UPDATED May 2nd, 2018 – In the world of corporate executives and CEOs, perhaps few have a story as surprising and fascinating as Tony Petrello. From his humble beginnings growing up in a working-class environment in Newark, New Jersey, to running the world’s largest land-based drilling company, to helping fund hundreds of millions of dollars in research toward a global neurological disease, Petrello has experienced a truly astounding lifetime filled with successes and turns of fate.
It’s an understatement to say that Tony Petrello’s career has been one of great success. After all, in 2015, Tony Petrello was one of the highest-compensated CEOs in the U.S. thanks to his tenure as CEO of global oil company Nabors. But Tony’s story extends far earlier than his time at Nabors and includes a long list of surprising turns that eventually led him to the level of success he’s achieved today. Tony’s many achievements have been the products of natural gifts, consistent hard work, and creative thinking that’s spanned a diverse career over many decades.
It’s also important to note the ways in which Tony has given back to society, particularly how he’s worked to help children with neurological disorders. For certain, his life is worthy of admiration and emulation. But to truly understand how that level of success in multiple metrics came to be, it’s important to go back to the beginning and find out how Tony Petrello became who he is today.
A Remarkable Student
Tony grew up in Newark, N.J., where he attended public schools. He’s been described by former roommates and classmates as a working-class young man who carried the classic New Jersey accent and the outgoing attitude to match. He stood apart with his passion and willingness to speak out about the subjects he cared about most. His friends and those who knew him when he was young often described him as an extrovert, someone comfortable speaking his mind on a regular basis. Often his sense of humor was on full display, but it wasn’t the aspect of his personality that stood out the most.
When he was in high school, Petrello became downright famous in his hometown for his amazing math abilities. In classic Hollywood style, Petrello was even known to spend his free time writing down obscure equations and proofs on scraps of paper or napkins and solving them himself. While for the time being his incredible prowess was reserved to those in his immediate circle and social setting, that didn’t last long. Yale University took notice, and it awarded Tony a scholarship and the opportunity to be mentored by Serge Lang.
Lang was a brilliant mathematician, author, and professor. Born in France in 1927, Lang became famous for his groundbreaking work in number theory and for penning a series of math textbooks across a wide range of mathematical disciplines. He went on to become professor emeritus of mathematics at Yale, where he met Tony Petrello.
It’s possible that Lang was disappointed when he discovered that Petrello wasn’t interested in pursuing the field of mathematics or academia, opting instead to jump into the world of law.
But while still at Yale, from which he would receive his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he became known for his outgoing personality and strong sense of humor. In fact, Yale changed Tony Petrello’s social life and eventually his entire future in a truly special way. It was there that he met Cynthia, his beloved wife. Cynthia would go on to become a dancer, movie and TV actress, as well as a respected soap opera producer.
After graduating from Yale, Tony Petrello surprised many of his professors and classmates when he decided not to become a mathematician. Rather, he enrolled in Harvard Law School. His motivations for pursuing law rather than mathematics aren’t entirely known, but it’s possible that his boisterous personality and strong opinions made the quiet life of an academic seem less than appealing to him. Whatever the case, Petrello graduated from Harvard Law school in the 1970s and never looked back.
Law or Business?
In 1979, Tony Petrello joined Baker & McKenzie, a major American law firm. There he specialized in business law, especially taxation and arbitration. It was here that he discovered a passion for business, where law and finances intersect in fascinating and thrilling ways. In 1986, he became a managing partner of its New York division. He would function in this role for some time before a turn of fate led him down another path, this one even more unexpected than the last.
At Baker & McKenzie, Tony Petrello worked with a client by the name of Nabors Industries.
Founded in 1968, Nabors Industries is now listed on the S&P 500 and works to contract geothermal, natural gas and oil drilling equipment and projects throughout the world, mainly based on land. From their beginnings five decades ago they have gone on to become the largest land-drilling organization in the world, operating in 25 countries with over half-a-thousand rigs in operation worldwide.
