In today’s episode, host Bill Higgs sits down and talks with the Vice President of Communications and Missions at Refined Technologies, Inc., Heather Broeder, about her successful career at Mustang Engineering. She narrates how she fit in with the male-dominated construction field team and how forward-thinking Mustang was around flexible work. She also dives into the Young Guns Program and how they were creating a culture within its culture. Learn more about putting the Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed In Your Business to work as Heather shares more gold nuggets on creating a culture of success on today’s show.
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Creating A Culture Of Success With Heather Broeder
Heather Broeder is with us now. She’s the Vice President of Communications and Missions at Refined Technologies, Inc. She is responsible for internal and external communication of the missions program to further RTI’s commitment to positively impact the local and global communities and she provides assistance on strategic corporate initiatives. Heather is also responsible for the direct oversight and administration of the office manager team to improve effectiveness and consistency across the worldwide locations. Heather has a great background and history of Mustang. She came to Mustang as a Mechanical Engineer after graduating from Baylor University in 1997. To her surprise, she was up in Alaska working on the first offshore oil production facility North in the Arctic Circle, which is a cool thing for a junior engineer. It was a project called Northstar.
From there, she worked on the Zafiro Producer for Mobil off of Equatorial Guinea. She goes from the frozen tundra to the heat of Equatorial Guinea. There she was modifying the first-ever tanker base production system built in the world. While progressing from there into project management and then into managing global initiatives directly for Mustang’s CEO, Heather was instrumental in running Mustang’s Young Guns program. You’ll want to understand how we did that program. She was also instrumental in many of the giveback programs that people engaged in. To me, Heather has always been one of the cultural leaders at Mustang and took on a big part in developing the culture as we moved into international offices.
In 2018, Heather followed a fellow young gun over to RTI, Refined Technologies, Inc. where one of her responsibilities was to promote and communicate their culture to the far-flung resource base they have around the world. You’ll find that Heather has been there and done that when it comes to culture. I’ll never forget being in a conference room in 2001 where Heather was briefing a number of the leaders and what she had learned on the Northstar project up in Alaska. While she was talking, her boss, Joe Sanders, a true servant leader, sent a note down to me and it went through ten pairs of hands. The room was darkened for Heather and you could see this thing creeping down to me.
I opened this note up and Joe had written, “I hope you are enjoying listening to your replacement, Bill.” You never saw that note, Heather. I truly believe that she did replace me in 2008 and Steve Knowles replaced my partner, Paul Redmond. They’re testament to our Young Guns Program training, our second, third and fourth generation leaders, that took the company from $1 billion in 2008 in revenue to $2 billion in 2014 and about $6 billion now after some major acquisitions. It’s crazy good stuff for that type of a legacy to be found. Heather, welcome. I’ll turn it over to you. How did you end up at Mustang?
I can be a little bit type A and I am always planning ahead. My 1996 boyfriend, who’s now my husband of 22 years were both preparing for graduation the next summer. That year before we were graduating, I was looking at addresses and for sending out his resume to get different jobs. I was particularly looking for the address for Mustang Tractor because I thought that would be the perfect place for Paul to work. I wanted to send his resume there and because this was the 1900s and I was looking in a phone book, I happen to look one line above. I saw this little entry that said Mustang Engineering. I never heard of the company. They weren’t even ten years old. There weren’t even a thousand people. I memorize the phone number and it stuck with me.You don't make memories unless special moments happen. Click To Tweet
Heather, I’m going to tell you a little story about Mustang Tractor. When we were ten months old, I got a phone call from an irate client demanding, “Come get these generators, they’re useless.” I go around the office, “Who have we done generators for?” We hadn’t done any recent generators. It turned out they thought they were calling Mustang Tractor who had supplied those generators. It was a client in the offshore oil industry. I ended up getting a client out of that negative phone call. It’s funny how that phone book did that.
