Rick Bott has come a long way from his childhood in south Texas, parlaying his penchant for surfing into a decades-long career searching the globe for oil.
He recently joined Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources Inc. as president and chief operating officer after a three-plus year stint with Cairn India.
Bott is no stranger to Oklahoma City as a former Devon Energy Corp. executive, but he is living here for the first time in a career marked by stints on at least three other continents.
Here is an edited transcript of Bott's recent conversation with The Oklahoman:
Q: Call it the elephant not in the room, but you're the only person I've ever met who's been trained to drive an elephant. How did that come about?
A: Well, my wife loves elephants and we also really love to travel. That's kind of perhaps what led me to geology. In India, you see elephants a lot. They're used in wedding ceremonies. They're used all around the place, actually all over Southeast Asia. They're just amazing animals. ... My wife found this place on the Internet, which was an elephant rescue center (in Thailand). I turned out to be fairly good at getting an elephant to do what I wanted it to do, once they taught me the basics.
Q: Do any of those elephant techniques apply to managing people?
A: That's a good point because what they're teaching you is the commands in Thai. You're learning to speak just those words. So I guess that's probably a very, very good point, the clarity of your instructions. The clarity of your instructions is probably very good because if you're not clear, the elephant doesn't translate. They don't know English.
Q: You came to Continental from India. How did you end up over there?
A: It was an opportunity to take an executive role. ... I met a guy who introduced me to the CEO, who kind of ended up being my partner. We sort of talked about what the company needed. They had made some very, very large onshore oil discoveries, with a very complicated and technical oil, but had a hard time getting the development off the ground. My wife and I talked about it. We thought we had one more international assignment in us. It was probably one of the most challenging things I've ever done, but it was very, very rewarding. We built a tremendous organization. ... We built what has now become the world's longest continuously heated and insulated pipeline. That will ultimately reach 70 percent of the refining capacity in India. Those fields turned out to be 20 to 25 percent of the total oil produced in India, so it was a big deal. I think a major company could not have done that because the government in India is very difficult to work with.
Q: You mentioned your international experience. Where all have you been during your career?
A: Pretty hard to say. I've probably traveled or worked some time in 60 different countries. I've lived in Yemen twice. I've lived in Egypt. I've lived in Britain. I've lived in India. I've traveled a tremendous amount, for work, in West Africa, every country in West Africa. A lot of North Africa, South America, quite a lot of Asia and, of course, Europe.
Q: What made you decide to come back to the United States?
A: Well, I think it was probably the confluence of having fulfilled everything that we thought we wanted to do. Professionally, my wife and I went there knowing that India wasn't ultimately going to be our home. We were just tremendously successful in what we went to do, so were we able to say, with hand on heart, that we'd done a great job of what we went there to do, times a hundred. We kind of thought it was time to go somewhere else and maybe come back to the States. It was really a goal to take some time off and think about what we wanted to do next. Approximately that time, I met (Continental CEO) Harold (Hamm). That sort of started our relationship.
Q: What was it about Hamm and Continental that appealed to you?
A: Harold's really focused on leadership and building his organization. I came up here and talked to Harold for pretty much an afternoon. We just hit it off. We sort of instantly clicked. It was really my relationship with Harold that I thought, “I need to take a look at this.” I didn't know the organization very well. I knew of their reputation in the Bakken and what they've done as kind of an innovator, how much potential they had there. I did use the Bakken as an example when I was talking to the Indian government about how we were trying to develop an unconventional oil play in India. Continental was always the one who was drilling the most wells and doing it the cheapest. I think it probably comes down to the fact that he's a real explorationist at heart. I think it's in his DNA and I think it's kind of in mine. That's why I've gone the places I've gone and worked all the different basins I've worked.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: My wife and I like to travel. I'm kind of a south Texas boy, so I didn't grow up with a whole lot of sophistication, but my wife's very much into the arts, mainly theater. We love going to the theater. We went to every show that they had here at the Lyric as soon as we got here. She likes that and I've learned to like that. We both still love the beach. In fact, we went surfing on our honeymoon. She didn't, but I did. When we met in Yemen, I said let's go to a nice, beautiful beach and we can go scuba diving. She goes, “Oh. I'd really like to learn.” She likes to tell the story that you have to get a certification for scuba diving. She twisted it and said, “I had to be certifiable before I could marry my husband.”