Mike Howard Knows…
An Essential Business in the COVID-19 Era. “We are an essential business. Since we are providing low-cost abundant hydrocarbons to our customers, downstream and upstream, we are an essential business. We’re the business that powers every other business. Without hydrocarbons other businesses don’t operate, so we were designated essential.”
It was mid-June, and I had just asked Mike Howard, the co-founder and CEO of Howard Energy Partners (HEP) to talk about the kinds of impacts his company experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the country and the world this year. It’s a subject that has been a central focus of senior executives everywhere: How do we continue doing our business while at the same time making sure our workplaces are safe and our employees are protected?
In response to the crisis, Howard first defined his company’s key goals and priorities and then put a plan into place focused on making sure the actions undertaken thereafter were designed to achieve them. It’s a process he has repeated throughout his adult life.
One of the first actions Howard took was to create an internal COVID-19 task force that is responsible for monitoring the status of the pandemic, government advisories and mandates, and creating plans of action to not only ensure full compliance, but to go the extra mile to protect the health and safety of HEP’s employees, contractors and customers. He told us during an interview on In The Oil Patch Radio Show a few weeks later that the task force still meets twice-weekly to ensure the company continues to meet these goals.
HEP operates in four states and in Mexico, and every one of those jurisdictions has created its own sets of guidelines and mitigation requirements related to the coronavirus. So, keeping an up-to-date handle on all of those various moving targets has been a challenge, as has ensuring that the company is living up to the high standards Howard demands.
Another complicating factor for HEP was the fact that most of its employees work in the field doing jobs that cannot be done from home. “Our field employees didn’t have that option,” Howard told us. “They had to come to work every day.”
But there was also a bright side to that reality, which was the fact that, as Howard said, “they’re by nature socially distant” due to the outdoor nature of their work. “So, about two-thirds of our employees have never stopped coming to work—they’ve been coming to work every day.”
Like so many other companies, though, HEP has had its office employees working from home even though that has not necessarily been a requirement. But the company didn’t just send out a memo one day telling them to stay at home – it went the extra mile to ensure they’ve been able to remain productive. “We implemented a work from home policy, even though we didn’t have to, because people just worried about this. We set everybody up with computers, monitors, iPads, whatever could facilitate their job, and we’ve been 100% work from home since March.
“Now, we are starting to slowly migrate back into the office. We’re monitoring the different numbers from the city, county, state, and national levels, monitoring all the guidelines, but we’re starting to practice coming back into the office here slowly but surely.”
The results of all the planning and execution have been rewarding. “I’m really proud of the employees. We made that transition very quickly in the middle of a week, and we did not miss a lick. Our customers have not seen a blip in run time. We have flowed all of our contracted gas and oil and natural gas liquids. Our natural gas plants have been running. We’ve handled all these situations.
“And thank goodness we haven’t had a positive case at Howard Energy yet. Even though we’re in Mexico, the U.S, and in four different states, we’ve not had a positive case, thank God. We’ve had scares, but we feel very, very blessed right now. We can’t just assume we’re going to stay that way, but right now we feel very blessed.”
Shortly after this interview, HEP had its first positive case. All procedures were followed, and they continue to closely monitor all employees.
Growing up in Small-Town Texas
Mike Howard is a small-town Texas boy. Born in what he called “that little regional hospital on highway 59” in Beeville, he is one of three children raised in the tiny town of Agua Dulce by his mother and father, who was an Ag teacher at Agua Dulce High School.
He remembers that childhood fondly. “So, you know, it was growing up on a teacher’s salary. We had everything we needed—we weren’t destitute by any means—but what it really taught me early on is nothing’s going to be given to me, and I have to work for everything that I do. So, it really provided the foundation for the more you work, the more money you make, the different life you can have if you choose to do it, and it really gave me that solid work ethic.”
It was an ethic that started to pay off at a very young age. “For example, when I was 13 years old, I went and got my tractor driving certification so that I could drive a tractor during the summertime. Even though I knew how to drive a tractor, nobody would hire me to do it if they didn’t think I was certified or good.”