All publicity is good publicity. I had strong potential at Stone & Webster through some contacts. I wasn’t worried about where I would land but Bill, the name and number stuck with me. Finally one day, I called that number and this super friendly voice greeted me.
Was that the receptionist?
Yes. She was super friendly over the top and helpful.
That’s a cool gold nugget because people need to remember your receptionist is the voice of your company and they have to reflect your culture. This receptionist jumped right on with Heather and tried to take care of her. It’s a huge difference from many companies you’d probably contact.
I asked her on the phone, “Does Mustang hire new grads?” Instead of blowing me off, she says, “I’m not really sure but let me transfer you to Don Lemleper. He’s the head of our mechanical engineering.” I ended up communicating with Don over email and phone calls through the fall of my senior year. I loved everything he shared about Mustang, being a faith-based company who gave back to the community. I left my last final exam and drove straight to Mustang to interview with him just as Christmas break was beginning. I don’t know if you remember, that’s where I met you for the first time. I left feeling so energized by Don’s sincerity and your enthusiasm. I remember driving home, praying for a job offer and the rest is history.
There’s another golden nugget in there that this receptionist did not hand you over to HR but gave you directly to a hiring manager. That’s a difference at Mustang. Our managers directly interviewed and found people and fit them into the company.
It’s a differentiator for sure. It was very personal.
I’m glad that you made it. You came into the oil patch which is what we call the offshore hydrocarbon industry. At that time, 1997, it was still very male-dominated. When you came to Mustang and went to the field for construction, construction is even more male-dominated than in the office. I’m sure your energy and enthusiasm helped you connect out in the field. Did you feel like you were treated as part of the team?
I was the only female among my mechanical engineering graduating class and that ratio probably represented the female technical population in most places at that time. I have to say, I always felt included, esteemed and empowered at Mustang. It was truly a great place to grow up. I quickly met two older female engineers, one structural and one mechanical, who became lifelong mentors to me and I felt like I had support from everyone I worked with including our clients.
It’s a good point for everybody to remember that you went on your own and you’ve found these mentors. People who had been in the industry who had experienced the same things you are experiencing and they could help you. That is pretty great that you had the wherewithal to do that early.
One thing I want to say on this subject is how thankful I am for how forward-thinking Mustang was around flexible work. When I graduated, if you were a professional female, you felt like there was a time bomb immediately armed and there was this countdown coming. What would your big decision be when it came time to have kids? Would you sideline your career and stay home for fifteen years? Would you press into your career and find a childcare solution for 40 plus hours a week? When Paul and I were married about six years, he was saying, “It’s time to have children.” I was like, “I’ll take a helicopter to work when I go off-shore.” I’m not sure these things go together. I genuinely wanted to start a family but I also loved my career so much.Celebration is where you create those special moments that make memories. Click To Tweet
The first amazing thing that happened was Mustang allowed me a six-month maternity leave so I could even figure out what was happening. The next amazing thing was that my boss kept calling me and checking on me and emailing me to see how I was doing. When my six months was up, I honestly said, “This kid is asleep all the time. I want to be here when he’s awake. I’ll be honest with you, I missed the team and I miss my work. Is there any scenario where I could come back to work for ten to fifteen hours a week?” I was blown away, Bill, because my boss didn’t laugh at me. He said, “I don’t know. Let me see if there are options.”
He called me the following week after he had some meetings and he said, “Here are three opportunities that can be part-time.” They were all an instance where I would continue learning. They would let me stay connected to the industry. Most importantly, they would help me stay connected to rapidly changing technology. I ended up working ten to fifteen hours a week until I had my second child. I worked twenty hours a week until they went to preschool. I worked 30 hours a week until they were about ages ten and eight. I worked a flexible schedule where I was definitely booking 40 plus hours, but I left every day at 3:30, so I could meet a big yellow bus.
