2022 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Cody Bass, Rice University (Jones)

Cody Bass

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

“I love bringing a variety of talented people together to solve challenging problems.” 

Age: 36

Hometown: Chattanooga, Oklahoma

Fun fact about yourself: Graduated with only 14 people in my graduating class. Did not have access to physics, calculus, or other similar course offerings. Yet, I found my way to this world through a path I would never have predicted. Petroleum engineering…large cities like Houston…MBA: none of this world was something anyone I knew talked about, or even considered until I met certain folks around 20 years old. I never want to forget where I came from and how fortunate I feel to have the life I have today.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly Missouri School of Mines / University of Missouri-Rolla): B.S. Petroleum Engineering. Also played baseball for the university during my time there.

Where are you currently working? Ovintiv Inc.: Facilities and Water Resources Manager (Engineering / Field / Business) for the Anadarko Operating Area

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The firm I worked for (Newfield) was acquired by Encana (now rebranded as Ovintiv). When the acquisition was complete, our operating area was intact but restructured. This allowed for a group to do deeper studies and attempt to create a multi-variate model for predicting oil and gas performance in the basin. Not only predicting, but the why and how. What knob can we turn to yield the most hydrocarbons for the least dollars? This was never attempted before, and most were very skeptical. Please know this is medium data. One data point is millions of dollars, and so there were many abstract variables to account for when isolating what is the cause of the performance. I was given the opportunity to try even though I had no analytics experience.

What I did have was experience in many disciplines and believed the only way to build a model that works is to collaborate to an extreme level. Yes, some of us spearheaded various phases of QA/QC, but I would hold ‘working sessions’ where people from any group could attend and we would interrogate the data together. We were testing assumptions while also educating engineers, geologists, and others with no analytics experience. Heck, I was only a month or so into it myself. What this did was beautiful. Ideas would build into other ideas. No one person built the model and many touched it one way or another. We all saw some of our ideas work and some not. Ego dissipated, and it became a true brainstorming culture.

Along the way, a very sharp and introverted employee who was underappreciated seemed extremely interested in what we were doing. I found out he had a master’s in data analytics and is brilliant. He was looked over because he did not have an engineering degree. It is a bias that exists in our industry and is honestly disgusting. I got him assigned to us and he was an amazing weapon. We tied it to economics, where every decision was based on what is best economically. We created maps and found variables other assets could never prove. We would then always communicate where we know we are weak, and how we know this is not perfect. Using other judgments along with the model when we were less confident. Doing our best to be transparent and open at every phase of the process. Showing where we missed and where we know we need to be better.

I left the group a while back for a promotion, but I am so proud of that effort. The models (economic one as well) have proven very effective and had become a huge part of the organization. There are three major basins that generate the majority of cash flow for the company, and this model is used to lead us. In 2021, the basin made the firm more free cash than any other with similar activity. But what I am most proud of is the approach we set in place. It was different than others who had more experience, yet now they mirror it. I am so grateful we fostered a culture of openness. We all made each other better and it was genuinely fun. Also, that employee I mentioned earlier became respected and appreciated finally. In fact, he is now highly sought after for projects. The great work product was not due to IQ. These people were all present in these halls for years. Creating an environment where egos subsided, and we could be vulnerable was the key. The ‘working sessions’ where we interrogated the data and only wanted the best ideas to rise to the top are some of my most fond memories. This is followed closely by showing the results, and how it had made us better decision-makers that yielded value for the firm.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? I had done extensive research on various programs for years. At each phase, I always felt I was learning so much at my firm and the momentum was something I wanted to keep. This led me down the path of researching schools where this was possible. Rice University was always my top pick. I admit I put it off longer than I should have, but when I finally decided, I only applied to Rice. Known as a great overall program, Rice is respected in oil and gas especially, and every Rice MBA I met was sharp, curious, and humble.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? I began right as COVID hit in April of 2020. Obviously, everyone went to online anyway! Yes, this program was tailored and ready for said approach. I like the accountability to take charge of your schedule. I enjoyed how the Zoom live sessions are very similar to class, yet folks can message in the background in an encouraging way. I don’t know how many times I would go out on a limb to pose a question or express an idea many felt uncomfortable doing. I would then receive messages thanking me for opening the discussion and helping others get comfortable. That would have been hard in person. I really appreciated the resources I could keep. There were so many great articles, case studies, slide decks, and spreadsheets. Finally, it helped navigate the distance aspect of work as well. Many of us got used to doing this in class, and this helped us adapt quickly to the same issue with our respective firms. And of course, it allowed me to get a great education while not losing those valuable experiential years at work. I truly felt I had my cake and ate it as well.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? It was much easier to collaborate than I anticipated. I was surprised at how useful lecture recordings were to reference. The pre-recorded lectures and approach were obviously useful, but the ability to go back and revisit a salient point in live lectures proved invaluable.

