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Price Alum Mike McConnell Takes the Helm as Zinke Program Director

Price Alum Mike McConnell Takes the Helm as Zinke Program Director

By Staci Elder Hensley

In May of this year, one of the nation’s top energy executives, Mike McConnell, takes the reins at the Price College of Business Robert M. Zinke Energy Management Program. As the new head of the world’s oldest, largest and most decorated energy management program, McConnell brings decades of outstanding energy industry experience, negotiation and problem-solving skills to his new role. He’s a 1982 graduate of OU (BBA in petroleum land management with an emphasis in law), and he’s also the second director, after Ted Jacobs, to have graduated from the program which he will now lead.

Noting McConnell’s strong international experience, unmatched leadership and negotiation skills, stellar reputation, and unwavering dedication to his alma mater, Price College Dean Daniel Pullin said that Energy Management students will benefit tremendously from McConnell’s appointment.


“Mike is a product of our program and will be a multiplier of its impact in the years ahead,” Pullin said. “Our students can expect more active, experiential learning opportunities, face-to-face encounters with energy industry and public sector leaders, and rising levels of scholarships to make access to this excellence more available than ever. Flagship programs at flagship institutions deserve flagship leaders. Mike McConnell meets that standard in every way, and his addition as director is a milestone moment in this proud program’s history.”


Currently serving on the Board of Advisors for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, McConnell has a reputation for adhering to the highest ethical standards, personally and professionally. That reputation was validated in spades in 2007, when his employer – international energy juggernaut Enron – collapsed in what was then the largest corporate failure in American history.

McConnell worked for Enron in two different time periods, playing key roles as vice chairman and COO for Enron Net Works, chairman and CEO of Enron Global Markets, and chairman and CEO for its Generation and Production Group. His duties included managing eight global trading and origination businesses with revenues that typically exceeded $15 billion, and he was lauded for negotiating solutions to seemingly impossible financial and logistical issues.


It’s a testament to McConnell’s high business standards and personal code of ethics that he was the only Enron executive committee member who wasn’t even questioned by the FBI or SEC and who escaped the debacle with his professional reputation intact. Working at Enron was, in fact, a very positive experience for McConnell, where he learned a great deal and had the opportunity to become a leader at a young age.


“I did learn some good things there as well as some approaches and decisions I certainly wouldn’t want to emulate in my daily life,” McConnell said. “Seeing both sides very directly was very positive in my take-away lessons. Learning along the way is so important to develop as a person.”

In the wake of the Enron scandal, McConnell said he was inspired to write a book about lessons learned from the experience. Titled Just Because You Can Doesn’t’ Mean You Should: Keys to a Successful Life, he wrote the book primarily for his children. It contains specific personal and business lessons, experiences, affirmations and actions that have been a part of his personal journey as a business professional and as a human being. To this day, he carries a daily affirmation in his pocket, and he recommends keeping a journal as a way to maintain perspective and develop ideas.


“I wrote the book because I wanted to explain how this normal guy from OU had a seat at the table at a company that was honored by Forbes Magazine as the ‘Most Innovative Company in America’ for six straight years,” he said. “To be more specific, when all the investigations were going on, I never really worried about any of the transactions or businesses that I was responsible for. If you approach living your life with integrity every day, and you define integrity as to never do anything that you don’t want published on the front page of the newspaper, then I wasn’t concerned about any of my businesses or emails. I believe in doing what is right, versus doing what is easy.”

McConnell’s resume includes stints as president and director of Jones Energy, Inc., president of Houston Pipe Line, president of Louisiana Resources Company and various other gas supply and marketing positions. He began his career as a landman for Champlin Oil Company, and joined Enron for the first time in 1987.


With a father who worked in human resources for several large oil and gas companies around the region, McConnell grew up mostly in Texas and Oklahoma, graduating from Putnam City High School. As a boy, he decided early on that he wanted a career in the energy business. “My dad loved the industry and it rubbed off on me,” he said. A dislike of mathematics steered him away from engineering and geology, but “being a petroleum landman was the business side of an oil and gas team, and I decided that was perfect for me.”        


McConnell’s parents – both Nebraska Cornhuskers – were taken aback when he chose to stay in Soonerland for college. “They couldn’t believe that I was going to OU,” he laughed. “I reminded them that they were the ones who moved me to Sooner Territory, and that I’d seen the winters in Nebraska!

“I loved every minute at OU,” he said. “My fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, helped me grow out of my shell, and between OU and Sig Ep, those two things made me who I am today. OU provides so many opportunities to young students with a balance of education and the social skills to create the whole person.”


Over the years, McConnell has generously given his time and financial support to his alma mater. He’s served on Price College’s advisory board for many years, including a term as chairman, and has been a guest lecturer for the Zinke program for the past 20 years. His two children, Michael and Claire, also are Price alumnae.


Like most successful leaders, McConnell said he’s had many people throughout his life who acted as mentors and who inspire him daily. Among the strongest are his father, his wife, Chris, and business partner, Jonny Jones. Now he hopes, in turn, to be a mentor to the students he will lead as the Zinke Energy Management Program’s director.


“I’ve very excited to get started at the place I love, which is OU and the Price College,” he said. “I am excited to bring a C-suite perspective and to share my lessons learned and business experiences with the students every single day. My ultimate goal is to build energy leaders and to get them prepared on what it takes to succeed.”


“Most people see what is and never see what can be.”

“Success is not a doorway; it’s a stairway.”

“If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.”

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”

“If you can’t explain it to your mother or grandmother, don’t do it.”