This week in our series Profiles in GRIT, we’d like you to meet Souzi Weiland, the manager of learning and organization development at Southwestern Energy (SWN), the third largest producer of natural gas in the lower 48 states.
Souzi’s career is a study in perseverance. She’s successfully navigated a significant career transition — from accounting to human resources — and faced the challenge with passion and strength.
“That is how I define grit: the ability to persevere in the long term to reach a goal. It is having stamina despite the bumps along the way,” she says.
Read below for more on Souzi. (Know someone like Souzi? Nominate her — or him — for a GRIT Award! Nominations open now until June 30.)
PINK PETRO: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
SOUZI: In my mid-20s, I accepted a job offer as a gas marketing accountant at a midstream company. Little did I know that the manager I reported to would try to stifle my personality and curiosity — making for the most difficult year in my career. This experience sparked a new passion inside me to help develop leaders. I did not want anyone else to be demoralized like I was.
I embarked on a journey to get my master’s degree in human resources development, attending school full-time while working full-time. Making a career move from accounting to human resources was more challenging than I anticipated. I was a senior-level accountant in the oil/gas industry with slim to no HR experience so I worked to build great relationships with talent management professionals throughout the industry. I value connecting with others more than networking, and those mentors offered me great advice and tried to help me find opportunities in the leadership and organization development (L&OD) world. I applied for and interviewed for many roles, but my lack of HR experience continued to be a problem, so I pursued pro bono projects for consultants who mentored me in grad school to gain more experience.
The offers I did receive required a significant pay cut. I remember expressing concern over pay to one hiring manager who offered me an entry-level role. “Taking a pay cut is the only way you will get your start in HR or L&OD within the energy industry. If it’s your passion, pay shouldn’t be an issue,” he responded. When I respectfully declined, he laughed and said, “Good luck making a career change within oil/gas, little lady.”
I struggled with this, but the struggle wasn’t regarding the money or that his words were completely inappropriate. Rather, it was that accepting a pay cut was devaluing my skill set. I believed strongly that my accounting experience and business acumen would be of great value to any HR role.
The power of passion and perseverance allowed me to stay the course because I wanted the future I envisioned to be a reality.
PP: What’s one mistake you made, and what did you learn from it?
SW: My first job out of college, I worked as a derivatives accountant for a commodities company. At the time, being hired right out of college for such a role was uncommon. One of my responsibilities was to review all positions monthly and make sure that the expiry month positions were flat. After 11 months on the job, I noticed in my analysis that our crude oil position was not flat for the following expiry month. I sent over the information to our risk control team via email and assumed the ball was no longer in my court. I did not follow up, nor did I speak to anyone about it face to face. The following month, my manager informed me that the traders were not made aware of the issue and they did not flatten the position.
This means that the company was now going to have to deliver physical crude oil that we did not have possession of. The dollar loss impact was rather small, but the lesson was massive. I made more than one mistake in this situation: One was sending only an email for an important issue and not walking over to discuss in person. The second was not following up on the issue and instead, assuming that someone else was handling it, transferring accountability.
I knew that many of these individuals discounted my work because of my lack of experience, which led me to not follow up or press the position further than a simple email. Now, I no longer focus on the lack of experience I have, but rather the knowledge I gain. I make it a point to understand the business implications and press forward with those that will be impactful. Finally, if I find what appears to be an issue, I take accountability for resolving it.
PP: Who’s been a “gritty” role model for you and why?
SW: My “gritty” role model would be my father. His goal was to provide a better life for his family in the United States. He left behind a prestigious engineering job to make that a reality. At the time, he was told he couldn’t work as an engineer in the U.S. until he took some transfer credit hours, but he had a family to support, so he took any job that he could find. As you can imagine, that is a very humbling experience. To cover just the essentials, he worked two jobs up until I graduated from college. He would come home from his day job, help me with math and science homework, and then go straight to his night job. He appreciated the opportunity for the American dream and work as hard as he needed to achieve it. Failure was not an option, and his drive never wavered. To me, he is the epitome of grit.