Growing up in the tiny northern Wyoming town of Byron, Chad Deaton always knew he wanted to work in the oil patch.
His father and both his grandfathers worked in or invested in the oil industry. In fact, his father’s father worked on the first oil well drilled in the Big Horn Basin. Chad’s youngest daughter, too, earned a degree in chemical engineering and worked for Chevron, tallying four generations of Deatons who have worked in the oil industry.
“I just had a lot of oily blood, I guess,” he says.
Deaton’s journey into the oil industry can be traced to the day his father took him to see Dowell, a division of Dow Chemical, use remote operations to frac a well. A junior in high school, Deaton was fascinated and decided, then and there, that he wanted to go into engineering or geology. He later attended the University of Wyoming, though petroleum geology was not offered at the time. He chose general geology for a major.
That day in high school made such an impression that, upon graduation from UW, he accepted a job offer from Dowell. “It came full circle,” Deaton says.
What followed was a distinguished career, first at Dowell and then at Schlumberger, an oilfield products and services company. He spent 24 years there, working his way up from geologist to manager to senior executive vice president, based first within the U.S. and then internationally.
“I’ve always loved working with people,” says Deaton. “Especially over my career, I’ve enjoyed working with young talent—young engineers, young geologists, young geophysicists coming out of school. You tell them, ‘I want to knock a hole in that wall,’ and they don’t ask questions about how much are you going to pay them. They just get after it. In management, you get the opportunity to develop young talent.”
He retired for a few years before coming back as CEO of Hanover Compressor, which was partially owned by Schlumberger. After two years at Hanover, he was contacted by a search firm about an opening at Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oilfield services companies. He had known the company for years and thought highly of it, and so he submitted his name. He was then hired as CEO and chairman of Baker Hughes, positions he held for 8 1/2 years until he decided to retire as CEO in 2012.
About two years ago, the UW Foundation reached out to Chad and his wife Liz, asking Chad to serve on the Foundation Board, a call he accepted. Later, Deaton was invited by Gov. Matt Mead to serve on the Wyoming Governor’s Energy, Engineering, STEM Integration Task Force, which is charged with developing a well-articulated, understandable strategy to fulfill the challenge of helping UW to become a top-tier academic and research institution in areas of excellence appropriate for Wyoming.
Deaton and former Gov. Dave Freudenthal co-chair the task force. The other members are:
• Dick Agee, founder and chairman of Wapiti Energy, LLC;
• Dave Bostrom, president of Bostrom Enterprises, LLC, and president of the UW Board of Trustees;
• Tom Botts, executive vice president of global manufacturing (retired) of Shell Downstream Inc.;
• Tom Buchanan, UW president;
• Greg Hill, executive vice president and president of exploration and production of Hess Corporation;
• Tom Lockhart, Wyoming state representative from Natrona County;
• Eric Marsh, executive vice president and senior vice president of the USA division of Encana Corporation; and
• Phil Nicholas, Wyoming state senator from Albany County.
The task force first compared UW to state schools strong in engineering, such as Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and the University of Texas, and with leading engineering universities, such as MIT and Stanford, to help define the characteristics of a top-tier university.
The task force submitted its initial report to the governor in late 2012.
“It’s going to take quite a bit of time and dedication, but the good news is, we can do it,” Deaton says. “We have the only four-year university in the state, and the state is blessed with natural resources. The state is in much better financial shape than most states around the union and so, therefore, it can afford to do a better job by its state university. We have the support of the governor and the previous governor, along with very strong support of the State Legislature.”
He adds, “This is why working on the task force is so exciting. You’re going to make a difference in young people’s lives. If we can get the university to a Tier 1 engineering school, get more Wyoming kids or more Rocky Mountain kids to go through UW’s School of Engineering and graduate with a good degree in engineering, it will change their lives.”
This year marks Chad and wife Liz’s 40th wedding anniversary. While Chad grew up in Byron, Liz is from Jackson, and they first met in high school at basketball tournaments. They ran into each other again in college and, by the time they were sophomores, they were married.
Liz first wanted to be a nurse, but because she fainted at the sight of blood, she changed her major to special education. She began teaching in Vernal, Utah, where the couple moved following graduation for Chad’s job with Dowell. But it wasn’t long before Chad was transferred and Liz had to quit her job and get another in their new location. After about eight years of relocating, Liz decided to become a full-time mom.
“She said, ‘Enough’s enough’ and retired,” Chad says. “She’s an excellent teacher—she really is—but it was difficult moving around the U.S. and then overseas. We had dual careers, and we chose to chase my career instead of hers.”
Ultimately, Chad and Liz had three daughters and moved 24 times in Chad’s 30-plus years on the job, including London, Paris, and Scotland. Chad and Liz decided they wanted their daughters to have the opportunity to experience other cultures, and so they jumped at the chance when Chad was offered a position overseas.
Eventually, Angie, their oldest, went to Duke and then Baylor Medical School, as did her husband. Their second daughter, Kristen, went to Baylor and earned her master’s degree in social work. Their youngest, Jamie, earned a degree in chemical engineering from Vanderbilt. All three worked in their professions for a number of years before deciding to be full-time moms “where the real work load is,” Chad says.
“We have three wonderful daughters and seven grandkids, and we’re lucky that all three married great men,” Chad says.
And now, although Chad is transitioning to retirement, he’s as busy as ever. In addition to the UW Foundation Board and the governor’s task force, he volunteers and serves on other boards. Chad and Liz also bought a house in Jackson and are spending a lot more time in Wyoming.
“Wyoming means everything to me because the first 22 years of my life were completely devoted to Wyoming,” Chad says. “You’re only about two degrees removed from anybody when you start talking Wyoming. It’s almost like a family.”
Chad and Liz are also reconnecting with their university: “As you go through your career, you’re so busy, and sometimes you forget your alma mater and how it helped you get ahead in life. But as you start getting to a point later in life—and a little better off financially—you start realizing you haven’t kept in touch. Both my wife and I realized we haven’t been the best graduates in terms of keeping up and giving back to the university.”