But before all of that, Nabors was just a client that Petrello worked closely with during his time at Baker & McKenzie. And in any other circumstance, it would have likely ended at that. But Petrello had always been someone capable of making a lasting impression, and he did exactly that here as well.
During Petrello’s time servicing the Nabors account, he made an impressive impact that did not go unnoticed by the higher ups at the company. They didn’t’ just appreciate his hard work and re-up their business with his firm. Managers at Nabors were so impressed by Tony’s efforts and powers of analysis that they began trying to hire him away for themselves. It’s a testament to Petrello’s natural abilities in business that with no official business experience or education he was able to make such a powerful impact on a large-scale organization like Nabors.
Nabors lobbied and tried to convince Nabors to join them for some time, and eventually their efforts were destined to pay off. Petrello left Baker & McKenzie to join Nabors as an executive. A budding mathematician turned corporate attorney was headed for a new career. He was set to become a business executive.
Thus, after he’d lived in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York, Tony Petrello was off to make his residence in an entirely new place: Texas. For a still-young and east-coast-centered individual like Petrello, Texas may as well have been the moon. But with an eye for adventure and excitement for where his new career might take him, Petrello packed up and headed off to the southwest. The Lone Star State is his home to this day.
Tony Petrello’s Life at Nabors and Beyond
In 1991, Tony Petrello began serving as Nabors’ Chief Operating Officer. In this role he was responsible for Nabors’ daily operations just below the CEO. That same year, he cemented his place at the firm even further when he took a seat on the board of directors as well as the board’s executive committee.
Anyone who’s followed Petrello’s story or knows anything about his approach to life and business can likely guess what happened next. Petrello was so impressive in his role as COO that when the time came, he was considered first in line to take the reins of Nabors.
In 1992, he became the president. From here he began to leave his mark on Nabors’ and the industry with a series of moves that cemented their place as the world’s largest land drilling company and a powerhouse of business success. His achievements in those positions were undeniably helpful in terms of building up the company. For instance, in 1993, Tony Petrello helped direct a $32 million purchase of a firm called Grace Drilling. Also, a much larger transaction in 2010 brought Superior Well Services under Nabors’ corporate umbrella. This attitude towards expansion and collaborative partnerships helped establish Petrello as a savvy businessman who knew how to bring in greater levels of success.
Since October 28, 2011, Tony Petrello has been Nabors’ CEO. On top of that, in June 2012, he was named the chairman of the board as well as chairman of the board’s executive committee. During that time, he’s led the way in several major events within the company and the industry as a whole.
In 2014 the company reached a deal with C&J Energy, wherein they would combine their Completion and Production company operations to create a more streamlined flow of production.
In 2015, Petrello led the company in signing a deal with KazMunayGas, an oil company based in Kazakhstan. This created the joint venture known as KMG Nabors Drilling Company. This opened up availability of a vast drilling field in Kazakhstan known as Tengiz field, increasing revenue for the company both in the short-term and for years to come.
Petrello led another collaborative contract in 2016, when Nabors signed with Saudi Aramco to create a joint venture called SANAD. Saudi Aramco is the world’s largest oil company, with an estimated market value of as much as $10 trillion. It is the most valuable company on earth, as well as arguably the most profitable. It’s headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and operates the Master Gas System. This is the largest hydrocarbon network anywhere in the world. Petrello and Nabors knew that this was a company worth partnering with
By common acclaim, Tony Petrello’s leadership at Nabors has been top-notch. During the past six years, he’s allowed the company to keep growing and thriving in an industry where the competition is intense, to say the least, at all times. Even as the oil industry as a whole has experienced struggles as alternative fuels begin to increase in popularity, Petrello has kept Nabors at the leading edge of success.
Indeed, Tony Petrello is extremely adept at day-to-day management tasks as well as the creation of long-term strategic visions. It’s this dual focus that speaks to his original prowess as a mathematician. He can see the whole equation, from the details to the big picture, in order to make strategic choices that will eventually lead to a solution.