There are lots of companies now offering flexible scheduling and part-time opportunities. I felt like Mustang was ahead of its time because they didn’t value my 40 hours a week. They valued me and they respected my desires and cared about my family. What I saw and experienced is when you have other oriented leaders, they’re not trying to fill spots on projects. I could have left Mustang so many times and I was offered a lot of fantastic jobs usually by our clients. I would tell them and recruiters that wild blue Mustang couldn’t drag me away because this was my home. Mustang was doing such a great job taking care of me and my family.
That’s a crazy progression across time but it’s like how your work hours matched what was going on at your family and you said it to quit. I want people to catch that. You said that you take a helicopter to work. You weren’t sure how having a family was going to work out. We worked a lot on offshore oil platforms. You would take a helicopter out there to work on the startup of that facility or to help make a change. A lot of times where the job demanded you to go to the field, go to the fab yard or go to construction. You needed a lot of flexibility. What happened is you had leaders that respected people, wanted good people and figured I had to take care of them.
They were taking the long-term view. Investing in me for the long-term, not the immediate.
What you’re talking about is a key piece of what the younger generations are looking for now in a company and in the leaders that they’re working for. I like you shared and how that manager worked that one out for you. That shows people that it can be done both sides. You have to be communicating and working with each other to figure it out. One of the things that you did, despite limited hours, is you dedicated a big part of yourself to the Young Guns Program. That program was close to my heart. That was one of the things that I helped start. We went from 1982 to 1995, thirteen years in our industry without being able to hire young people. Our industry had this big gap because clients only wanted experienced people. It was a big downturn and they said, “I don’t want to get an inexperienced person because if this job goes sideways, I’m going to be losing my job.” The Young Guns Program, it was only a few years old when you started. You took it to a whole new level within the company but within the industry. Would you talk to us a little bit about the Young Guns Program and what you did there?
Young Guns was a program for new hires with less than five years of experience. Its purpose was to acclimate them to our industry, to our organization and to connect them with one another. Most Young Guns were straight out of school, but some were folks who joined the oil and gas sector from another industry or the military. We had several aspects of the program. We had learning sessions to give people exposure to different business units, engineering disciplines, departments across the company, project summaries and even some leadership development.
You’re working cross fertilization across the company and letting them see the potential opportunities in front of them. That’s a pretty cool way to do it with people that are new to the company.
We had socials and service events and field trips to give people context to their work. We even had an exchange program where we traded engineers across international offices to immerse them in another culture and sometimes to even seed a new Young Gun chapter.
To start a new chapter in an international office. This is what I call major silo busting to where you’re uniting the company now across international boundaries. It sounds a little bit too good to be true. Maybe a little Pollyanna. You must’ve had some tricks to make this happen.
I’ll tell you about the secret sauce. The secret sauce of Young Guns, it was led by a leadership team of Young Gun alum. Who knows better how to engage young people than the young people? The Young Gun leadership team literally manage the calendar, the budget, the communication and every aspect of the program so that it felt fresh. It felt like a grassroots effort. We had our own logo and we identified each year as a group. You might be on a project and a part of Young Guns twelve and your lead was somebody who was in Young Gun three.
We kept Young Gun alumni engaged to give sessions and lead the field trips. Once a Young Gun, always a Young Gun. Every part of Young Guns was saturated with Mustang’s culture. That’s the other secret part like the secret ingredient. We were all about building relationships, making memories, giving back to the community and this became a great recruiting tool. We would go to career fairs and college students would come up and say, “I want to be a young gun.” They knew they would have an immediate network of friends at work.Leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin. Click To Tweet
We were creating a culture within a culture in the Young Guns. They had their logo. They had the bonding and the camaraderie. They were doing all of the steps that we’re doing for a major culture in a company but in this subculture. It’s young people working with young people to pull each other up. When my partner Paul and I left Mustang in 2008, the company did $1 billion in revenue. We were confident that we were handing off to a great group of people. The second, third and fourth generation, those must Mustangers, as we like to call ourselves, took it to $2 billion in six years. That was awesome legacy to your efforts with the Young Guns. I like to personally thank you for that, from me and Paul and everybody who has worked with you.
