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Athlete-turned-CEO wins Rainmaker race

Jill Evanko has been a tough competitor since her college days. Now she is an award winner

The CEO of energy and industrial gases supplier Chart Industries, Jill Evanko, is 2020’s Rainmaker in ExxonMobil’s Power Play awards. The category recognises a female professional who has delivered exceptional value and business results.

Evanko joined Chart in February 2017, initially as CFO before stepping up to the top role in June 2018. She has held previous positions in firms as diverse as Truck-Lite Co., Dover Corporation, Arthur Andersen, Honeywell and Sony Corporation of America.

Congratulations on your award. What do you think makes you a ‘rainmaker’?

Evanko: I think my dedication to the clean energy revolution and my commitment to diversity play big parts. And I look forward to continuing to share my passion for LNG and other clean energy applications, not only within the industry, but also beyond to those interested in learning about it.

Motivating others to accelerate inclusion, support diverse views and continue to innovate are critical to the future of LNG. While honoured to receive such a prestigious award, I believe there are many rainmakers in the industry who are equally as deserving of this acknowledgement.

Motivating others to accelerate inclusion, support diverse views and continue to innovate are critical to the future of LNG

It has been a privilege to be able to get to know my fellow (pun intended!) finalists for the award—Stephanie [Sirt, of Honeywell], Lisa [Glatch, of Sempra] and Dr. Li [Li, of Zhejiang Energy Group]—all of whom have contributed so much value to the field and inspired others along the way. These women, as well as this Power Play recognition, give me an even greater sense of responsibility to push LNG and cleaner energy forward while promoting diversity in the workplace.

To me, being a rainmaker is more than just being recognised for delivering business results, it is about how I continue to innovate and push our company, team members and industry forward while urging others to do the same.

Unlike many in this industry, you are not a ‘lifer’, you came into oil and gas from a very varied career. What attracted you to moving into the sector, and did you have any reservations?

Evanko: While I did not begin my career in oil and gas, I have spent nearly my entire career in industrial manufacturing businesses. This is how I think about the industry: all aspects of any fuel require equipment and process around it.

So, for me, it is a natural place to be in a manufacturing company that serves a wide set of applications, ranging from industrial gases to traditional oil to LNG. Our equipment’s end-users have been extremely welcoming to me as a supplier, but more importantly, as a partner.

There may at times be a perception that the oil and gas environment, even as it evolves through the transition to a cleaner energy destination, is male-dominated and an ‘old boys club’.

But I can attest to the fact that all the men and women in this industry have been nothing but supportive and collaborative, and are working to make the world a better place.

Being a rainmaker is more than just being recognised for delivering business results, it is about how I continue to innovate and push our company, team members and industry forward while urging others to do the same

For the past few years, we have all heard the words ‘environmental sustainability’ thrown around. As time progresses, those words are making their way into every industry around the world. Companies are increasingly trying to set sustainability goals and environment, social and governance (ESG) targets.

Companies set these standards for themselves to fit into the larger global trend of environmental sustainability, to keep up with their peers, or to comply with national or supranational regulations. Having these linkages between ESG, manufacturing, oil and gas, the transition to cleaner fuels and collaboration make it an exciting time to be involved in the value chain.

I have had no reservations about being in this industry. It is an honour and privilege to lead a more traditional manufacturing company into and through a strategic transformation over the past two years.

The oil and gas sector has undoubtedly experienced challenges, and opposition, owing to a growing emphasis on global warming and carbon emissions. Even today, the global pandemic has put immense stress on the oil and gas majors.

During this time, I have seen companies take one of two approaches:

  • Stick to a strategy that has worked in the past, or
  • Shift to faster innovation, first of a kind of opportunities and ways to make cleaner options such as LNG more cost-competitive and scalable.

Here at Chart, we are accelerating the latter. This revolution is not being determined by companies and individuals, but by society as a whole. So, while I knew this shift was bound to be difficult, I knew it would be exciting.

Do you think that your previous experiences give you a different perspective compared to those that have always worked in oil and gas?

Evanko: Again, I view this question less about the industry itself, as I have mentioned, but more about the diversity of my leadership experiences. My background and prior experiences included business management, operational roles, acquisition integrations and CFO positions. These experiences have allowed me to see various aspects of the business in a way I may not have been able to see them otherwise.

My background has allowed me to see the industry through a different lens than someone who has spent more time in a single function. I feel that I can look at the bigger picture for both my company and the industry, and I am always looking for unique growth levers that will facilitate our push into the clean energy revolution.

I am motivated to succeed in the industry in order to try to inspire other women to wholeheartedly believe that they can do the same

Also, in college, I was a Division I athlete—which taught me how to operate in a team. I learned how to inspire, motivate and persuade others to adopt a certain belief system and to work hard to achieve a desired result, and how to be resilient in my choices and decisions and refuse to back down from any challenge with which I am faced.