His legal experience and education have also proven invaluable, as he’s been able to perceive the workings of a potential deal in order to make it the most effective for all involved parties.
In addition to his many duties at Nabors, Tony Petrello has been a director at MediaOnDemand.com. This company represents the newest generation of video-on-demand services that brings enhanced functionality to the on-demand experience. This includes real-time data and updating information including interactive activities and even navigation information. Today, Petrello is now a director at Hilcorp Energy Company. Hilcorp is one of the world’s biggest oil and natural gas companies that’s remained privately-owned, with exploration and production facilities across the United States. In fact, Hilcorp is the largest producer of oil in the entire state of Louisiana. Like Nabors, Hilcorp is also headquartered in Texas.
In addition to all these duties, Petrello also serves as a director at Stewart & Stevenson. Also based in Houston, TX, Stewart & Stevenson is a privately held manufacturing company that produces oil and gas industry-related equipment. They produce everything from swamp buggies for transportation to precise, minor parts for major mining operations.
This level of activity in a wide range of companies shows Petrello’s far-reaching instincts for business. But Petrello’s life is a story of moving beyond business and profits to have a more lasting, meaningful impact on the world. To fully understand his place in the world, it’s important to take a look at Petrello’s philanthropic efforts outside of business and how they came to be.
An Extraordinary Philanthropist
In the late 1990s, Tony and Cynthia Petrello had a daughter named Carena. While this was an incredibly joyful time for both Tony and Cynthia, it came with a struggle that would shape the next decades of all of their lives. At birth, Carena weighed 20 ounces, and she suffered from cerebral palsy. In addition to wide range of other issues and complications, Carena wouldn’t be able to eat solid foods until she was about 7 years old.
Cerebral palsy is a condition that incorporates a range of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move naturally. The symptoms and severity can vary widely, but generally involve inability to walk normally, muscles that are too weak or stiff to function, or overall struggles with coordination. They can also include problems in other areas of development, including vision, hearing, and speaking. In cases like Carena’s, the ability to swallow and experience other sensations is also affected.
After going through the difficult childhood that Carena experienced, Tony Petrello wanted to help other children with neurological conditions. And as we’ve already seen with Tony Petrello this far, he rarely does anything halfway. When he decides to take action, he truly takes action. Therefore, he donated $7 million to the Texas Children’s Hospital, and he also took a seat on its board of trustees. The hospital was able to put that money toward the construction of a complex dedicated to pediatric neurological care. It’s called the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, and it’s a cutting-edge institution.
The Institute treats children from across the country and the globe, and it’s provided hope to countless families. In addition to treatment, it’s also focused heavily on striving to access the root causes of neurological conditions like cerebral palsy. With over one billion people worldwide suffering from some degree of neurological disease or disorder, the institute believes its mission is absolutely vital in improving the lives of people all over the world. That mission will not only have an impact on the lives of those currently living with cerebral palsy and other neurological disorders, but also countless people in the future who will benefit from this priceless research.
The institute focuses on collaboration between thinkers and researchers in a wide range of disciplines, with the goal of helping prevent, identify, and treat neurological disorders and improve the lives of those who have them.
Over time, Tony Petrello has used his business acumen to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable donations to this cause, and those efforts are ongoing.
Finally, Tony Petrello is quick to credit luck for many of his accomplishments. However, his friends, his family members, his colleagues, and everyone who’s gotten to know Tony’s powerful work ethic and big heart realize that good fortune is only one small aspect of his amazing life story.
From his beginnings as a youth in New Jersey to his philanthropic work for the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute and beyond, Tony Petrello has spent his entire life leaving a mark on the world. First as a mathematician, then as a lawyer, and finally as a hugely successful corporate executive with a long list of accolades, acquisitions, and philanthropic efforts, Petrello will not soon be forgotten in the world of business or beyond.
The only question that now remains is—where will Petrello leave his mark next? His wide variety of skills, career paths and ventures leave the door wide open.