Thanks, Bill. There was an amazing team of Young Gun leaders over the years that did phenomenal things. I agree.
I’ll never forget that there are always some fun stuff going on in the office. One time, we were preparing for briefing a large contingent of clients coming out of Mumbai, India. We had a presentation that centered around the miracle on ice when the USA won the 1980 Hockey gold medal with college players against professionals from Russia. Their culture was a key reason that they won that contest. We were using some of those leadership principles to present our culture to these people from India. We had a hockey day at work. I remember coming out of a hallway and you’re coming the other way. You were on rollerblades with a big hockey jersey on your body carrying a hockey stick. You can skate and past me and I had the laugh. What motivated you to participate and go all-in on the culture and the culture days that we had?
All of the spirit days at Mustang were legendary, any chance we had to wear Astros’ gear, college hats, Hawaiian shirt, it was all a way to participate and acknowledge whatever we were celebrating or communicating. Everyone agrees that making memories is important. You don’t make memories unless special moments happen. Dressing up, having cake and food, giving away goodies, taking lots of pictures, playing silly games, all of those things help the team experience those moments of togetherness. Where there’s laughter, there’s stress relief. Where there’s casual conversation, there’s connection. Where there are ridiculous costumes, including rollerblades and a hockey stick, there’s an opportunity for humility.
It’s about not taking yourself so seriously. Communicating to other people, “This is a safe place. Have fun. Be yourself.” I absolutely looked forward to working at Mustang each day because you honestly never knew what was going to happen at work. One time Bill, you barged into a meeting with a giant five-foot-long pencil. It was ridiculous. You literally walked in the room and said, “This is what we use to sign the big contracts.” You walked out. It was so random but it made this great memory that day and it infused a little bit of energy into a bit evaluation meeting, which can get pretty stale.
I like to try and go down the halls, go into conference rooms and brighten people’s day by doing something funny. I got that pencil in a white elephant Christmas party. When I saw that pencil, I said, “I’ve got to have that thing.” I took it into signing a big contract to do all of Exxon’s automation work worldwide. I walked into this big pencil and we took a picture. I used the little pen to sign the contract. That picture, that’s a day that a client will remember now, that our project team will remember. You’re creating those memories and the differentiation. I ended up taking that pencil at home and I started marking my kids’ heights on it. I figured we’d be moving eventually. That way I could see how they had grown across time. Now, it’s a family tradition. We’re putting our grandkids on it. Every time they have a birthday, we get a picture with the parents, the grandparents, the kid, us marking on that pencil their height. We’re comparing them to how Greg and Stephanie were at that same age. They’d call it getting on the pencil. To me, Mustang changed lives. You talk about how it changed lives but it just didn’t do it at work. It traveled to the house. Here it even traveled to my house.
In 2016, you sent my partner, Paul and me a video, that you helped put together. I’ve talked about this a few times because it impressed me so much, but we had been gone for eight years by that point. In the video, people in various offices around the world were asked what it meant to be a Mustanger. A Mustanger is our moniker that we use for our people. These people were in Saudi Arabia, India, Kuala Lumpur, Norway, Colombia, South America and various offices in the US. In their own language, there are some dialects here in the US when you get down South. They said what it meant to them to be a Mustanger and below that were subtitles in English. It brought tears to my eyes to see the same words and phrases that we had been using since year four being used by people in other countries and other cultures being repeated many years later. A big chunk of time, after Paul and I left. Would you talk a little bit about how your team was able to take the culture from Houston, Texas to international offices?