Also, many professors told us the online version was harder than in-person (which they did as well). The mix of live interaction and teaching oneself is interesting and prepares you well for how the real world works. I cannot speak for every online program, but Rice was difficult. The reading, going through async lectures that have checkpoints to address and then turning in assignments all before live lecture made one truly be prepared for the live sessions. This made the live sessions engaging and challenging in a great way.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? One difference was the need to prepare before live lectures in a more thorough manner. Like I stated above, most of what you do, you must do on your own before the live lecture. In undergrad, it was designed where the assignments were due after said sessions. The basic need to take charge makes one manage their time even more effectively. In summary, the online experience also helps a person get better at managing their life and career no matter the topic. The intellectual material was obviously what I desired, and this was substantial. My undergrad had the same. But this online program also provided refining my ‘life/career management skills to another level. I feel this is a benefit most do not anticipate, and I am grateful for this added unexpected blessing.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Do not approach every moment, task, interaction, or assignment with a grade as your primary objective. Learning and bettering yourself is the goal. Tie it back to every aspect of your life. Of course, this includes work, but being a better decision-maker, leader, and person extends to your personal life. Think about how to apply what you are studying and learning to what you did earlier that day at work. Try and implement these learnings as you go. It will be the next day in some cases. Of course, the degree and grades all signal of what you gleaned. However, truly internalizing and implementing what you learn is what this is all about it.

I feel it goes without saying that this concept applies to your network. Challenge one another and surround yourself with people who challenge you. Especially those who are strong in areas you are weak. This helps you learn from them, but reminds you to be humble and truly appreciate the unique attributes every human possesses.

In summary, it is tempting to care about all the papers, GPAs, etc. Keep your eye on the real goal: Becoming a better version of yourself and helping others around you do the same.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I believe 5 weeks is too short in some cases. I don’t know the structure exactly, but I feel sometimes I did not truly appreciate the material I was absorbing for the shorter classes. Also, having a lot of work due before the first live lecture is not as fruitful as all the assignments after we begin class. I am not saying don’t do anything. However, if you have an assignment that is weighted equally to those held during the session, that first assignment can skew a student’s grade unfairly.

In both cases, the volume required at a difficult time or short term took away from true understanding. I found myself sometimes rushing to move through said volume instead of seeking to delve deeper. This is something I look back and regret, I admit. I intentionally saved all I could and have already gone back to certain classes where I felt this happened to make up for my poor/intellectually lazy approach at times.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? Yes, my online MBA has most definitely helped me in my current role! It helped in many ways. On a technical level, I was able to understand and create accounting, finance, and strategy models to help solve problems more adequately. I was also taught a deeper knowledge of the ‘why’ behind all of the analysis. This helps me more effectively communicate the reasoning and benefit of ‘why’ the decisions are being made.

However, the most useful knowledge gleaned has been less tangible. The human component has helped me immensely, whether it is learning about the cause and effect of decisions real firms made in a great case study or learning more about our bias and how it affects us day to day. This is especially true when leading a group where my entire group is comprised of people who are my senior. Real-world examples helped tie concepts to reality. The frameworks and knowledge concerning bias and thinking give me the why. Finally, working in our groups in class helped put these practices into place.

Finally, one benefit I find that is never talked about is simple: You learn a new language and can now see ‘why’ in others’ reasoning. By that, I mean you now understand (on a deeper level) what the execs are trying to do, or what and why investors are asking for certain metrics. I believe this is huge. Although you may not agree, you are now able to find the part of the equation where you diverge. You can see you agree on more than you do not, and this fosters a relationship and keeps people open vs defensive. You can then understand one another’s reasoning in a respectful way.  You have to understand the foundation of logic and then address that fork in the road where your views do not align. At this point, you now have a much better chance at either convincing your view is correct, or even being persuaded otherwise in a healthy manner. Worst case scenario, you agree to disagree. However, instead of leaving the interaction thinking you are both miles apart, you now have a deeper understanding of how you both view the world and think. Yes, you may still disagree, but respect is gained and the ability to work together in a productive manner going forward is much more likely.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? I was promoted while in the program. Ironically, most get promoted to lead a discipline (petroleum engineering — things like drilling, production, reservoir), where they have at least some experience. I was lucky enough to be considered for my leadership, business acumen and ability to adapt. Pursuing my MBA at Rice only helped folks see that potential and have faith I will not only adapt to the new world but lead in a healthy manner.

Did you earn a raise during the online MBA program? Yes.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent On Online MBA: 20-30 hours / Week.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to be the CEO of a firm like where I am now. Ovintiv is an oil and gas operator (upstream) with a market cap of more than $ 10 billion and about 1,700 employees. Also, I want to serve on a board (and non-profit as well).

I believe in doing the best we can to provide the world energy cheap energy while being a good steward to our planet. Do it well, but more importantly the right way. I love trying to do this and leading all types of personalities and people to achieve this very challenging goal. I love the stress and pressure of making hard decisions, standing by the consequences, and being humble enough to learn from said consequences. I want to be an authentic, sharp, servant leader who allows people to be who they are and not stifle their creativity. In all roles mentioned above, I greatly enjoy doing my best to make the best decision and strive to be the leader people deserve. I believe it is my honor to lead and feel I owe them, not the other way around. That sense of duty motivates me to not let anyone down and fight fiercely for the people, the firm, the goal. I always want to be a part of this fight (vs the market, uncertainty, all the forces we encounter), and I always want to be the adequately equipped for this battle. The Rice MBA has significantly helped ‘equip’ me even more so. For that, I am grateful.

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