Finally, while female leaders in this field are still relatively scarce, I am motivated to succeed in the industry in order to try to inspire other women to wholeheartedly believe that they can do the same. I am thankful that my unique background has helped me excel in such a complex industry.

Most importantly, it is about having really smart and innovative people around me with diverse experience. I am by no means an expert in everything—or anything for that matter!—so it is my belief that taking the time to listen to everyone around me and hear their perspectives is the best way to make thoughtful strategic decisions.

How does the diversity of the oil and gas—and LNG in particular—industry measure up compared to other sectors you have experienced?

Evanko: The LNG industry is something that is constantly changing and continually being built upon—whether it be small-scale infrastructure such as fuelling stations, regasification terminals, over the road trucking, rail, or marine; or ‘big LNG’ where operators have dedicated their businesses to large-scale production and delivery.

And there remain possibilities for further improvements and wider use cases in the future. While innovation exists in other sectors, the level and intensity of innovation in the oil and gas industry is accelerating—even faster, in my opinion, since Covid-19 and a heightened global awareness of health, safety and sustainability.

That acceleration is happening because of the diversity of views around how to problem-solve in areas around efficiency, AI, process, production, and equipment safety. In a nutshell, while on the surface oil and gas may historically have appeared ‘behind’ in diversity, its innovation acceleration is also accelerating diversity alongside it.

Compared to other industries, it may be playing a bit of catch-up, but it is catching up! And platforms such as the Power Play awards—particularly supported by a great company like ExxonMobil—bring more visibility, attention and, frankly, attraction and awareness to people that otherwise might not find the space appealing or worth taking a deeper look at for their own careers.

What advantages will greater diversity bring to the industry as whole, and how will initiatives such as Power Play help?

Evanko: Greater diversity in LNG will allow for a more mutually supportive and collaborative environment. When you put diverse individuals together, you receive various perspectives and ideas that can benefit your business.

Individuals of different cultures, genders and ethnicities all tend to contribute differentiated, valuable opinions. This variety of personalities helps create a strong foundation within a business, which can continually increase creativity and productivity. When a company is full of like-minded individuals, it tends to lack innovation and fresh ideas.

While the LNG industry is at a critical point and is quickly evolving, we need fresh ideas to facilitate a robust energy transition and better position ourselves for the future. Initiatives such as Power Play have created a platform for industry leaders to connect, empower one another and share ideas. In a constantly evolving world, it is important to have such initiatives that allow for a more effective means of communication and support.

While things are changing, a female CEO is still a relative rarity in the sector. How important is it to attracting and retaining diverse talent to have success stories that have made it all the way to the top?

Evanko: I think that hearing the stories of other women in this industry who have seen success is encouraging. It invokes a sense of pride and motivates women to take an active, rather than passive, stance in the energy revolution.

While the LNG industry remains a largely male-dominated sector, there is a certain level of self-confidence that women must have in order to succeed in this industry. I think that initiating change is all about eliminating the preconceived notion that engineering, oil and gas, and energy companies need to be comprised mainly of men.

Individuals of different cultures, genders and ethnicities all tend to contribute differentiated, valuable opinions. This variety of personalities helps create a strong foundation within a business, which can continually increase creativity and productivity

Increased exposure is the key to creating change and breaking stereotypes. If young women believe at a young age that they can achieve success in the sector, then they will achieve success. I hope that the Power Play awards and other such initiatives shine a light on the important role that women play in the industry and encourage women to believe in themselves.

Inspiring and encouraging each other is the first step to experiencing change and seeing more diversity in the workplace. I hope that, as the Power Play awards continue to take place annually, more women are inspired to share their ideas and contribute to the clean energy revolution taking place.

I also met so many neat people through the Power Play process and events—men and women! I was thrilled with the diversity of attendees at the virtual networking events and found the entire Power Play Award process to be extremely well thought-out and extremely well executed.

The number of new connections I made through the initiative is exceptional. And I would encourage anyone that is interested in making a new connection to reach out to me directly at jill.evanko@chartindustries.com. I love to hear from people that have different experiences than me, and it is a personal goal of mine that I respond to everyone who reaches out.

How excited are you about the future of LNG as the energy mix evolves?  

Evanko: I am very excited for the future of LNG, as well as the future of clean energy as a whole. LNG is cost-competitive and at a point where the global infrastructure is mature enough to be built upon and have it be a scalable solution.

And LNG has set the precedent for other lower-carbon solutions, including renewables. We are going to see a hybrid of clean energy solutions as we move through the coming decades.

The bottom line is that LNG is here and now, and can be a solution for the 100+ countries that have set a climate or carbon reduction goal for 2050 or sooner. I am excited to continue to dive head-first into the clean energy revolution that is taking place around us.

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