Mustang did a phenomenal job of sending the right expats to start offices because we selected people who were not only top performers, but they also lived out our culture and values. Those people recruited folks with Mustang DNA in the local countries. Those offices always felt like Mustang. Our Mumbai office was a great example of this. Do you remember we sent Gail and Mike over there to lead the office? I don’t know if you got a chance to meet the guys that they recruited as discipline leads. They were local to Mumbai and they absolutely had a love for the blue horse and they embraced our people center culture. Those values of excellence, safety, teamwork and fun resonate everywhere. Leadership and culture are two sides of the same coin. We sent leaders to start offices who embodied the culture and it grew from there.
What we did is we grew leaders of character in Houston and then that became a cadre of people that we would send out to offices to replicate what we had and what we had developed in Houston. It’s like a step three in Culture Code Champion’s creating a repeatable process. We had a very repeatable process for building a strong team-oriented culture and market differentiated culture even when we went to international offices. I’d say we set Culture Code Champions out to recruit and develop more champions. What you’re saying shows that it can be done.
It happened in multiple continents and time zones.
One of the things that people ask me about all the time is, how were we able to get everyone to help us with giving back to the community? I’ve always felt that once there’s a positive culture that builds people up internally and with your clients and suppliers, it translates into a more productive team which leads to more work. More work then starts to give people the feeling of job security, which frees up their energy for them to engage better with their family when they go home and then eventually have that energy to give back to their community. Is that how you saw it developing and what were some of the big givebacks that resulted?
I do think knowing Mustang had a strong backlog. It definitely kept people’s feeling energized and feeling secure. We also felt blessed and grateful and out of that overflow, there was this desire to bless others. Mustang was giving back from the very beginning, it felt the natural thing to do. We called all of our community outreach efforts part of Mustang and it wasn’t a question of if you were going to serve or not. It was more a question of where and how you were going to serve. You could serve with Young Guns. You could join a Habitat For Humanity group. You could participate in fundraisers to collect money for the next unknown disaster. You could mentor at a middle school. There was literally always something happening. Half the time, it was happening through heart of Mustang and half the time it was happening organically.The world is better when we're putting others ahead of ourselves. Click To Tweet
I don’t know if you remember but there was a woman who started posting about collecting books for the military. She would send out an email blast and tell everyone a date and people would bring in used books to her cubicle. This became a regular thing. At Halloween, she would collect leftover candy to send to the troops as well. Mustang never officially endorsed or advertised or even to my knowledge, reimbursed her for any of her organizing or sending things off. It happened. She knew from the heart of Mustang activities that this was a part of our culture and she felt welcome and empowered to do her own thing. She brought her passion into an organization that was service-minded and cool things happen for years to serve our troops. These kinds of grassroots service projects happen all the time because the flywheel was getting continuous pushes.
The term Heart of Mustang, similar to Young Guns had its own logo, had its own mottoes. Again, it was another culture within a culture of people building that heart of Mustang and getting that flywheel going through or it was pulling a gun on its own inertia kept going. One of the things I’ll never forget, when we were starting to open offices worldwide, I got this from a number of people especially folks that had grown up in Texas and hadn’t been across the borders of Texas very much. They were concerned that our culture would not be translatable when we went international and we proved that wrong. The next question was whether or not we could take it to other companies. I’ve heard many stories about Mustangers taking the culture with them. What has your experience been since you’re now at RTI?
I could list off a dozen companies right now, Bill, where Mustangers are in leadership positions and they’re implementing a lot of what you’re talking about in Culture Code Champions. For me personally, I am a nut about hard-copy communication. We’re not only mailing out newsletters to homes, but we also send out a missions’ mailer 90 days after our new hire starts. It’s a smaller version of our missions’ poster which describes all the ways that we want to take care of families. We know what happens is new hires are bombarded at new hire orientation. Half of them, maybe less, forget to tell their spouse about all of the benefits. Getting something with our core behaviors, our mission statement and how we care for people into their mailboxes is something I’m committed to after experiencing that family touch at Mustang and seeing the effectiveness.
