A curious wildcatter

By Younas Chaudhary

In high school, my Chemistry teacher told me one day that my fate had already been sealed. “You have no future, and you will become nobody,” he said, comparing my grades to those of the brightest student in the class. I was never an A student; even a B- was a struggle for me!

Later, that same teacher gave me a glimmer of hope saying that I was a curious kid, with common sense, and would manage to find odd jobs later in life. Indeed, I was a curious child growing up, and when we moved from our remote village in Pakistan to a town, I would often stare out on the dirt roads just to observe the movements along them. Some days, I would sit for hours by the window to catch a glimpse of the old passenger bus that rolled along. I was always curious, asking: Why?

As an adult, this inborn curiosity mixed with common sense has helped me make many good deals in the oil and gas industry. When someone makes an offer to buy one of our properties, I do not rush to engage in negotiations with an eye to closing the deal straightaway. Instead, I am curious to first figure out the buyer’s motivations behind the offer, and then I use that insight to leverage the deal to my benefit.

Curiosity has helped me unlock prospective buyers’ needs, wants and desires, and this has directly translated into better bargains for my businesses.

In fact, curiosity propelled my entire career and entrenched itself as a lifelong habit—beginning in the late-seventies, when I arrived in Chanute, Kansas with zero knowledge of the oilfield business. My possessions? An old beat-up Pinto car, notebook, a few pencils, maps, and an abundance of curiosity. I had never physically seen an oil well or rig in my life, but I was eager to learn. I often asked: “Why does it work that way? Is there a more efficient, cost-effective way to accomplish that task?”

My best friends were the local oilfield pumpers and rig hands. I would spend long hours with them asking questions about how a rig worked and how an oil well was produced. Slowly, I mastered the technical aspects of how things worked, but I also learned how I could efficiently run an oil and gas operation from a financial standpoint. With diligence, hard work, and consistent practice, I mastered the fundamentals of the oil and gas business with no formal education in engineering or business.

Soon, I learned that a successful oil company is run on imagination, foresight, cost control, consistency, and curiosity. When you buy an oil well or drill a well, curiosity is perhaps the only thing you have, because you never know what you are going to get out of the well. What lies under the earth remains a curious mystery despite all our sophisticated data, tools, and predictive models. No one truly can know that you will produce oil from a well until it starts to produce.

I recall one instance when I put my curiosity to test at an oilfield, going against experts who reported that it was unwise to drill a vertical well in that part of the oilfield.  I wondered: Could this well prove productive? I knew that if my curiosity proved right, the vertical well could make profits, and to secure large number of leasehold acreages that would not expire by drilling a well. Being curious and creative will help you take bold, though calculated risks and an action outside the box. I know that we will have to bear the loss if it fails.  

Similarly, I was curious when a large energy company sought to acquire our 20% stake in an oilfield at a low offered price: Did they really think this oilfield had such modest value?  So, we made a counteroffer to buy their 80% stake in the same oilfield at the same price that they offered us, making them wonder what we were thinking! That put them in a tight spot.

Curiosity and use of common sense, if used timely can help you find clarity and unearth hidden value.

Here are few tips to be curious:

. Be present and try to be the most curious person in the room. Listen carefully and observe others while you are having conversations with them.

. Ask questions, even if they are “dumb questions”. Why? What if? Be bold in asking questions to understand the other person’s perspective.

. Do your background research. I used to spend hours making calculations in my mind and studying how to structure deals, jotting down different options and ideas in a notebook.

. Be humble in admitting that you do not know an answer.

. Always ask what you will gain or lose from a deal.

. Persevere and never give up!

Here are ways to connect with me:

You can read more by purchasing my best-selling memoir “From Dirt Roads to Black Gold.” Note that 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of this book will help people in need through my foundation, the YBC Foundation.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated.  Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.