SPE CEO Mark Rubin Retires
Following more than 21 years leading SPE through periods of great growth and low oil prices, it’s time for family, friends, and the great outdoors.
With more than 40 years in the oil and gas industry and more than 21 years leading SPE, Mark Rubin will be retiring in June. Rubin began his career in the field, working for Unocal. Following a downturn, he began working in the standards group at the American Petroleum Institute (API), moving through several roles to Upstream General Manager at API.
Rubin joined SPE in 1979 while he was a petroleum engineering student at Texas A&M University. He could not have imagined then that he would one day lead this organization that helped him throughout his career as a student, a young engineer responsible for oil and gas fields in East Texas, and as an unemployed engineer during an industry downturn. Rubin became Executive Director (later CEO) of SPE in September 2001. SPE at the time was a community of 47,835 professional members, of which 25,917 were based in the US, and 5,190 student members.
Rubin soon realized that there were untapped opportunities for SPE through the continued globalization of membership and services, especially in the Middle East and Asia. He worked with the SPE Board of Directors to develop initiatives that would vastly expand SPE’s reach. SPE’s 2002 President, Steve Holditch, proposed establishing an office in the Middle East, and in 2003, SPE followed through in opening the Dubai office, offering more events and programs in the region. SPE expanded member services through its existing London and Kuala Lumpur offices, and then opened a Moscow office in 2007 and a Calgary office in 2009 (resulting from the merger with the Petroleum Society of Canada). 2022 SPE President Kamel Ben-Naceur observed “Since I first met Mark Rubin at an SPE workshop more than 15 years ago, he has been extremely supportive of ideas to expand SPE to new geographical and technical areas. He was a strong driver behind the international expansion of SPE, with many new sections and student chapters created under his leadership.” By the time SPE held its first ATCE outside the US in 2010 (in Florence, Italy), membership had grown to 71,191 professionals and 26,000 students, an increase of 83% from when Rubin joined SPE.
I have known Mark since we were in the student chapter at A&M and through a lifetime of SPE service. My years on the Board and as President were a pleasure because of Mark’s leadership and stewardship of our entire global community. I was proud to serve with him.
The growth in student members was the result of another major initiative Rubin encouraged–expanded focus on young members as the future of our industry. During the period 2003–2005, Halliburton provided the first sponsorship to enable free student membership. 2005 SPE President Giovanni Paccaloni had a passion for young professionals, and Rubin worked with him to develop new programs to ensure SPE’s relevance to a new generation, including the launch of The Way Ahead, SPE’s magazine written by and for young professionals, in 2005. In the ensuing years, SPE has created many additional engagement opportunities for students and early- to mid-career professionals to sustain this important group of future industry leaders.
Rubin also recognized that technology was the key to serving a global membership, so he advocated for making more of SPE’s resources readily available and searchable online for members. When he proposed to bring together our papers and other resources with those of other societies serving the industry, OnePetro was born. A few years later, Rubin pushed to convert the Petroleum Engineering Handbook into an electronic form, resulting in the creation of PetroWiki, thanks to a generous sponsorship from Apache. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular SPE Live series was launched to provide timely topics and diverse viewpoints, and help members remain connected to the SPE community. With the growth in multimedia content, he encouraged the creation of Energy Stream as an addition to this slate of highly valuable online resources for students, practicing engineers, and their companies.
When Rubin joined SPE in 2001, Technical Directors were just being added to SPE’s Board to represent the disciplines within our membership. Rubin recognized the importance of members finding their community within SPE and leaned into a discipline focus. This led to several magazines focused on specific disciplines, expanded online communities, and the creation of Technical Sections during his tenure. Bringing together these technical resources to help members find the information they need within our large, diverse Society has also contributed to SPE’s membership growth.
I was struck by two things in the years I worked with Mark: • He saw each SPE member as a customer who needed to be provided quality service wherever he or she was a resident. This drove the plans to strengthen the various regional offices. • He was conscious of the global nature SPE had assumed over the years, and he sought to protect and nurture this in all SPE activities.
A final key area of focus during Rubin’s tenure has been the staff. He understood that creating a positive staff culture and professionalizing SPE’s approach to human resources was essential to making SPE successful and delivering the types of experiences that SPE members expect. Working for an organization that relies on volunteers, Rubin encouraged staff to volunteer in their communities. During the industry downturn that began in 2015, SPE faced significant challenges and he had to make tough decisions, including SPE’s first-ever staff layoff in 2015 and a second layoff the following year. Despite these difficult circumstances, Rubin’s strong leadership and the staff’s unwavering commitment allowed SPE to weather the storm.