Another important aspect to me that I also see a lot of other leaders bringing with them to their current places of work is celebrating. Your second tenet is about building the team and celebration is such an important aspect of building teams. We keep such a crazy pace and if we don’t stop and celebrate goals, personally and professionally, the weeks run together. Celebration is also where you create those special moments that make memories. I’m also always recruiting top talent. I know you talk about that in Culture Code Champions. Even if we don’t have a posted job opening, I have a running list of names of people that I want to work with, whether I have anything on the horizon on my team or in my organization. I have that watch list of people with great character, people who are passionate, people who are intelligent and I could go on and on, especially about community service. Those are a few things that I’ll mention that have definitely come with me and I see that they’re traveling with others too.
When you talk, I can sit there and check off each of the seven steps for building a market differentiated culture and one that’s going to change lives that comes out of you. Since you’ve lived at it at Mustang, when you’d go to a new company, these are good leadership principles to implement where you are.
It’s culture 101. These are the steps.
You’ve seen the vision and steps for crafting an industry-changing culture. Do you have any final thoughts on the vision and drive behind Culture Code Champions?
Bill, I am excited for your book to come out. I know it’s going to be a huge encouragement to business leaders because that concept of making heroes that’s front and center in your book, that phrase resonates so deeply with me. I distinctly remember being in a meeting when your cofounder, Paul Redmond was explaining the phrase “Making heroes,” as a simplified version of Philippians 2. That’s the passage of the Bible that talks about lowering yourself, putting other’s needs ahead of your own. We all know because we’ve experienced that a healthy, vibrant culture always centers on servant leadership which is what making heroes is all about. I want to thank you, Bill, for being an amazing servant leader. Making sure others have what they need to succeed, giving others opportunities to shine, making sure your client is the hero of your story. I love and continue to use the phrase “Making heroes” because the world is better when we’re putting others ahead of ourselves. Thanks for sharing this concept with the world.
Thank you, Heather. Once we came up with making heroes, it gets people to think in other oriented manner, be more about somebody else, making them shine it. It will reflect back but you don’t have to worry about it. It happens. It has been a ton of fun talking to you. You’re definitely a champion in my eyes as you help to make heroes of those that you interact with. It’s all about making the world a better place. You’ve provided some great insight into creating a people-focused culture with open communication and how to productively engage Millennials and other younger generations that are coming up through the Young Guns Program. Heather, I plan to enshrine you in what we call our Culture Code Champions Hall Of Fame for Contribution. What would you want to be known and remembered for?
One of the best-handwritten notes anyone ever left for me was a little post-it note in my chair and it said, “Your Jesus is showing.” Honestly, Bill, that’s what I hope I’m remembered, for my passion for Jesus. The reason Mustang was such a great fit for me and also allowed me so many opportunities for growth was that the values of Mustang and the basis of our culture were perfectly aligned with my own values that were rooted in my faith. I hope people remember that I love Jesus more than anyone or anything. I hope it shows in my work product and in the way that I work with people.
Thank you for that, Heather. There’s no doubt that that love does shine out of you and we will enshrine you for that. The Founders, Paul, Felix and I, believe in prayer and living Judeo-Christian values every day as an overarching habit structure for servant leaders. You provided some gold nuggets to help our audiences put the Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed In Your Business to work. I want them to remember that they have to assign a champion to each step, and you’ve hit a number of them, in order to develop it into a habit for long-term culture success like you’ve had both at Mustang and now at RTI. Your testimony is proof-positive that these habits work. This has been a fantastic time visiting with you, Heather Broeder, Vice President of Communications & Missions at Refined Technologies, Inc. Heather, we wish you the best and continued success in engaging your worldwide workforce. Until our next episode, I want you to get out there, make heroes of everyone you come in contact with and remember to make your culture count.
- Refined Technologies, Inc.
- Habitat For Humanity
- Culture Code Champions: 7 Steps to Scale & Succeed In Your Business