M&A as a Learning Experience

Jeff Ritenour, Treasurer & SVP, Corporate Finance, Devon Energy

Mergers and acquisitions can provide an education in many aspects of a company's business, says Jeff Ritenour, treasurer and senior vice president of corporate finance at $8 billion Devon Energy.

Ritenour served as the company's vice president of acquisitions and divestitures before he was named treasurer in May, and he played a key role in Devon's recent divestiture of all its Gulf of Mexico and international assets, which generated after-tax proceeds of about $8 billion.

"With M&A, you work with every part of the organization: taxes, accounting and operations," Ritenour says, noting that the same is true in his role as treasurer. "So it's served me very well."

Derrek Gafford

Working on transactions also taught him about the technical side of the oil and gas production business. "Not being an engineer, not having that technical training, it's something I'm always working on," Ritenour says. "M&A has helped in that regard. I was able early on to work closely with our operational personnel. The energy industry is so dynamic, it's important to try and keep up with that end."

Ritenour, 37, joined Devon in 2001 after working at Ernst & Young. He has both a B.B.A. in accounting and an M.B.A. from the University of Oklahoma.

How did you get into the finance area?
I am analytical by nature, and studied accounting as an undergraduate. Then I worked at Ernst & Young for three years before going back to grad school for an M.B.A. I have always been intrigued by capital allocation, and after grad school I landed at Devon in the corporate finance group. I was fortunate in arriving at Devon right in the midst of a big M&A program. I went right into doing M&A analysis, and got 10 years' experience in two years.

What has been your most important project?
There have been several: All the deals I've been involved in over the past 10 years. But I guess the most important might be last year, when we said we would refocus to U.S. onshore operations. So I worked on the divestiture of all our offshore projects. The total value we expect to be $10 billion in divestitures--about one-fourth of the company from a value standpoint.

That was good timing, getting out of the Gulf of Mexico right before the big BP blowout.
We can't take credit for our timing, but we're very happy to have done it when we did. We wanted to focus onshore because our competitive advantage was there.

What do you like best about your work?
The thing that really gets me out of bed each morning is how fast-paced this industry is. There are so many pieces to this industry. Commodity prices are a good example. Any given day, commodity prices can be all over the board, so figuring out where to allocate capital next is a huge challenge.

Our business development side, the rise of the shale part of the business, and the competition to control those properties, is fierce.

What put your career on the fast track?
I was very fortunate that at an early point in my career I got involved in the M&A group at Devon, where a lot started happening. It gave me exposure to the senior managers of the company, and they let me take on a lot of responsibility early. So it was hard work and luck.

Did you have a mentor?
I was fortunate at Devon in having a senior leader who let me participate in a lot of things. Jeff Agosta, our CFO, hired me right out of grad school. He allowed me to take on a lot of responsibility early on.

Do you do mentoring yourself?
Sure. Devon has made a big push to bring in a lot of young professionals. We have a lot of folks in leadership who are 50-plus, and so Devon decided we needed to bring in new people and bring them up to speed quickly, because frankly, in five years, they'll be taking on significant responsibility in the company.

Do you have any advice for young people in the field?
More than anything, it's work hard. It's true in any company, but here at Devon, if you put your head down and work hard, it gets noticed. As a result, you get offered more responsibility. It's also critical to have the soft skills--leadership and communication--and a willingness to step up to the plate, take on responsibility, and then perform.

Where are the opportunities in finance these days?
Financial analysis. If you have a foundation in accounting and financial analysis, you have a chance to understand a business, and to really provide insight to the decision-makers.

What skills are being sought most?
In finance, you need the basic accounting skills. These can be taught. When we look at an M.B.A., what we want to know is, can they learn quickly and be a leader. So I'd say it's leadership.

What skills do you want to develop?
A lot! But if I had to name it, it would be the communications side. We all have to work on that. I may get five to 15 minutes with a decision-maker, and if I can't make my point in that time, it's lost. Also the technical/operations side--that's an ongoing thing.

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