Autry Stephens

The University of Texas at Austin Petroleum Engineering alumnus and legendary Midland oilman Autry Stephens is showing the world that success comes from following your passion and knowing your strengths, even if by accident.

It all started when Stephens was a young child growing up on a farm in DeLeon, Texas. His hard-working family grew peanuts and a variety of fruits, including watermelons, peaches and cantaloupes, which planted the seed for his love of the outdoors and what he thought to be petroleum engineering.  “I read there were jobs to be found in petroleum engineering, and these jobs involved working outside at exotic locations around the world.  I thought I’d be headed to places like Indonesia; Saudi Arabia; or Lake Maracaibo (Venezuela). Nothing has worked out as I imagined in 1956,” said Stephens.

autry stevens photo

He came to UT Austin since it had a more diverse population than the school to the East, including women.  Stephens earned his BS in 1961 and completed a MS in 1962; he has a deep appreciation for his education.  “With a UT degree in petroleum engineering you are almost guaranteed success – it is a great foundation,” said Stephens.  “There will be many ups and downs during life, but your education will always be with you and will never disappoint you.”

After graduation, Stephens began his career with Humble Oil & Refining Company.  After seven years, including a two-year leave of absence while serving in the Army, he joined the First National Bank of Midland as an appraisal engineer.  In 1979, he hung out his shingle as an independent consulting engineer, having realized that corporate life wasn’t the ideal fit for him.  “I am to some extent an accidental engineer,” said Stephens.  “My brain is wired different than that of the prototypical engineer who has an organized and logical brain.  I also started at UT behind in my math skills, but I overcame my lack of an engineering aptitude by being highly motivated, creative and a risk-taker.”

These same skills served him well as an entrepreneur.  Stephens gradually moved from consulting to the drilling and operation of oil wells, and in 1996, formed Big Dog Drilling Company.  There was some irony to the name, since the company consisted of only one small drilling rig; 15 years later, Big Dog Drilling numbers 28 rigs, operates more than 4,000 oil wells, and is listed among the Top 10 oil producers within Texas.

Stephens also branched out into providing services in the area of drilling, well servicing, roustabouts, wireline, welding, directional drilling services, well stimulation, new and used pipe services, water hauling and disposal, hot oiling, oil and gas transportation and marketing.

“The accomplishments I am most proud of are creating 1,800 jobs, and that our company produces a product that is vital to our country’s well being” said Stephens, who operates numerous companies under the umbrella of Endeavor Energy Resources primarily in the Midland-Odessa area.  When he started out Stephens observed that drilling and other oil services involved short periods of frenetic drilling activity followed by periods of inactivity.  There would be large fluctuations in the prices of goods and services, followed by massive unemployment and dislocations.  He believed that a better plan was to drill wells at a steady pace and try to provide long term jobs.  Stephens built his companies with this philosophy.

Another unexpected twist turned the people of Big Dog Drilling into reality TV stars.  Apprehensive about the opportunity at first, he finally accepted the offer from TRU-TV to appear in a cameo role in “Black Gold” after some arm twisting from a friend.  Stephens thought it was important to show the public the difficulty of extracting oil.  The average American doesn’t fully understand the complexity of prying oil from reluctant rocks thousands of feet below the surface.  “Black Gold,” in its fourth season this fall, attempts to shine a light on the hard working men and women in the oil patch.

According to Stephens, his ambition once was simply “to earn a steady paycheck and comfortable retirement.”  However, fate stepped in and led Stephens to a life which he never imagined – one that taught him valuable and inspiring lessons for the next generation.  “Your degree will open many doors, but it is just a license to learn.  The world changes rapidly, and you must stay open to new ideas and technology developments,” he said.  “Change jobs if necessary, in order to find work that you enjoy.  The history of the oil industry is full of stories of people making and losing fortunes several times over. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from following your dream.”