With his tractor certification in hand, Howard went to work for a local farmer during the summer between his 8th grade and freshman year in high school. While that was hard and hot work out in the summer South Texas sun, he quickly discovered that doing such work while his buddies were off swimming or fishing or playing baseball had its own rewards.
“I was making money,” he said with a chuckle. “I could afford Nikes. They’re running around in Chuck Taylor’s, and I was wearing Nikes because I worked. So, that was a big lesson to me growing up in a small town. There are many other small-town values that you get, and I think they are really important, but from a work ethic standpoint, I think that is probably one of the biggest things that I was able to get out of that foundation.”
Not that all of that hard work prevented him from being a part of his school’s extracurricular activities: In a small town like Agua Dulce, many kids like Mike Howard develop a high degree of versatility out of necessity. “Being a 1A high school, I graduated with 28 people,” he laughs, “So you can imagine on the football team you played offense and defense and kickoff and kickoff return and punt and punt return. Once you got on the field, you didn’t get off in a small school.
“So, we played football, played a lot of basketball, and then ran track to get ready for football again,” he continued. “Then in the summer times, we were out working in the fields doing manual labor. And that was really an exercise of learning how to work in the heat to get ready for football two-a-days that would kick off in August.”
Howard also had the experience that thousands of small-town kids all over the country have experienced: Many of the football players didn’t even manage to get off the field during halftime. “Since we were a small school, to get enough people to play in the band at half time, some of us would take our shoulder pads off, strap our drums on or pick up our musical instrument and go out and march at halftime with our football uniform on. Then when the performance was over with, we’d strap our helmet back on and our shoulder pads, and go back to playing football.”
He paused to laugh again before finishing by saying, “Small town life.” Absolutely. Nothing like it.
College: A Gateway to Future Success
The work ethic and high degree of versatility Mike Howard developed during his early life have characterized his adult life as well as has his goal-oriented outlook on life. His small-town values and learnings followed him into college life at Texas A&M Kingsville, where he put himself through college in just over four years by taking heavy loads in the spring and fall semesters while continuing to work part-time while in school and full-time during the summers.
He managed to do all of that while also commuting the 23 miles back and forth between the two towns.
“I didn’t have your standard college experience,” he said in an understatement. “I worked. I put myself through college. So, I worked 20 hours a week at different jobs, and I went to school and averaged 18-21 hours a semester. That way, I could take my summers off and work, and make enough money to come back to school and pay for my college and my living.”
Howard wasn’t just majoring in basket weaving or some other throwaway field of study. He had decided he wanted to be a chemical engineer and work in the oil and gas business. In our interview, we talked about one interesting aspect of Agua Dulce, which is that it has long been a major South Texas trading hub for natural gas, due to its being a crossroads for a number of major pipeline systems.
But as Howard noted, it is an aspect of the town that even many of the people who live there never become aware of. “What’s funny is that if you’re in the natural gas business you’ve heard of Agua Dulce,” he said. “You couldn’t point to it on a map, but you’ve heard of it, and you know that natural gas trades around it. It’s been a hub for many, many years. But what’s interesting is when you’re from Agua Dulce, you probably don’t know that. You don’t know there’s a natural gas hub right outside of town. You know where Highway 70 and Highway 665 cross, but you wouldn’t know that there’s a hub because everything is buried underneath the earth. You don’t see that a large trading hub is right there.”
But Mike Howard knew it, and his early understanding of his surroundings helped to create a budding interest in the business. And that interest, in turn, made him anxious to get through college so he could start a career. “My memory of college—and gosh, you know, Kingsville doesn’t have a lot of social activities,” he told us, laughing. “But as a farmhand, I was making $6/hour driving tractors, and my first engineering internship I made $13 an hour, and I thought I was rich! And I said ‘I’ve got to get this engineering degree.’”
