Honey...Don't Follow the Herd

Editor's Note:  Meet a fellow colleague and successful entrepreneur with a niche CFO energy firm.  Paula Waggoner-Aguilar is this week's remarkable guest and is co-founder and outgoing President of the Women's Energy Network of South Texas, an organization near and dear to my heart and my industry.  We share so much in common...a generation, our early roots in the business as well as a deep passion for helping women get a leg up in the energy patch.  

Hi.  I'm Paula. I'm not your typical woman in energy.

I am a Generation X entrepreneur, finance executive, and CPA. I am also the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of some tough men who spent their lives working in the oil industry. Truthfully, I never planned to work in the oil business after watching my dad lose everything in the 1980’s. But I started my career in the 1990’s working my way up the accounting ranks in the Latin American oil patch.  (Yes, I said Latin America.)

I always wanted to do something different.

My grandfather once said, "Honey don't follow the herd."  And well, I didn't.  I never have.

When I graduated from college I wanted to work in Latin America on the tails of the North American Free Trade Agreement. After getting my masters of science in taxation, with an undergraduate in accounting,  I spent my summer in between going to school in a special bilingual program for Spanish-speaking professionals at a University in Morelos outside of Mexico City.

After that, I spent a year in public accounting.  I quit my job after tax season and then started banging on doors to get to Latin America.

It wasn't easy.  What is?

I received about 100 rejections (face to face, over the phone, and written) from accounting firms and real estate companies in Mexico and the US.  The answer was always the same.

noNo, no, and more NO!

After months, I was on the brink of giving up. You know that feeling, right?  To this day it is painful for me to talk about all the rejections. I was so disappointed.  Those rejections were someone’s perceptions of what was an “appropriate job” was for a young woman of my demographics. They did not take into account my upbringing, education, skills sets, or most importantly my own career aspirations.  But when I look back on that pain, I am proud to bear the scar and I will tell that it has become one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me.

 Just when I was ready to stop, my world opened up.

Out of nowhere I got two calls from oil companies. In a matter of a week, I interviewed, demonstrated I had the mindsets, education, technical competence and soft skills to do the job.   A tough 50-something Brazilian manager who spoke 7 languages made it very clear that he would terminate me without hesitation if I could not perform the role in non-English speaking environments in some very dangerous places.

To my surprise, two weeks later I was given a competitive offer to work as an internal auditor in Latin America for what is now Halliburton Inc. The man who found me and gave me that first opportunity, Dennis Croysdale, went on to become the Vice President of Halliburton’s Audit Services for many years.

And the story only gets better.

So my dream was to be a CFO.  Little did I know that the leap to Latin America would quickly position me as one of the few US trained CPAs on the ground, let alone an American woman. For the risks I took, I was rewarded with opportunities to do things and given broad responsibilities, sometimes people 20 years my senior had not been given. Over time, those opportunities open doors across the industry, and put me on the front line at a very early age with top company leaders.

I have been in the industry for 20 years now.  I have done a few gutsy things over the years. Lord willing, I have a couple more gutsy moves up my sleeves. I am not alone though.   I know several women with similar stories who read this blog, attend women's energy events, and work their tails off to make their careers happen.  Yes, my friends, you are here with me and it's our time to step out and shine.

Three things that I share with anyone looking to move head.
  1.  You can be whatever you want to be. You steer your career, no one else.
  2.  Be tough and take risks.  They pay off!
  3.  Thank your sponsors by paying it forward. Don’t forget you were once in their shoes. [Tweet "Take risks not just on yourself, but on others. - @thenergycfo"]   

I thank Dennis for opening the door for me.  I thank Halliburton for being ahead its time, over 20 years ago and still today in promoting careers in energy for women.

Final editorial note:  Enjoy Paula?  Follow her on Twitter @enenergycfo and check out her recent award as Best CFO!  

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