on to a smaller start-up company. And at first I was very disappointed because I'm thinking, this is someone I really enjoyed working with, and now he's not even at my company anymore.
16:00 Brandy Yelton: And then another person that I worked with left to go work for him at that company, and I was like, "Oh, now two people that I really enjoyed working with or gone." But I went to them and said, "Look, if you need help as you guys are getting this thing going, please consider me. I'm open to that." And so about six months after Dexter had left ConocoPhillips, I talked to him about actually joining him at Mid-State at the small start-up company. And that was an easier decision because we had that relationship in place. It was exciting because I knew why I was going to work with people who I had already worked with before, that I knew I enjoyed working with and that were supportive of me, and I actually followed Dexter again here to Surge. So he retired from Mid-State, second retirement now, he's not good at retiring, but he retired from Mid-State and then got connected with these Chinese investors and pulled a team together here at Surge, and so I was fortunate enough to be on his team, and four years later, that's where it's led me. And so I think I would just encourage people, networking is more than just giving someone a business card and introducing yourself, it's finding people that you can develop a relationship with because you never know where that relationship is going to lead. And I have been so fortunate to be able to build a whole career off of that one relationship.
17:34 Matt Waller: That is great advice. We've been talking about China a little bit. In China, they call it Guanxi instead of networking. But it has a slightly different meaning, there's actually a phrase that they have, and I can't remember it now, but it basically means that... It's a saying they have, that means the more people you're connected to, the more ways there are to accomplish things. And to your point, if you just meet someone that really doesn't do much, it can help, but if you've got a relationship and they trust you, that's a totally different thing. So, Brandy, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me, I really appreciate it.
18:22 Brandy Yelton: Yeah, thank you so much, this has been great.
18:27 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us, you can find current and past episodes Brandy Yelton searching BeEpic podcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic.