Profiles: Jim Payne

Jim Payne

Jim Payne

MBA 74

CEO at Shona Energy Company, Inc.

The Long Pipeline to Success

In the 1970s, Chevron and Golden Gate were neighbors in downtown San Francisco, and the oil company had long provided significant financial support to the university. Chevron executives sat on the Golden Gate Board of Trustees. Hundreds of Chevron employees were enrolled as students every semester, with the corporation providing tuition reimbursement. Others taught as adjunct professors, and Golden Gate was often chosen to develop specialized training programs for the corporation. For Jim Payne, a newcomer to the Chevron's San Francisco offices, Golden Gate was a logical, convenient choice.

Golden Gate had a good reputation, especially for the night school programs. But when he arrived, his academic background presented some stumbling blocks: too much math and engineering, with no business or accounting courses on his transcript. The admissions officers were skeptical, advising Payne that he would need to take a year or more to complete some business and accounting classes. "I told them that I'd been at Chevron for more than a dozen years. I had a good job and I could read balance sheets. So I made a deal with the GGU Dean of Admissions I had come to know and like; I would take the two most difficult undergraduate courses offered and if I didn't get A+ in both classes, I would go on and finish the undergraduate courses that he wanted, but if I did get the grades, he'd admit me to the MBA program." He enrolled in the two classes, earned the top grades, and by the next term was enrolled as a graduate student. "I like deals, he explains, simply."

He took classes during the evening and on weekends, in the classroom and through a video-classroom program that was being developed by the university an early version of the telecommunication and online programs offered so widely today. Jim put himself on the fast track, finishing in just a year the MBA program that generally takes working adult students two to three years. "Golden Gates MBA program was made for somebody like me," he explains. "It was middle-class America: hardworking, results-oriented. I ended up with a lot of similar guys in my classes. One of them was a former major in the military, a couple of guys had just gotten out of the military, and they all had the Lets get it done! attitude that I appreciate."

Jim received his Golden Gate MBA degree in 1974 and in 1976 he was named general manager for Chevron, Sudan. While in Khartoum, he directed field operations and government relations for the company's business segment and later served as Exploration Manager for Africa. Payne says that as he looks back across the landscape of his life, the five years spent in Sudan were the some of the best of his career. Chevron had been actively exploring for oil and natural gas in Sudan since the early 1970s when Jim and Arlene arrived in Khartoum in 1976 as the general manager for Chevron Sudan. Chevron first discovered natural gas in the country in 1974 in an area near Port Sudan in the north near the Red Sea. No oil was found there, so the company began looking further south.

Exploration for oil in southern and southwestern Sudan began in 1975, when the Sudan government granted Chevron a massive concession area. The company started extensive geophysical surveys in 1976, the year Payne first arrived, and drilled its first well the following year. Although that well was not productive, Chevron continued its activities in the area, making its first oil discovery in 1979, and then hitting the Unity oilfield the next year and a much larger find at the Heglig field in the same area in 1982. At that time, total oil reserves were estimated at nearly 500 million barrels from the two fields combined.

After almost five happy years in Sudan, Jim began to get restless, and left both Sudan in 1980 and Chevron soon after. Returning stateside, Jim took a job with Santa Fe Energy in 1982, and by 1990 he was chairman and CEO of the company. He soon developed an aggressive domestic program and expanded into international exploration where the company enjoyed significant success. After numerous mergers and spin-offs, Jim finally retired at 63 after Santa Fe had merged with Devon Energy in 2000.

The retirement didn't last long, though, as Jim joined Nuevo, a heavy oil producer in California. Jim signed on while the company was in a downward spiral. However, within three years, the stock value of the company had nearly tripled. This was good news for Jim, who had agreed to work without collecting a salary; he only wanted stock as his payment at the time he was hired. In 2004, once the company was profitable, publicly traded, and operating efficiently Jim tried to retire again. He failed again.

Currently, Jim is CEO and Chairman of Shona Energy, a company made almost entirely of Santa Fe or Nuevo veterans. With hope, within two years Jim hopes to have his new company to a point where they will become a merger candidate. Once that happens, Jim says "I'm going out to Colorado and I am not doing another job." Maybe retirement will stick this time around.