President’s Lecture Series Wrap-Up: Voices From the Energy Sector
By Laura Wagner
“The President’s Lecture Series brings together the University community to reflect on topics that are relevant and important to all we serve.”
So said Vice President of Advancement and University Relations Javier “Jay” Zambrano, who opened the 15th installment of the President’s Lecture Series (PLS). “UHD prides itself on being an institution where ideas and perspectives are welcomed and shared. Through these platforms, we create the opportunity for those in our campus community and the community-at-large to listen to and interact with leaders of industry and policymakers, as well as with local and national experts, so that we are each better informed and equipped to take on the challenges of an ever-changing world.”
Zambrano introduced President Loren J. Blanchard, who welcomed the panelists and attendees before turning the event over to moderator Dr. Jonathan Davis, Acting Dean for the Marilyn Davies College of Business. Davis introduced the three distinguished UHD alumni, all energy industry professionals and asked them to share their “origin stories”:
Jesus De La Cerda Jr., BBA, Senior Contracts Manager, Mexico Pacific
De La Cerda graduated from UHD in 1999 with a business degree and got a job at Compaq Computers. He spent five years in the technology industry, learning the buying process at Compaq’s manufacturing site. “I did everything from buying boxes to building servers,” he said. “I learned a lot, and I’m grateful for that.” After earning a couple of master’s degrees, he used his network to get an interview in the energy sector, got the job, and never left.
Suzanna Hernandez, BA, Lead Regulatory Advisor, Woodside Energy
Hernandez got her foot in the door in high school through a co-op program that allowed her to work in an energy job for five hours a day and earn a grade. “After I enrolled at UHD, I started working in the Dean of Student Affairs Office,” she shared. “As my term working for that office was about to be up, I got a call from the company I had worked for in high school. They had an opportunity working on an HR issue. After that, one opportunity led to another and another, and I learned to say ‘yes.’”
James Rosemond, MBA, U.S. Terminal Advisor, ExxonMobil
Rosemond worked in high-speed manufacturing at Anheuser-Busch for many years. While working on his master’s at UHD, he got a call from ExxonMobil inviting him for an interview. He was surprised to get the call. “I didn’t apply for that job,” he said. “My wife had applied for me.” He had consciously avoided the energy sector throughout his career due to its volatility, but after visiting the ExxonMobil campus for the interview, he was sold. He recently got promoted into an entirely different area of the firm. “The beauty of the energy sector is that once you’re in a company, you have opportunities to move into areas you never even considered.”
Davis: Could you share insights and experiences around roadblocks in your career?
De La Cerda mentioned the downturn of the 1980s. “For a generation, oil and gas didn’t really hire anyone as it was recovering,” he said. In the mid-2000s, industry professionals started retiring, and there were no young people to backfill the positions. “That’s when I started in the industry, and what I learned is, ‘This, too, shall pass.’ Yes, there will be downturns and years when you don’t have a holiday party, but the cycle will turn up. It’s a good industry to be in. Energy rules the world—you just have to hang in there.”
Hernandez noted the non-inclusive culture of the industry when she started, the lack of representation and diversity in leadership roles, the gender bias. “That’s all changed,” she said. “My CEO is a woman and part of the LGBTQ+ community. Twenty years ago, that would not have been possible.” The industry is much more progressive than it used to be, she noted.
Resilience is key, according to Rosemond. “In downturns, you have to tighten your belt and join with your colleagues to support your company. Other industries, like tech, will come in and hire away folks, leaving opportunities for you if you just stick it out. You just have to show the company you’re resilient and ready to take on the challenges.”
Davis: How can graduates entering the industry prepare for downturns?
De La Cerda recommended the 70-10-10-10 rule: “Live off 70% of your income; invest 10%—your 401(k), real estate, whatever; save 10% in a ‘rainy day’ fund; and give back 10%.” Do not, he advised, live “la vida loca.” Instead, “Run your household like a corporation. When the good times come, party like it’s 1999.”
Rosemond acknowledged it’s difficult for recent graduates not to want to spend a little money with their first job. “When I got my first job, I tried to live like I was still in college. Then when I got a raise, I lived on my pre-raise salary,” he said. “Whether or not you encounter rainy days, living below your means lets you always be prepared, and that gives you flexibility so you don’t get trapped in a position you’re unhappy in.”
Hernandez agreed that living below your means is a sound strategy. “There’s value in staying loyal to your company, but sometimes, downturns equate to layoffs. So keep your connections up. If you get laid off, give your connections a call and say, ‘I’m available—do you need help? I can help.’”
De La Cerda added, “Don’t turn down interviews if you get laid off. Even if it’s not a dream job, it’s good practice, so when you get the call for the dream job interview, you’re polished and ready to get yourself the job.”
Davis: Who was an influential mentor for you?
De La Cerda named Tom Sims, a Vice President he once worked for. “He told me everything is made up of two things: head and heart. Your heart is what your mother taught you. Manners. Gratitude. Your head is what you learn at school. You can learn the ‘head’ but not the ‘heart.’ And heart trumps head. You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you have a bad attitude, no one wants to work with you. If you aren’t the sharpest tool in the drawer but you’re a good person to work with, you can learn the head part you need to know to succeed.”
For Rosemond, it was Damola Oshin. “I worked with him at Anheuser-Busch. When I got to a point in my career where I felt like I was getting passed over, I watched how Damola carried himself, how he operated. I learned that if you’re the best, you will succeed. If someone knocks you down, you get up, and you keep going. He taught me to keep fighting. He never told me that in words, he just set that example through his actions.”
Hernandez recommended being strategic about choosing professional mentors but said her earliest role model was her grandmother. “She instilled in me a work ethic, the importance of working hard, and morals and values.”