When the pandemic struck, weekly messages from Rubin to the global staff kept everyone connected and confident that SPE would make it through. As the pandemic lingered, members were eager to get back to in-person events. Rubin made the difficult decision to retain event staff during the pandemic so that we would be able to rebound quickly to deliver the high-quality events members expect from SPE. That decision has served SPE well over the past year.
2004 SPE President Kate Baker had the opportunity to observe Rubin’s leadership throughout his SPE tenure. She noted, “Mark had big shoes to fill succeeding Dan Adamson. And he did, taking SPE more truly international and embracing and expanding offerings in the related technical diversity the business had always used and required, though perhaps less visibly displayed, than its core engineering competencies. In deliberating new elements or expansions, he always asked foremost how these might support or detract from SPE’s mission. SPE remains the preeminent professional organization in oil and gas largely because of Mark’s insight, leadership, and frontline efforts. SPE is well positioned to disseminate technical knowledge useful in exploring for, developing, and producing energy resources beyond oil and gas to achieve a safe, secure, and sustainable future.”
Mark is the consummate professional, always approachable and always keeping the best interests of membership and staff in mind. He combines an easy-going leadership style with a strong backbone when required to make the difficult decisions. His robust understanding of the macro factors of our industry and their influence on membership and programs led to significant growth in the Society. Finally, the respect SPE now commands within our industry can be attributed to Mark’s leadership and his foresight.
Baker continued, “I am sure Mark would be quick to note that success also has depended upon a superbly talented and motivated staff and volunteers. Yet I credit Mark here, too. Such persons are attracted and enabled by competent and graceful leadership, leadership that welcomes new opportunities and the richness of possibility, while at the same time honoring the past and seeking to learn deeply from collective experience.”
Throughout the ups and downs of 21 years of leadership, Rubin was guided by the words of US President Harry S. Truman: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” In forming partnerships with other industry associations, whether for events such as IPTC and URTeC, or other activities, it was always about serving the members, not who got credit for the idea or the result.
Being CEO of a global organization means a lot of travel, and one of the things Rubin is looking forward to is more time with his wife, Linda, and their daughters. Rubin is an avid skier, and he looks forward to having more time to spend on the slopes. In warmer weather, hiking and other outdoor activities are also a passion he will finally have time to indulge after his retirement.
SPE Achievements During Mark Rubin’s Leadership
ATCE 2001—Mark joined SPE
2003—Opened SPE office in Dubai
2003—Began offering free dues to student members, supported through corporate sponsorship
2004–2005—Significant investment in supporting young professionals, including YP workshops and programs
2005—Inaugural issue of The Way Ahead magazine
2005—Launched International Petroleum Technology Conference in conjunction with AAPG, SEG, and EAGE, as a major annual event to rotate between the Middle East and Asia Pacific
2006—Pilot program launched in Abu Dhabi for an SPE-sponsored Petroleum Professional Certification
2006—First technical section (Wellbore Positioning) is created
2007—First SPE President from the Middle East
2007—OnePetro multisociety library launched
2007—Opened SPE Moscow office
2009—SPE completes merger with Petroleum Society of Canada; adds Calgary office
2010—ATCE was held outside the US for the first time (Florence, Italy) ; subsequent ATCEs held in Amsterdam, Dubai, and Calgary
2012—PetroWiki pilot (on Drilling) was launched as a free resource based on the Petroleum Engineering Handbook
2012—First time SPE topped 100,000 professional and student members (104,762)
2012—Enhanced member services for the Projects, Facilities, and Construction discipline, including creation of Oil and Gas Facilities magazine
2013—First SPE President from Africa
2013—Created SPE Connect online community
2013—Joined with AAPG and SEG to launch the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference
2013—Reopening of Richardson office building after a year-long renovation
2016—Drilling and Completions discipline split to better serve both communities
2017—Created online publication HSE Now to serve members in that discipline
2017—Senior Professional group was created for members age 55 and older
2019—Strategic focus on serving data science professionals, including creation of online publication Data Science and Digital Engineering
2020–2021—Global pandemic fast-tracked SPE’s digital transformation through the creation of virtual events and new SPE Live broadcasts to engage members online; also, the decision to retain staff helped SPE rebound quickly post-pandemic
2022—SPE Energy Stream multimedia platform created
2022—Four new technical sections were initiated, bringing the total to 21
Officially retiring in a few weeks, Rubin has been supporting the transition and onboarding of his successor, Simon Seaton, who takes over in mid-July.