Stephen Graham Retires: SPE’s COO and Executive Director of OTC

After more than 19 years with SPE and nearly 40 years in the oil and gas industry, Stephen Graham has announced his retirement in mid-April.

Shauna Noonan, Jeff Spath, and Stephen Graham
Graham, right, speaking with SPE 2020 President Shauna Noonan and SPE 2014 President Jeff Spath.

After more than 19 years with SPE and nearly 40 years in the oil and gas industry, Stephen Graham has announced his retirement in mid-April. Graham worked in financial roles with Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and elsewhere prior to joining SPE in 2001, also in a financial role. He quickly moved to programming, then became managing director, Americas and eventually chief operating officer (COO).

As COO, Graham has responsibility for SPE’s global events portfolio. While the number of events fluctuates based on industry conditions, his team is typically responsible for 100–150 events annually. Mark Rubin, SPE’s chief executive officer and executive vice president, said, “Stephen has had an enormous impact on SPE and OTC, growing our conference and workshop portfolio into the successful global program it is today. Throughout his tenure, Stephen has always focused on helping our members.”

Terry Palisch, CARBO Ceramics, and current chair of the SPE Board Committee on Technical Content, notes, “I believe that Stephen has been instrumental in how successful SPE has become over the years, particularly with events. Even with COVID, the way he and his staff pivoted to virtual delivery was nothing short of amazing. I would argue that SPE is second to none in holding events to disseminate technical content. Knowing Stephen, he would defer to his staff for all of this success, but success starts at the top. Stephen has the keen ability to see the big picture as well as where we are heading.”

Since 2013, Graham has held the additional role of executive director, Offshore Technology Conference. OTC is one of the 100 largest trade shows in the US and some years has ranked in the top 10 in attendance. During Graham’s leadership, OTC expanded its portfolio from the annual Houston-based event to include successful OTC events in Asia and Brazil, and the Arctic Technology Conference. Leigh Ann Runyan, SPE’s director, Americas Events, will be stepping into Graham’s role with OTC upon his retirement.

Cindy Yielding, chairperson of the OTC Board of Directors, said, “Under Stephen’s leadership, OTC has fully embraced the energy transition. We are proud to highlight all forms of offshore energy and technology to create a venue for all to collaborate and share experiences and lessons learned. Stephen is a true gem. He has been an inclusive, gracious, and patient leader and has helped welcome all to OTC. We will miss him, but his legacy is robust.”

One of the biggest challenges Graham faced during his tenure with OTC was in 2009 when Houston received 10 inches of rain in 24 hours, only a week before OTC was set to open. The outdoor Pavilions were ruined, so all of those exhibitors needed a new location. Graham met with the whole team and devised a plan to move the exhibitors from the outdoor pavilions into the NRG Arena—the first time OTC used that space. Calmly and quickly allocating the floor space, the Arena was ready for exhibitors to begin move in and set up the following day. OTC went ahead on schedule with just a few large puddles in the parking lot and a lot of new signage to direct attendees.

Paul Jones, Lockbridge Energy, a former SPE Board member and current OTC vice chairperson, said, “What stands out to me is Stephen’s skill at getting folks of differing background and points of view to work together to deliver value to SPE’s membership. He has a great strategic perspective and ability to drive consensus as a result. For OTC, each of the 13 sponsoring/supporting organizations bring their own unique view of offshore energy. Stephen has been pivotal in guiding and marshalling this group to deliver the value that attendees, exhibitors, and industry receive from OTC.”

Rubin notes, “Stephen’s leadership and deep understanding of our industry have been crucial for helping us through difficult times. His knowledge of both oil and gas and the events business have enabled us to shift directions quickly, such as the move to virtual events during the pandemic, or to take advantage of new opportunities such as the development of the Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference. Stephen’s financial background serves us well whether we’re tightening our belts or investing for the future.”

Graham was featured in Trade Show Executive magazine in April 2016. When asked what he loves about working in oil and gas, he replied, “The people who work in the petroleum industry are good people who are trying to do their best to provide affordable energy for the world. I believe in the mission we have as an association.”

While managing a large global meeting portfolio, Graham has shared his knowledge and experience with SPE staff. He developed a training course for staff, helping them learn more about the industry that they serve. Michelle Tan, director, Asia Pacific Events, said, “Leading with experience, Stephen is always generous in sharing association management and industry knowledge to spur new ideas and best practices in the team globally. Always ready and willing to listen, his management and mentorship during times of success as well as challenges build confidence and trust in us.”

Runyan added, “Stephen has been an extraordinary coach and mentor throughout the 7 years I have worked for him. He has a penchant for perfection, but at the same time, he is patient, supportive, and always willing to teach others what he knows. It has been an honor to work for him and I’ve enjoyed the ups, downs, and many laughs along the way. Stephen will be greatly missed.”

What is success? … To find the best in others.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

2015 SPE President Helge Haldorsen likens Graham’s leadership to the quote above, saying, “That is what he has done for so many years with so many of us. Each year you are presented with new elected SPE leaders from all over the world, and the friendly, considerate way you ‘found the best in us’ by sharing your insight, ideas, and experience made us all look good. We all feel very fortunate to have been on board the SPE ship on Stephen’s watch—what a great captain he was, and what a great sense of humor and calm he always brought to the task at hand.”

Stephen Graham and family

Until the past year, Graham often spent 30% or more of his time on the road attending events and visiting his staff across SPE’s seven global offices. One of the things Graham says he is looking forward to in retirement is staying home with his family, especially his six grandchildren, and having more time for golf. Palisch, a frequent golfing partner, commented, “His leadership with his staff means that SPE will be in good hands after he departs, but SPE will miss him. I wish him only the best of luck in the future (and with his golf game!).”