Often, crises serve as a catalyst for leaders’ growth, sparking talent and potential. This downturn struck the oil and gas industry like a blow to the head, and now it’s seeing stars—just not the kind you’d expect. The industry may be a little battered and bruised, but it’s marching on, following the guiding light of the next generation of leaders in energy.

Once again, Oil and Gas Investor is spotlighting these rising stars. Out of hundreds of nominations across E&P, Service, A&D, Midstream, Finance and Consulting, we have hand-picked 30 influential professionals who are furthering the goals of their organizations and the industry through their initiative, intelligence and persistence.

Investor created Thirty Under 40 to showcase this tremendous, emerging talent. We share this goal with our sponsors: Grant Thornton, Preng & Associates, Citigroup and The University of Oklahoma Price College of Business Energy Institute.

We recognize that the Thirty Under 40 program serves another purpose, as well. “In highlighting them, they become an example and will inspire others. It’s a win-win,” David Preng, president and CEO of Preng & Associates, said, noting the immense talent gap the industry currently faces. The gap not only threatens to stall progress in oil and gas—it could even put the industry in reverse. “Without talent, we will take a step back as an industry,” said Kevin Schroeder, national managing partner, energy industry, for Grant Thornton.

It’s up to the next generation of leaders to motivate those that follow. “Actively recruit talented people and promote the opportunities to work in an industry that moves rapidly, is technologically advanced, requires problem-solvers and involves numerous transactions and opportunities,” Schroeder advised.

Preng suggested that current industry leaders visit high schools and educate aspiring young students about oil and gas. The need to promote the industry to graduates has intensified as the downturn lingers, and it’s unclear when we’ll see an improvement in prices that sticks.

“Now, and perhaps for some time to come, the industry is faced with uncertainty and turbulence,” said Dipankar Ghosh, executive director of the Energy Institute at OU. “There is as much a chance of failure as there is success.” Thirty Unders may stumble along the way, but that’s a pivotal part of growing in a downcycle. “The concept of ‘successful failure’ is important to understand and should be appreciated by the upcoming generation of leaders,” Ghosh said.

It is in this difficult environment that our rising stars have distinguished themselves. They are achieving great things even though the most recent period of sustained growth has ended, and $100 oil is no longer present to provide something of a safety net for risk-takers. The individuals who succeed today take “a longer-term view of the cycle and recognize that it’s the cycles that create opportunities,” said Stephen Trauber, vice chairman, global head of energy at Citi. These leaders “are those who want to be on the cutting edge of technology and innovation on a regional basis and a global basis.”

Their accomplishments are not a case of better lucky than good. Instead, they exemplify the incredible potential for learning during a downturn. “The generation of upcoming leaders is obtaining invaluable experience during these challenging times, which will shape them for the future,” said Schroeder. As much as the current state of the industry is shaping this next generation, they are shaping it through their leadership.

The definition of that word continues to evolve. “The upcoming generation of leaders cannot be status-quo-oriented and assume future paths to be predictable, orderly and linear,” Ghosh said. Trauber agreed, saying, “What makes the industry so dynamic is that it is global, it is cyclical, it doesn’t stay the same.” As much as the industry has changed over the past two years, the next two may be even more transformative.

As a result, leadership means more than guiding a group. That, in and of itself, is no easy feat during times like this, when people are often armed with little more than instinct and a roadmap sketched from a mentor’s memories of past downturns. But leaders go beyond. “Given the more challenging environment, focus will shift to innovation, problem-solving and invention,” Ghosh said.

“Leaders must possess strategic thinking; the corollary is vision and creativity to be able to say, ‘Where am I going, and what do I need to do?’” said Preng. Looking out to the future requires patience as well as confidence in your abilities to make it to that promising pinpoint on the horizon. “Think of a hockey player skating to where the puck will be,” Preng said.

A variety of attributes enables future leaders to meet this goal, including “initiative, motivation, dedication, character and an element of risk-taking,” according to Trauber. In addition, they exhibit certain “intangibles,” such as “interpersonal ability across very diverse sectors,” he added.

Our sponsors, inspired by their personal experience in the energy industry, shared other intangibles that future leaders should value: endless curiosity, and an emphasis on understanding the nuances of diverse sectors. “Future leaders should strive for a broader education experience that goes beyond the discipline focus we see today,” Ghosh said. By interacting with other disciplines, leaders can increase their awareness and discover others’ points of view. In similar form, Preng encourages the next generation to learn about as many of the sectors as they can. “Develop a complete balance of skill sets. Never stop learning,” he said.  

A lot is resting on the shoulders of the Thirty Under 40s, but they are more than up to the challenge. Every step is an opportunity, and these leaders are brimming with ambition. Let’s thank our lucky stars that they’re out there, looking out for us.