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Phillips 66 CEO talks responsibility, ethical practices to students

The CEO of Phillips 66 spoke to students at the Bauer College of Business about the importance of ethical responsibility in the business world on Tuesday, Sept. 23.

Greg C. Garland, chairman of the Houston-based energy company, was the latest speaker in the school’s ongoing “Distinguished Leaders Program,” which gives students free access to talks from big-name movers and shakers in the energy industry. Garland’s presentation, “Operating Excellence: Where Opportunity Meets Responsibility,” concerned the place of responsible, socially conscious decisions in modern commercial enterprise.

“You’ve got to have high standards if you’re going to be ethical. It has to start at the very top,” Garland said. “(I) fundamentally disagree with people who say that energy companies can’t be good corporate citizens … I think that good ethics makes for good business.”

Phillips 66 CEO and Chairman John C. Garland speaks the importance of ethics in business at Melcher Hall on Tuesday. | Conrad Schafman / The Cougar.

Phillips 66 CEO and Chairman John C. Garland talks about the importance of ethical responsibility in business at Melcher Hall on Tuesday.  |  Conrad Schafman / The Cougar.

Sophomore finance major Matt Thompson was among more than a hundred students, professors and alumni who packed LeRoy and Lucile Melcher Hall for the event. He said he came as part of a class requirement but stayed to hear world-class insight from an experienced leader.

“The most important thing in the business world is being a good leader,” Thompson said. “In the same way a talented football team can’t operate without a good head coach, great companies don’t succeed unless they have a smart, bold visionary leading the way. I was impressed with Mr. Garland’s insight into what it takes to be a true financial and ethical leader.”

Garland stressed that aside from being the responsible and morally correct decision, good ethical business and environmental safety is also profitable long-term.

“We have people who invest literally billions of dollars in our company, and I want them to know they’re investing in safety,” Garland said. “One major accident can absolutely devastate shareholder value.”

One of the contentious environmental issues raised was the ethical propriety of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking, as it’s often called — in the natural gas industry. Fracking uses high-pressure fluids to make cracks deep in the earth’s structure, allowing natural gas and petroleum embedded in rock to flow more freely and thus be more easily accessible to the extractors who sell it, like Phillips 66.

Opponents of the process argue that fracking contaminates ground water, depletes fresh water tables and even has the ability to cause seismic activity, including earthquakes.

Garland assured the audience that while Phillips 66 is highly invested in fracking, it still maintains a high level of ethical and environmental responsibility.

“The EPA has looked with due diligence to find a contaminated water table due to fracking, and they haven’t been able to,” Garland said.

“We strive to serve as a connection that bridges academia and industry,” said Maya Houston, assistant vice president of development at Bauer College, whose next installment in the Distinguished Leaders Series will feature the president and CEO of Direct Energy on Oct. 23.

“Greg (Garland) offers more than 30 years’ experience in leadership positions within the oil and natural gas industries, so we knew he would give students a clear insight of what it is truly like to work in the energy industry, because he has seen it all,” Houston said.

Garland also offered some words of encouragement to UH students entering the energy industry.

“Your education is actually just the launching pad for a lifetime and career of learning in this industry,” Garland said. “And if you’re at the top of your class, I want to talk to you after the show.”

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