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The Rising Stars of Oil and Gas

Having already made their mark, these up-and-comers are poised for even bigger things in one of the state’s most dynamic industries.

Kimberly Lacher


The venture that Kimberly Lacher and her business partner, Wood Brookshire, launched in 2012 seems so simple that you might wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Lacher, 38, and Brookshire, 31, form energy partnerships through which they secure investment commitments from institutions and family offices. The pair then buys non-operating interests primarily in natural gas properties that are generating cash flow, and makes distributions to their investors on a quarterly basis.

So far, Lacher and Brookshire have raised two funds, the first worth $10 million, the second, $35 million. Lacher says the initial fund helped purchase around 400 properties, the second, 600.

“We plan to finish investing our current capital commitments sometime this year,” says Lacher, president of the company, called Vendera Resources. (Brookshire is CEO.) Concurrently they are raising capital for their third fund, which should total around $75 million.

Although Lacher and Brookshire have made things look comparatively easy, what they do is anything but. Lacher has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and an MBA from Southern Methodist University. She handles the technical side of things, while Brookshire, an SMU BBA and MBA with an investment banking background, takes care of the financial stuff.

“At some point, we’ll have an exit” such as by going public or an outright asset sale, Brookshire says.

David T. Martineau


As a kid, David T. Martineau got to see oil and gas wells being drilled. Later on, he had summer jobs working for different oil companies. So it may have been inevitable that when his then-employer, Oryx Energy Co., announced in 1998 that it was being purchased by Kerr-McGee Corp., Martineau would leap at the chance to start his own oil and gas business.

“I do have a real entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. And starting his own business “was more exciting—though fear is always present.”

Today that company, Martineau Petroleum Inc., is an active exploration and production firm operating wells in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Martineau, 46, says he started out acquiring properties that “needed some TLC,” which his firm would supply in abundance.

The 19-employee company has three lines of business: property acquisitions/divestitures, drilling when prospects are good, and hauling salt water (a byproduct of the drilling process) and crude oil for others.

Martineau Petroleum has had as many as 250 wells operating at a single time, though the number varies depending on whether the firm happens to be buying or selling acreage.

Martineau is a second-generation oilman. His father, David F. Martineau, is head of exploration at Pitts Oil Co. LLC. So the younger Martineau wants the employees of his firm to share his good feelings about the industry.

“I do love the business,” he says. “I want all the people here to have a good experience. I want them to love the industry like I do.”

Malone Mitchell III


Overseeing a collection of global energy businesses that are on track to generate $600 million to $700 million in revenue this year, Malone Mitchell III knows what success is like. But he has also known failure, too.

Soon after earning his BS degree in general agriculture, Mitchell formed a small airline. But it failed during a period of industry consolidation. For a time, Mitchell and his wife, Amy, lived on the salary she earned as a social worker at a hospital.

But when Amy became pregnant, “we decided to do something to make a better life for our family,” Mitchell says.

Working out of a spare bedroom, he began acquiring oil wells for about $4,500 apiece. He pumped the wells himself, while Amy did the books.

The company, Riata Energy, eventually grew into one of the largest privately held energy companies in the country. In 2006, Mitchell sold a controlling stake in the business to Tom L. Ward, co-founder of Chesapeake Energy, for a reported $500 million.

These days Mitchell, 53, runs three major energy enterprises: TransAtlantic Petroleum Ltd., Longfellow Energy, and Viking Services. The companies have a total of roughly 2,000 employees worldwide. Mitchell also has interests in things like ranching, restaurants, and other businesses, which employ another 4,000.

“My job is to more or less set the tone with regard to the investments we make and the nature of the relationships we have with other partners,” he says. “Then it’s other people in the organization that make things happen.” 

Jaine Spellings 


Every year, the Irving-based energy giant Exxon Mobil Corp. pays around $100 billion in taxes. It files tens of thousands of returns worldwide.

“We do all of that with over 99.99 percent accuracy,” says Jaime Spellings, the guy who’s responsible for doing just that. “It keeps me off the streets.”

ExxonMobil’s vice president and general tax counsel, the 52-year-old Spellings doesn’t seem flustered by the enormity of what his 600-person worldwide staff pulls off nearly flawlessly every year.

“Paying taxes sounds complicated,” he says. “It’s not as complicated as getting 4.5 million barrels of oil out of the ground.”

A native of University Park, Spellings once lived in apartments on the site where the Bush Library now stands. (His wife, Margaret, is not the same Margaret Spellings who runs that library.)

After practicing tax law at the former Hughes & Luce firm, Spellings joined ExxonMobil in 1991. Like many up-and-comers in corporate America, Spellings began a sojourn that led to living in places like Houston, London, and Bangkok.

He and his family returned to the North Texas region in 2005, after he shifted to a job at the Irving headquarters. Spellings assumed his current duties in 2010.

He is seen in some quarters as a possible successor to Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s current CEO. Both Spellings and a company spokesman declined to address that.

“My career goal is to do as well as I can at this job, because I think that’s what I’ll be doing for a long time,” Spellings says. “This is my dream job.”

Ann Vandenberg


No career starts at the top, and Ann Vandenberg’s is no exception. Her first job in the oil and gas industry was at an exploration and production company in her hometown of Amarillo where, among other things, she was a receptionist.

By the time she was ready to move on, though, she had also worked in everything from geo-technology and engineering to production technology. “I’ve done a lot of different things in the industry,” she says.

Today, Vandenberg, 52, carries the title of senior landman at Petro Harvester Oil & Gas LLC, a Plano exploration and production firm. An in-house landman like Vandenberg obtains contracts for the company from people and organizations such as mineral owners and surface owners for things like leases, partnership agreements, and working interests.

At Petro Harvester. Vandenberg is responsible for Mississippi and Alabama, which account for roughly 60 percent of the company’s production. Like many successful people, she is also focused on giving back. Vandenberg is a co-founder of the Women’s Energy Network of North Texas, a nonprofit that helps empower young women and teaches them leadership abilities. She’s also deeply involved in the Texas Energy Council, an industry organization that provides scholarships and education opportunities for students pursuing careers in the field.

“Our industry is pretty volatile,” Vandenberg says. “You have to learn to be resilient, to not give up on the industry, to find something you love to do, and stick with it during the bad times.”


Kelly Blackwood


Kelly Blackwood has an impressive résumé. The 32-year-old has held engineering positions at well-known energy companies like Oxy Permian, EnCana Corp., and Dominion E&P. And although he has nothing but nice things to say about those outfits, he’s probably going to stay at his current gig for awhile. That would be at Headington Energy Partners LLC, where he’s an engineering manager. “The larger companies just don’t offer the exposure and activity level for an individual that the smaller companies do,” he says.

Beyond appreciating the work atmosphere at Headington, which has about 50 people in its oil and gas production operation, Blackwood is excited about the company’s prospects in the Permian Basin, a booming play in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. “We’ve got unbelievable exposure to the hottest plays in the Permian Basin,” Blackwood says. “Growing up there, when it wasn’t really busy … it’s great to see how it’s transformed an area once thought on the decline. Now it’s turned out to be one of the largest oil fields in the world.”

McKinney-based Headington has had acreage in the Permian area for two decades. The company has leased its land, and then taken royalties from what exploration and production firms find in it. But as soon as next year, Headington will start contracting out drilling rigs and developing its own acreage in the Permian, Blackwood says. His job will be overseeing operations once the drilling begins. “The Permian,” he says, “is an exciting place to be.”