Thus, while so many of his fellow students focused on drinking beer, social life and personal fulfillment in their college life, Howard was focused on taking advantage of what he viewed as a means to an end. “I was in engineering clubs and that sort of thing, but I remember college to be a gateway to opportunity. I wasn’t concerned with things like fulfillment and higher purpose like I am today. Back then it was about “what can I do to dig myself out of this life of being a farmhand?”
His focus on that overarching goal in fact led to Howard’s choice of a major. “I knew that if I graduated as a chemical engineer that would get me the highest salary of any degree I could get from Texas A&I (later called Texas A&M), that was the highest salary I could get, that quite honestly is what I was going for at that time — getting an advanced degree to do something else with my life. My college experience was very focused, and I graduated in four years and one semester.”
Moving Into a Career
As it happened, that first internship during college — with a company called Union Pacific Resources — led to Howard’s first job in the industry following his graduation.
“Union Pacific Resources had an oil field right there in Agua Dulce called the Stratton Field, and they had a natural gas processing plant sitting on top of that Stratton Field that I went and worked in as an intern,” he told us. “I was kind of a roustabout. I wasn’t doing engineering work, I was just doing whatever needed to be done. And it was great because I was able to start getting experience around pipes, and processes, and hydrocarbons, that sort of thing. I worked there 20 hours a week, and then when I’d got to school, I was able to apply some of the principles some of the textbooks were giving me to the real-world application of what was going on in the field.”
Obviously, leadership at UPR at the time was impressed with what they had seen in their young intern. “So, they offered me a full-time job. And it was really a benefit and a blessing because during my first 5 years, I moved into their Austin Chalk Play in East Texas, where they were doing horizontal drilling for rich natural gas. During that time, we built five brand new cryogenic gas plants from the ground up. That gave me a lot of experience in high-performance teamwork. We were hiring people, training them on these plants, all the way from construction to start-up operations to all the hassle it takes to start a facility up in the field, while being with an oil and gas company that was very aggressive for that time period.
“And being an operations guy—being in the field, turning valves, working nights, holidays and weekends—we worked seven days a week many times, to the point at which it just felt normal to do that. When you start your career like that you learn to have respect for your co-workers, you learn to be able to communicate with people who are working in the field. At the same time, I was giving presentations to executives, learning all of the safety regulations, government regulations, engineering codes—you really get a lot of experience. I really attribute my future success again to a strong foundation of the fundamentals of the midstream business, and it really came from that first job.”
Mike Howard’s performance in that first job quickly convinced the company to put him into leadership roles. At the age of 26, Howard suddenly found himself managing a staff of over 100 employees. He chuckles at that memory, ruefully pointing out that “I was actually my youngest employee.”
But in the business world, those with true leadership skills tend to stand out from the crowd regardless of age; thus, management decided to put Howard in charge of managing the same natural gas processing plant and gathering system at which he had interned during college. Being the young guy atop an organizational chart filled with experienced employees, some of whom had been with the company and in the industry for more than 20 years.
“I was familiar with a lot of those employees, of course,” Howard said. “You learn very quickly management skills to inspire others to get to a goal that you can only achieve with their skills and talents. You have to convince them that that’s the thing to do. I learned very early on to tell people ‘I don’t know what you know. I don’t know as much as you know. You have 20 years of experience — you might even have more years’ experience than I have years of life. But I need your help here. I’ll make sure the company gives you the tools, but we need to accomplish this task.’ That was another real foundational building block for me.”
From there, Howard continued to move up in management at UPR and its successor company, DCP Midstream. But as DCP continued to grow, the layers of internal bureaucracy kept multiplying, a very common phenomenon in the corporate world. But spending more and more time trying to navigate through those layers of bureaucracy means that managers end up spending less and less time focused on the real work of the company. Not surprisingly, an action-oriented guy like Mike Howard grew weary of that.
