Good timing is hard to beat.
Just ask Mike Fiser, our senior vice president of commodity management. Timing was on his side when he entered the natural gas industry in the late 1980s.
“I think I was really fortunate when I started out in the natural gas business,” says Fiser, 48.
“I came into the industry at a great time, because the gas industry was in the early stages of deregulation and everybody was trying to figure out how this new market was going to work at the same time.”
“Even though I was a 22-year-old kid, nobody else had a leg up on me,” he says.
Twenty-five years later in his role at WPX, Fiser has extensive knowledge of the industry and leads the marketing group.
Its role is to steer our product – natural gas, natural gas liquids, and oil – from the well head, through the gathering system, through the interstate pipelines, all the way to its final destination – to be sold in the market.
Fiser’s first job after graduating college in 1987, with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Kansas State University, was with Koch Industries in its Natural Gas Division.
“Koch transferred me from Wichita to Denver, and my first job there was to sell gas to customers in the Rocky Mountain region,” Fiser says.
“I’ll never forget a couple of my first sales calls in the early 1990s. Nobody even knew that natural gas had deregulated yet,” he continues.
“They had never had the option to buy from a source other than their local utility or pipeline company, so buyers were very skeptical.”
Fiser worked in Denver for five years, and was transferred to Houston, where he worked another five years and became experienced in trading and financial derivatives.
And the timing was spot-on for Fiser’s next move – to Williams in 1998.
“It was right at the time when Williams was expanding their trading organization and entering the power business, and it was growing very fast,” he says.
“When Williams ultimately sold off its power business years later, the gas marketing group continued to manage the natural gas requirements for Williams’ E&P and Midstream businesses.”
When WPX spun off to become an independent, publicly-traded company at year-end 2011, Fiser was tapped to helm our marketing services.
Fiser’s group handles logistics, which consists of moving the product from the wellhead to the market.
Then they execute trades, which range in length from one-day deals to multi-year deals. The group also manages a large transportation portfolio and provides hedging services for WPX.
“The primary function of marketing is to ensure our products flow every day in a cost-effective manner and achieve the highest price-point possible for selling our product,” he says.
“People may not realize we have customers in California all the way to New York City. Even though our production is located primarily in the Piceance, Marcellus and Bakken, we have customers from coast to coast.”
Fiser says being a part of the executive leadership team – what we call the XLT – has been a once-in-a-career opportunity.
“It’s very rare that you get the chance to start your own company and to create your own identity and culture,” he says.
“And in the XLT, we really enjoy being around each other. We like to do things together and there is great camaraderie within the leadership team.
“That all really starts with Ralph, and how he likes to run the business,” Fiser says of WPX’s CEO Ralph Hill.
“He is very driven and expects a strong work ethic from everyone in the company, but he also likes to have fun and wants employees to enjoy their work. I think that’s a unique culture and a key element to our success.”
Fiser also feels a strong bond with his marketing group, which includes about 45 employees – many who have been working together for years.
“We have been fortunate to experience very low turnover, and we have a very open and informal culture where employees are encouraged to think independently and constantly strive to become more efficient in their area of responsibility.
“Many from our team have spent time living in other cities. While to some it might be harder to recruit to Tulsa, once we get them here, they don’t want to leave,” he says.
Although the industry has faced a tough pricing environment this year, Fiser says his group has faced it with patience and determination.
“Sometimes you just have to hunker down and get through it and do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt.
“But prices have improved this year – what people might not realize is gas traded below $2 earlier in the year, and prices have gone up the past few months due to the improving market fundamentals,” he says.
“We had the warmest winter in history, and we entered the summer wondering what we would do with the huge surplus of gas.
“Well, the free markets work when you let them, and gas prices got so low, we displaced an incredible amount of coal in power generation facilities and although our inventories are still high, they are now at a much more manageable level.”
Fiser says his background has helped him keep everything in perspective throughout his career.
“I like to tell folks that I was an overachiever and graduated in the top 10 of my high school class. Unfortunately, those who know me best are quick to point out that there were only 16 in my graduating class,” he laughs.
“I came from humble beginnings in a small farming community in North Central Kansas, but I really feel the lessons I learned growing up in that rural area have benefited me greatly over my career.
“When I went off to college, my Dad said, ‘Get a college degree, get a job, and if you don’t like it, you can come back and farm.’
“Well, I tried this job, and 25 years later, I’m still here,” he says.
“Through fortunate timing and meeting people who steered me in the right direction, I feel very blessed to have ended up here at WPX.”
Fiser is on the board of directors of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Sooner Chapter, and he and his family are active members of Life Church in Tulsa.
He and his wife, Lee Ann, have four children.