The buck stops here

Cindy Taylor

Energizing her team

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When defining leadership, Oil States International CEO Cindy Taylor mentions words you might expect to hear, such as character and trustworthiness. But then she adds an attribute one doesn’t always hear associated with the term: humility.

For Taylor, the term is a reflection not only of her personal leadership style, but also her rural roots, and how she tries to lead her everyday life. “Leadership” she says, “should not be about me or an individual — it should be a collective effort of people pulling in the same direction to achieve success.”

Distributed leadership

Taylor subscribes to “distributed leadership,” whereby a CEO or other leader is surrounded by a team of strong, talented people representing many different perspectives. While acknowledging her role as the ultimate decision-maker at Oil States, Taylor believes that “nobody leads alone … and anyone who says so is only kidding themselves.”

Under the distributed leadership model, Taylor sees her job as clarifying the vision and strategy, setting the example and empowering the team to get to work. “We all strive to do our best, but none of us does everything perfectly every day,” notes Taylor. She believes the distributed leadership approach opens the team to sharing ideas, collaborating and making adjustments, thereby “helping everyone become more successful.”

The approach must be working. In January, Taylor was named “TopGun CEO of the world” by Brendan Wood International, based upon shareholder ratings that evaluate more than 1,300 “world-class” public corporations and their CEOs.

Taylor also strongly believes that no leadership approach, distributed or otherwise, will be successful without a sound strategy. “It’s the most critical thing a leader must have,” she notes, “and it must be a strategy that can be clearly articulated throughout the organization.”

Twice a year, Taylor and her leadership team hold an executive retreat where they openly discuss, challenge and, if necessary, refine Oil States’ strategy as well as “air out” other issues.

Paying it forward

Growing up on a ranch in the tiny town of Goldthwaite, Texas, Taylor never envisioned working for a Fortune 500 company, let alone becoming its CEO. But during her first year at EY, she recalls a more senior colleague walking up to her and stating, “You do realize you’re a born leader.” As Taylor recalls, up to that point the thought had never crossed her mind.

But the interaction had a lasting impact. It made Taylor realize the “incredible power of giving positive, reinforcing messages” as a way of inspiring others to excel and to lead.

Today, Oil States is “huge on promoting from within,” says Taylor, “and the only way you can do that is to develop your people.” One of Oil States’ “greatest initiatives,” according to Taylor, is the creation of a system of “talent pathways” designed to identify and train the company’s future leaders.

Taylor notes that one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of her job is helping prepare people for the next level of responsibility and leadership. “At the end of the day,” she says, “if I get hit by a bus and there aren’t leaders in place ready to step up, I haven’t done my job.”

Taylor is a huge sports fan and diehard Texas Aggie. So it’s not surprising that many of her leadership heroes are athletic coaches, including longtime Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. “What he did best was bring out the best in others,” says Taylor, “and that’s consistent with my way of thinking of building a strong team, giving them the tools they need and allowing them to achieve individual success.”

Like Monique Leroux, Taylor doesn’t believe being a woman greatly affects her role as a leader. “I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t think there weren’t different perceptions of a woman leader,” she states, “but with the right attitude and perspective, it’s not an issue.”

While she clearly appreciates the benefits of diversity, Taylor says she doesn’t want an advantage nor does she want to give an advantage based solely on gender (or other characteristics). Still, Taylor is quick to point out that less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, a condition she calls “radically out of line.”

Change is a good thing. Taylor has words of advice for future leaders: don’t be afraid of change. “Change creates opportunities for those who aren’t afraid to jump in and run with the ball.” Because the world is changing so rapidly, she warns that if you’re not changing, there’s a very good chance of getting left behind. 

More about Cindy Taylor

Cindy Taylor joined Ernst & Young LLP in Houston right out of college in 1984. In 1989, Cliffs Drilling Company, a newly formed public company and one of Taylor’s clients, offered her a job. She turned it down, citing weakness in the oil and gas industry at the time. Three years later, when the market rebounded and the company asked her again, she said yes.

Over the next seven years, Cliffs Drilling’s stock value increased more than tenfold. But then came another industry downturn, leading Cliffs Drilling to merge with R&B Falcon (now Transocean, Ltd.). Taylor led the company through the transition and left in 1999 to join SCF Partners, a Houston-based private equity firm specializing in oil field service investments.

Within a year, Taylor was approached with the rather unorthodox idea of merging four private energy-related companies into a single public one, in which Taylor would serve as senior vice president. She agreed and the result was the formation of Oil States International in 2000. She was later named president and COO and in 2007 was appointed president, CEO and director.

In addition to her role as CEO of Oil States International, in 2013 Taylor was named to the board of directors of AT&T. She is also a director of Tidewater, the world’s largest operator of vessels serving the oil and gas industry, and on the board and executive committee of the National Ocean Industries Association.

At Texas A&M University, she serves as trustee of the 12th Man Foundation and on the development council of the Mays Business School, which in 2011 recognized Taylor as an outstanding alumna. Taylor was an Entrepreneur Of The Year national finalist in 2012.

More about Oil States International

Oil States International is a US$6 billion diversified solutions provider for the oil and gas industry.

While not directly involved in exploration or development of the resources themselves, Oil States is a leading manufacturer of the equipment needed for deepwater drilling and production facilities and subsea pipelines.

It also provides the oil and gas industry with services, including remote site accommodations, production-related tools and land drilling support. It employs approximately 9,000 people in 11 countries.

In 2005 Oil States made Forbes’ “Top 100 Best Mid-Cap Stocks” list and in 2006 and 2013 it was named among Fortune’s “100 Fastest-Growing Companies.”