Davis commented that mentors serve two purposes: They teach mentees how to do the things they do well, and, “They model mentorship and teach us that as we reach their level, it’s incumbent on us to become mentors to the next generation of professionals.”
Davis: What community resources, networks, affinity groups, or other kinds of institutions have helped in your career?
“Whatever your degree is going to be in, join the associations related to the career area you want to go into,” said De La Cerda. “I had a professor at UHD, Dr. Kaufman, who told us that we needed to attend an Institute for Supply Management (ISM) meeting and bring our résumé.” At the event, he met a hiring manager from Compaq, gave her his résumé, and got hired two weeks later. “Through UHD, following a professor’s guidance and mentorship, that’s how I got my first job.” De La Cerda also recommended getting certifications from professional associations.
Rosemond joined ISM when he was a student at UHD; in 2022, he served as president of ISM Houston. He advised taking opportunities to be in leadership roles whenever possible in professional associations: “It’s a résumé builder, but it also gives you experience you may not otherwise have in leading teams, and it’s a chance to network with individuals you might not otherwise have access to.” He explained that many high-level, influential individuals get involved with boards after they retire. “They see how you work by your actions in these associations, and you have the chance to learn from global leaders how to run an organization of 1,000 individuals. It’s such a fantastic opportunity. I’ve made lifelong friends.”
Hernandez noted that she had to work her way up to a leadership role in the Women’s Energy Network (WEN). She’s now on the board of directors for WEN as well as for Girls Inc. “WEN has events students could get involved in right now,” she said. “There’s also the Young Professionals in Energy (YPE) group you could join.” She encouraged UHD students to reach out to her and the other panelists for more information.
Davis: What mindset is needed to be successful in energy?
“In the words of Bruce Lee: Be water, my friend,” said De La Cerda. “Be flexible and adaptable. Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it. Learn from it. Find the silver lining and adapt.”
Hernandez agreed. “Have a positive mindset. Be open-minded and be prepared to be humble. Say yes as often as possible and learn to view challenges as opportunities.”
“Never waste a good crisis, I always say,” said Rosemond. “When everything is going wrong, try to do everything you can to solve it—it can set you apart. Be flexible, understand that everyone’s opinions and input are important to get the company where it needs to go. You’re working with so many different people with different inputs, you need to be open to all these opinions.”
Davis: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
From De La Cerda: “Keep doing what you’re doing. Enjoy your 20s. Learn to have fun. Life goes by so fast—you think the days are long, they’re not. Take calculated risks, but enjoy your youth, as Pearl Jam says, but also think about the future. Be willing to sacrifice today, put in the time and the work, for who you want to be tomorrow. And keep moving forward. You’ll get there.”
Hernandez added, “Be kind to yourself. You might think you have your path figured out, but life will throw you curve balls. It’s how you receive them that counts.”
“I started my family young, in my early 20s,” said Rosemond. “And somewhere during the period of having kids, I stopped actively learning. Today, I would tell my younger self to always continue to learn and grow. I want to set that example for my kids as well.”
Davis: What is the one piece of advice you would give to members of our audience today?
“There’s a Spanish phrase, échale ganas – it means grit, or you’ve got this. Believe in yourself. The one person you cannot afford to not believe in you, is you. Be confident,” said De La Cerda. “I work with people who went to MIT and Harvard. I’m here to tell you they are no better than you. You made a wise decision to go to UHD. You’re getting a quality education, and you’ll graduate debt-free. If you believe, you will achieve. Believe.”
Hernandez suggested building networks. “Focus on relationships. Volunteer—take all volunteer opportunities that are given to you. Reach out to this panel. Having a strong allyship is very important.”
“I give you the same advice I give myself: Never stop that growth mindset,” Rosemond said. “And remember that if someone is paying you a lot of money to do something, there’s a reason. It’s probably challenging and a lot of people won’t want to do it, but it’s an opportunity. Be ready for that.” He noted that new graduates sometimes have lofty goals when they start out, and when things don’t happen fast, they get discouraged. “Don’t,” he advised.
De La Cerda agreed, adding, “You gotta pay your dues, crawl before you walk, walk before you run. And remember it’s not just what you know but who you know.”
Rosemond followed up, saying, “Be humble, but don’t be too humble. There’s some gamesmanship to being successful. People won’t necessarily recognize your achievements—make sure you advocate for yourself.”
Davis: Why is it important for you to be here today?
“I grew up four miles from here. I had to take the bus to school. I was a student worker here at the physical plant. All my brothers are alums. My wife got her master’s here. UHD is very special, and it’s important to me to give back,” said De La Cerda. “This place is transformative, it changes lives. My parents were waiters, immigrants, and I’m first generation. So whenever I get the call to come to one of these events, I say, When? And I come.”
“As Dr. Blanchard said in his opening remarks, I consider UHD home,” Hernandez said. “Some of my best friends work here, and I like to attend the events and give back whenever I can. Whether it’s being part of the alum association or accepting invites from Liza [Alonzo], I try to give back.” She added, “There are things I learned here that I still apply at work today.”
Rosemond commented in his opening remarks that UHD had changed the trajectory of his life and career, and that was one reason he was thrilled to participate. He also hopes to help students who might be struggling. “I wasn’t just the first in my family to graduate college, I was the first person to graduate high school. I had no blueprint for how to navigate college,” he said. “I remember trying to figure out the FAFSA and not having any idea what the Expected Family Contribution meant or how to get financial aid. So now, I like to attend events like this so I can tell you: I may not know the right path but I assure you, I have been there, and I can share my experiences so you have something of a blueprint. That’s very important to me.”
Blanchard’s opening comments to the panelists resonated as the session closed: “This event really helps our students understand not only what you do, but the importance of their educational experience in terms of how they can become leaders in the energy field.”
Photos: Luz Castilla Hincapie