“I really started feeling that there was more bureaucracy than I could really take, to be honest with you,” he told us. “I wanted to work for a smaller company that was more nimble—more of how I felt early on in my career. So, I left that big company and went to a smaller company called Crosstex Energy. What’s interesting is that Crosstex Energy at the time I went to work for them was probably about the size of Howard Energy today. So, I was elevated to vice president, and I left the field and left steel toe boots and blue jeans and went to work in Crosstex’s Dallas office. That was a big shift going from the field to an office every day.”
Setting Your Principles and Then Living Them
But just a year and a half after going to work for Crosstex, an even bigger opportunity came Howard’s way, this time from Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer. Howard calls that job “transformational.”
“That would’ve been 2005, so I was probably 31 or 32 years old,” Howard told us, “and I said, ‘You know Kelcy, I only have this much experience doing this.’ And he said ‘No, I believe you can do it. I did it, I believe you can do it.’ So, he offered me the Chief Operating Officer job at a very young age.
“I had that job for five and a half years, and we accomplished such big things. We did over $7 billion in organic projects. We laid the first 42-inch-high pressure natural gas pipeline in the state of Texas, which was such a big deal. Now, you hear about 42-inch pipelines in the country all the time, but in 2005, that was the first one. Then to do $7 billion in projects—Howard Energy has not done $7 billion in 9 years of our existence. I had 1200 employees, I think, when I left there. What a big job.”
Indeed it was, but it was a big job that took a toll on Howard, and by 2010, he had hit the wall. “I was worn out,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t focus on putting enough tools in my toolbox to deal with the stress of running at that pace, and I didn’t know what help to look for. I ended up burning out, and leaving that job with no game plan to do anything else.”
Upon leaving Energy Transfer, Howard spent several months working with an executive coach and trying to figure out what to do next. Not that he was without opportunities — they kept coming to him whether he wanted them to or not.
“I was getting offered CEO jobs, I was getting offered moves to different cities, I was getting offered private equity — ‘here’s $500 million of commitment, go build a team, and go start a company,’” he told us. “What I couldn’t get comfortable with is that every single one of those opportunities was somebody else’s idea, somebody else’s opportunity, and they didn’t all meet my guiding principles.”
Howard had developed his own set of personal guiding principles at the suggestion of his executive coach. “I had a lack of fulfillment,” he said. “I mean, yes, I had name notoriety, I was making more money than I thought I’d ever make, I had everything going for me, but I’m like ‘something is happening here where I’m just not happy, I’m just really unsatisfied.’
“He made me write down some guiding principles. Basically, I’d call it an exercise in creating your values. And I realized that I wanted to work for a meaningful endeavor. It didn’t have to be a big company, it didn’t have to be oil and gas — I just wanted it to be meaningful, whatever we were doing.
“I wanted to have ownership in the company. I noticed that people who had second homes or vacation homes and took big vacations had a paycheck, but entrepreneurs and those that had ownership in the company had ranches and had a little more freedom in their schedule. I didn’t want to work around people I didn’t want to be around. I wanted to choose who I’m around. I didn’t want to work around jerks. I wanted to stay in San Antonio. That’s very important.”
He laughs. “I have avoided Houston my entire career, and that’s hard to do in energy. So, I avoided Houston. I thought ‘Man, if I could make a living in San Antonio, how cool would that be?’ Because I love this town. It feels like a small town like I’m from, but it has all the amenities of a big city. So, I wanted to stay in San Antonio: That was very important to me.”
Set now with his guiding principles in place, Howard spent the next several months working his contacts and evaluating opportunities. By the middle of 2011, he had all the pieces put together: Two major equity investors, a business partner to help guide him through the ins and outs and paper filings involved in forming his own business, and a set of initial assets ready to be acquired to start the new business. From all of that planning and networking, Howard Energy Partners was born.
“The original idea was to make this a fully integrated total solutions company that could design, engineer, and construct a midstream asset and then own and operate it,” he told us. “We bought a construction company and a pipeline company. They were both very small at the time, and then within 18 months of buying them, we grew from 350 construction employees to over 1,000 construction employees. It was wildly successful, except for the fact that the pipeline business only had 13 people, and we made the same amount of money with just those 13 people.
