From Missionary to Executive Director: Advancing Clean Technology

On Episode 2 of the Oil and Gas Elevate Podcast, hosts Sean McCoy and Eric Johnson interviewed Halliburton Labs Executive Director Scott Gale about the company and its mission. In this article, OGGN contributing writer Stephen Forrester got a chance to talk in more depth with Scott about his incredible life and career journey. In Part I, Scott explores a childhood growing up among eight siblings, the influence of his father on his personal development, early career interests and college studies, and an amazing 2 years as a missionary in Brazil.

Scott Gale was the first of eight siblings, born in the city of Provo, Utah. At around 6 months old, his parents graduated college, packed their bags, and headed to Camas, Washington, a small city of roughly 6,500 people about 30 miles outside of Portland, Oregon. His father was something of a rags-to-riches story. One of the first in his family to get a college degree—a double major in finance and accounting from Brigham Young University, and later an MBA from Washington State University—he worked at a small, family-owned pressure washer manufacturer before eventually becoming the company’s CEO.

The family transitioned from living in a double-wide mobile home to a nice house as his father achieved more and more success, and it was this early example that paved much of the way for Scott’s own journey.

“I got my first corporate paycheck,” he recalls, “before my thirteenth birthday. I would spend every summer at work with my dad; I’d leave at 5:30 in the morning and go to the office each day. I worked in the mailroom, I did small projects, whatever needed to be done.”

An interesting early project was Scott’s “digitization” of instruction manuals for how to use the pressure washers.

Of course, at this point, there was no such thing as truly digital media, so Scott spent a painstaking amount of time faxing each individual page before stitching them together into a single file, which he could then put on a disc. “That fax ringtone,” he says, laughing, “yeah, that’s forever embedded in my head.”

Making minimum wage—at the time, somewhere in the range of $5 an hour—Scott learned early on the value of hard work and being rewarded for your efforts. Looking back on these projects, Scott also realized that they taught him the importance of efficiency, and he’s all too thankful for how far we’ve come with technology.

“I often reflect back on how it took me the entire summer to take these bound instruction manuals, cut the binding, and scan each page in,” he notes, “which would eventually result in a compact disc that we could send out to customers. That would take me an afternoon today instead of an entire summer.”

Through several summers, Scott did it all, working in customer service, helping sales with orders, and even spending time on the assembly line making pressure washer accessories. He also worked in shipping and drove a forklift for logistics. By the time Scott was 15, his father was the CEO, and he later sold the company to a private equity firm. In a twist, Scott had no interest whatsoever in following in his father’s footsteps. “I decided early on that I didn’t want to do what my dad did,” he admits, “but he instilled in me a work ethic that’s always been there.”

In a paper mill town like Camas, the career options were limited—you were either a lumberjack, or you worked as a chemical engineer in one of the mills. In a rural area, the former wasn’t as uncommon as you might think, but the paper mills dominated local employment and economy. With these mills touching many aspects of the peoples’ lives, Scott remembers a few early figures who got him interested in engineering: a neighbor who came over to do a simple repair on the door and then made high-quality paper airplanes out of the construction paper, and a high-school teacher who taught chemistry and trigonometry that happened to be a retired mill worker.

Scott appreciated the act of creation and understanding how the world worked, and he realized that chemical engineering was the glue holding it all together. Scott admits that the path to being an engineer wasn’t particularly clear, as he had many other passions. One was cooking, which he was fond of because of its repeatable nature: follow a recipe, use the right ingredients, and get a result.

“We had a trade school day at the local high school,” he says, “and there were chefs there talking about culinary school. So, I told my dad I wanted to go to the Portland Culinary Arts School. His response always stuck with me: ‘How about you do something that doesn’t end up with you living in my basement?’”

Being a chef, in his father’s eyes, wasn’t a career but a hobby, and he wanted more for his son, which Scott understands now. Scott had an idyllic childhood, growing up playing sports, studying, visiting family in Washington and Utah, and overall, just being a happy kid.

He also visited the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, as his mother had grown up around and eventually graduated high school from the Navajo Nation. The confluence of all the factors affecting his life and personality led to Scott pursuing chemical engineering at Brigham Young University, promising his father that he’d spend at least a semester trying it out before he considered jumping ship to another university, where most of his friends were. He ended up loving Brigham Young, and stayed there for the full degree.

Of course, the high-energy Scott wasn’t content to sit still for too long. After completing his freshman year, he decided to become a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 2 years. Fortunately, it wasn’t a terribly difficult process.

“After determining if you’re fit enough, they really only asked you two questions,” Scott recalls. “‘Do you speak another language, and if so, what is it; and, would you be willing to learn another language?’”

Not too long later, Scott wound up in São Paulo, Brazil, to begin a journey that would inform his character in ways he couldn’t have ever foreseen. “It was absolutely formative,” he says confidently, “and as a 19-year-old kid, showing up in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, you hit the street and find people to teach and help and serve. And you do that every day, 7 days a week, for 2 years straight. You focus on the work. There’re no breaks, there’s no vacation; it’s 6:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night, working, doing something, all day every day.” Oh, and Scott could email his family once a week and call home on Mother’s Day and Christmas. How generous of them, right?

The rigor and regime meshed nicely with Scott’s personality, as he appreciated structure and organization. The missionary work also taught him incredible lessons in humility and perseverance, as rejection was the norm. “You’re in the living rooms of strangers,” he says, “talking about religion, talking about their lives, and you really learn to read the room; you don’t understand every word that’s coming out of their mouths, but you can read their faces.” More times than not, you needed to know when to make an exit instead of continuing to pursue the discussion.

Through the 2 years, Scott not only became fluent in Portuguese, but also gained a set of intangible skills that he admits he could never have picked up any other way. Scott was with a companion missionary all day, every day, which though challenging at first, really helped him understand the purpose of such organizational rigidity, of working more closely with someone to achieve a narrow, focused goal.

Brazil was broken up into zones and districts, much like those that sales and operations personnel in oil and gas businesses oversee, with different missionaries offered the opportunity to rise up and effectively manage people in other areas. Scott, during the last 6 months of his mission, was managing 28 missionaries covering an area with roughly 8 million inhabitants. “And at 21 years old,” Scott says, “that was an incredible leadership opportunity.” Another interesting aspect was that the metrics for success were almost entirely personal, an encouragement to pursue meditation and reflection on purpose.

There was, of course, some measurement of success—people met, lessons taught, baptisms—but for Scott, success was self-discovery.

“It’s super hard to walk around in a shirt and tie in the Brazilian heat and stay motivated, engaged, and mentally healthy,” Scott recalls, “especially when you could go weeks and weeks of getting told ‘no’ 12 hours a day. And so, for me, a big part of the success was maintaining my morale, learning about myself, and making it to the end of the journey.”

In an environment where staying is entirely voluntary and you’re paying for all your own expenses, this stands as a testament to Scott’s strength of character and will.

Be sure to check out Part II of the article, where Scott details how he charted a path from Dow Chemical to Halliburton, nurtured his passion for entrepreneurship and networking, and transitioned from managing Halliburton’s hydraulic fracturing strategy to overseeing the company’s clean energy technology accelerator, Halliburton Labs.

This article was written by Stephen Forrester.

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