Pete Miller Describes Why National Oilwell Varco Doesn't Have a Singular Culture

The head of National Oilwell Varco talks company culture, and lists a few business leaders he admires for the transformations they have achieved in other industries.

Jan 10, 2014 at 9:03AM

With operations in over 1,160 locations worldwide, National Oilwell Varco (NYSE:NOV) is a leading provider of equipment and services to the oil and gas industry through its three segments; Rig Technology, Petroleum Services & Supplies, and Distribution & Transmission. CEO Merrill "Pete" Miller has held a number of senior executive positions with NOV, beginning in 1996. Miller also serves on the boards of Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK), Offshore Energy Center, Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association, and Spindletop International.

"Culture" may be a difficult concept in a company that spans 62 countries, but Miller does list three concepts that NOV demands of its employees, and talks about the CEOs of three other companies that he looks to for inspiration. The full version of the interview can be found here.

A full transcript follows the video.

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Taylor Muckerman: You mentioned your people, and that's one of the first things that The Motley Fool looks at, is management and the company culture.

Obviously, 2012 Morningstar CEO of the year; had to be a very great feeling for you and your company as a whole, because you didn't do it yourself. If you could just talk about the feeling, both for you and the company, when that award was bestowed.

Pete Miller: It really is an award for the company. It's not just me. I mean, I'm kind of lucky to have the job that I've got. People just made mistakes and put me here, I guess; I'm not sure.

The point being, I think it really showed the people in the company that, "Hey, the outside understands who you are." We talk about three things around here. I'm kind of different in the fact that I don't think a company like ours can have a culture. We're too spread out. In 62 countries, you've got all different cultures, you've got all sorts of things.

Muckerman: You have to rein it all in.

Miller: But what we can have are things that we demand out of our folks. The three things we talk about all the time are integrity, accountability, and the third one -- and most important -- is have fun and enjoy what you're doing.

If you do those three things, irrespective of what country you're in, I think you're going to enjoy working here and you're going to be motivated and you're going to find out this is a great place to work. As a result of that, the results come up to the top, and they speak for themselves. That's why we get awards like that.

Muckerman: You spoke about integrity and fun, and that's two of our five core values at The Motley Fool, so we see some similarities there.

Talking about management and that award, what other CEOs or management teams -- not just in the energy sector in particular, but just around the globe -- do you really look at as innovative, and other companies could probably turn to them and learn a few things?

Miller: I think most of mine is going to be historical. When I look back, when I started my career I started it with a company called Helmerich & Payne (NYSE: HP), which is a great land drilling contractor. The CEO at the time was Walt Helmerich, and he probably taught me more about business than anybody I'd ever seen.

But I think when you look today and you go, "OK, who are the people that have been the most transformative, that you can learn something from?" number one for me is Herb Kelleher. You look at Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV).

When I was your age, you never flew unless you had on a coat and tie. Today you've got guys in sweat suits on there, because what the guy did is he made flight possible for everybody, across the spectrum, but he also made it fun. I think that's where the fun side comes, when you talk about it.

The other one, and it's pretty simple too, is Sam Walton. Here's a guy that put together a business model of affordable stuff. He redefines supply chain, he redefines logistics definitions. When you look at guys like that, you can learn an awful lot from what they've been able to accomplish.

Taylor Muckerman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends National Oilwell Varco and Southwest Airlines. The Motley Fool owns shares of National Oilwell Varco. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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