“That’s when I decided ‘Ok, you’ve never been in construction, you tried it. It’s been fine,” he laughs. “We sold the construction company, we took that money, and we put it all into pipelines and gas plants and midstream infrastructure, and we’ve never looked back. We decided we’re not going to be a construction company anymore, and we shifted the fully integrated idea of the original Howard Energy to just being a diversified midstream company. We’re going to own assets in different regions. We’re going to own different kinds of assets from pipelines, to plants, to storage. And we’re not going to go back to working construction again. That’s how Howard Energy got started, and how the first year or two of the company went.”
Building a Strategic Business
One of several strategic decisions Howard made early on was to focus on building and acquiring assets that would take advantage of the nascent shale boom taking place in the United States. In 2011, the Eagle Ford Shale just to San Antonio’s south was in full boom, and Howard jumped on that opportunity with both feet. As things developed, he also leveraged his presence and knowledge of South Texas to become the first company to build a pipeline from the U.S. into Central Mexico.
“We were very fortunate in 2010 when I left Energy Transfer the Eagle Ford Shale was really just kicking off,” he told us, “and I knew South Texas. I had operated all those pipes and gas plants in South Texas with DCP Midstream, so I knew South Texas. With our first acquisition being right on the western end of the shale play on the border with Mexico, you have a country down there with 128 million people that are starting to shift away from their traditional energy sources to new energy sources. So not burning wood and tires and fuel oil, they’re actually starting to burn natural gas for power generation.
“Second, they’ve been drilling for oil and gas in South Texas for 100 years plus, they’ve been finding new reserves in South Texas for 100 years plus, and I think they’ll be finding more reserves and drilling in South Texas for the next hundred years. And in South Texas, there’s multiple levels of play. They can drill oil sometimes, they can drill lean gas sometimes, they can drill rich gas sometimes. And then you have this big shift in Mexico switching to natural gas, it’s the perfect place to be in business. So that was a big strategy of ours.”
Another shale play that was in full boom times in 2011 was the gas-rich Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Howard acquired three different midstream systems in that region as well during 2015.
“What do you have there? You have a big demand-pull there with Chicago, New York, with all the Northeast that uses a tremendous amount of natural gas. And then you have a play there that has just a tremendous amount of natural gas. They’ve been drilling there for over a hundred years, and they’ve learned now a new technique, and they’re going to be drilling there another hundred years. So, that area hit our strategy of diversification first of all, not only in terms of customers, but product as well, because the Marcellus produces a lean natural gas, wherein South Texas it’s oil, and a rich natural gas.”
Over the past decade, everyone in the oil and gas business has looked for opportunities to get into the Permian Basin of West Texas and Southeast New Mexico, and Howard was no exception. “Then you look at our Permian Play is the same set of factors: They’ve been drilling there for a very long time, and there is a huge need for that oil in West Texas and we believe they’re going to be drilling there for a long time.”
Ultimately, one of the other major factors Howard looks for in assets is longevity — he and his company are in this for the long haul. “The way our capital structure works is we are long term,” he said, “We have no intention of selling, we don’t have an exit strategy, so being in these areas for the long-term is very much our strategy. It’s been very deliberate in how we’ve been executing that strategy for the last nine years.”
One big way Mike Howard has diversified has been the acquisition and building of multi-modal port and hub facilities. The company operates four such facilities in Texas alone: in Three Rivers and at the Gulf of Mexico ports of Port Arthur, Brownsville and Corpus Christi.
We started our discussion about those facilities by noting that rail plays a big role at all of them.
“The rail is important,” he told us. “What it does is it facilitates the transfer of product into and out of our pipeline systems or our storage systems. So, while we don’t carry any of the product on the rail, our customers do.
