President and CEO of Williams
Rachel Anderson Hill
When a young engineer started with a Tulsa-based energy company in 1986, he didn’t know he would one day serve as the Fortune 500 company’s top officer. But then, one doesn’t often hear of someone who spends his entire professional career at one company. Today, that is unusual in and of itself.
Alan Armstrong is not exactly a household name, but his bio can be found in the likes of Forbes and Businessweek. Why? Armstrong assumed the role of president and CEO of Williams in January 2011. As the successor to Steven Malcolm, who led Williams for eight years, his first seven months at the helm have been, well, pretty busy.
Armstrong is leading Williams at a time when there are many opportunities for growth. He serves on a mile-long list of boards and he answers to a strong, experienced board of directors, as well as the company’s investors. Yet Armstrong is also a father of four who spends weekends at the lake with family and friends.
Who is Alan Armstrong? TulsaPeople recently sat down with Williams’ main man to talk business, family and Tulsa’s altruistic spirit.
Tell us why you stayed with Williams over the years and how it felt to take the reins.
Williams has continued to provide me with a lot of exciting opportunities — taking on a number of challenging and fulfilling roles both in Tulsa and elsewhere across the country. Over the years, I had opportunities to work for other companies, but Williams’ values and culture have always resonated with me. It has always been a fun and rewarding place to work. It truly is a blessing to have the opportunity to lead such a great company.
What has Williams done right?
The company has always been willing to make difficult changes when necessary. Williams has constantly evolved over the years — getting in and out of different types of businesses; buying and selling different assets; and going through mergers and acquisitions. That willingness to make changes has been a key catalyst of our success. I also think Williams has always treated its employees really well, so when the tough times hit, those employees have always been willing to roll up their sleeves and work through them. The company’s leaders over the years have always focused on integrity and doing business the right way. Finally, we’ve always kept our focus on shareholder value, which is very important for public companies.
What will Williams look like in five years? Ten?
Williams is a company that has gone through many changes over the years, but one thing that has been pretty constant is we’ve owned and operated some of the premier energy-infrastructure assets in the country. My vision for Williams in the future is that we will be the leading energy infrastructure company. … Meeting this vision will require a great deal of skills and efforts by everyone at Williams, but I’m confident we’ll get there.
Why does Williams place special emphasis on diversity and young professionals?
We believe it’s very important to create a culture of inclusion at Williams so that we can attract, retain and engage a high-performing workforce where all employees are valued and respected. We’re going to need to attract the very best talent in order to achieve the goals we’ve laid out, so we have to distinguish ourselves in the communities where we do business. Attracting young professionals is important because they are the future of the business.
What does Tulsa need to do to continue seeing growth in the energy industry?
Energy and all other companies want to do business in communities where there’s a high-performing education system, good infrastructure and a diverse offering of attractions. These are fundamental building blocks that contribute to a good quality of life and help attract and retain the best people and the best employers. We could make a lot of progress if our city could think about and act on opportunities from a perspective that emphasizes the whole community above narrower interests. It’s important that our community finds a way to professionally manage the city’s streets and other key infrastructure, ensure a high-performing educational system and maximize the benefit of public attractions.
Tell us a little about Williams’ dedication to the Tulsa community.
At Williams, we’ve always had a strong commitment to all of the communities where we do business. Tulsa is our headquarters and home to some 1,300 of our employees, so we’re very involved here. Practically all of our charitable giving is driven by our employees — from our annual United Way campaigns that raise more than $1 million to grassroots giving grants and our matching of employee donations.
Who is Alan Armstrong, the family man?
Shelly and I have been married for 25 years. I can’t say enough about the support she’s provided over the years; we’ve done a lot of moving around the country, and it takes a lot of extra effort to relocate a family several times. We have four kids, from ages 11 to 20, that we are very proud of. … Each has very unique talents and personality. We also have two dogs — a young and frisky yellow retriever, Lilly, and a very lovable, old black Lab, Ford.
What are weekends with your family like?
With four kids, the weekends involve many sporting activities. … During the summer, we spend time with extended family and friends at Grand Lake and we really enjoy our water sports together. We also enjoy being involved in worthwhile efforts that help others improve and enrich our community. Tulsa is blessed with a great spirit to give and help others.
What is something someone would be most surprised to learn about you?
I come from a long history of Phillips Petroleum career employees. Both sets of grandparents, my parents and an uncle all had lifelong careers in many different places with Phillips Petroleum. So the idea of corporate commitment and community involvement is not foreign to me.
What advice would you give to a college student today?
Stick with it and don’t sweat it if you don’t know exactly what you want to do. But do work hard to keep your options open. Choosing to take the more challenging roads now will provide you with greater options in the long run.
This article appears in the August 2011 issue of TulsaPeople.