“The rail is used by our customers just like a pipeline into a facility is used by the customers, so we have to provide that kind of transportation. For example: in Port Arthur, it is the way that we get product into and out of that area mostly for diesel and gasoline going to Mexico. Mexico has a tremendous amount of rail cars, and that’s how they get a lot of their product into their country.
“Same way with Corpus Christi. We bring diesel in by barge or by pipeline, and then we transfer it onto a rail to go into Mexico.
“Then in Brownsville, we have a couple things going on. We have lube oils and waxes being imported through our facility and being exported through truck and rail. Then you have fuel oil, these oil refineries in Mexico produce fuel oil that they have no use for in Mexico. So, they actually import it into the U.S., and we bring it in by rail, and then we put that on a ship. So, having rail really helps our midstream business at each of these facilities, because it helps our customers do what they want to do with their product.”
At its Port Arthur facility, Howard plays a significant and innovative role in facilitating the ability of refineries to manufacture all of the winter blend and summer-blend gasoline mixes that are mandated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.
Howard became animated when we asked about that facet of his business. “We did a really unique deal with Total, the national oil company of France,” he said. “They chose us as their North American partner to build a really world-class facility. What’s unique about it is we can custom blend whatever they want to blend directly onto the ship. So, we have different components in these tanks, and we actually pump it onto the ship, and blend it as we’re pumping which is very unique. A lot of people blend in their tanks in their facilities, and they wanted the capability to do it differently because they want to be able to meet the needs of whatever customer they’re trying to satisfy.
“So, they contracted with us, and we built a really cool facility for them to be able to export different custom blend gasolines on the ships. And again, we’re the company that holds the products in the tanks. We don’t actually own the product. We’re doing the work for them to transfer, blend, mix the product, but they own the ships and the transportation.
“It’s absolutely a world-class facility. We studied one of their facilities in Europe to get our design, so it’s a really cool place.”
Living Your Principles With Home and Family
For Mike Howard, the small-town values he learned while growing up in Agua Dulce, as well as the personal guiding principles he developed with his executive coach, include the fact that, while career is important, home and family come first. When asked about that, he reflected on advice he gives to those who come to him looking for guidance in their own lives.
“As I coach people who come to me for advice, the first thing I tell them is to create your values, and make sure your calendar lines up with your values,” he said. “You can’t tell me that you love your wife and family, love exercise and love hunting, and then you go to your calendar and there’s nothing scheduled on your calendar for those events, you just fit those in where you can because work takes up so much.
“I’m of the strong opinion that if your values include your family and your health, which if you’re going to be successful both of those need to be in there, and time for friends, and time for travel, and time for work, it needs to be scheduled, and you live with that schedule. I always ask people “what are your values?” and then “show me your calendar” and so whatever you tell me your values are, I’ll double-check you to see what your calendar shows that you’re doing.”
In his own family life, Howard positively glows when talking about his own wife. “Man, I have the best partner, Meredith; she’s such a perfect partner for me. She’s full of joy and happiness, and she’s a business owner, too. So, she and I work to balance the busy life that we have, being able to keep people employed and run successful businesses and have successful children.
“We have three children, ages 4, 7, and 17. So they’re all at different times in their life. Here recently we’ve been getting one her driver’s license and one, teaching her how to use the bathroom by herself, you know. So, it’s a pretty broad range of activities around our house, but it’s so much fun.
“Meredith is a great partner for me, since I’m the one who tends to be more of the business, serious, engineer, logical thinking. She’s the one who brings the fun and joy, thank God. Between us, we make a really good partnership.
“We love to travel. We have taken the kids anywhere from Mexico City, to Vancouver, Canada, to this past summer we went to South Africa on a hunting safari. It’s really important for us to know that we’re from Texas, and we think this is the center of the world, but that there is a big world out there, and we’re not really the center of it.
“We’ve worked really hard to organize ourselves so that we can communicate our work and family schedules. One tool we put in place probably two to three years ago now, that has like just made our relationship go to a different level is, we put a really large calendar in our joint bathroom, and that calendar is front and center, so we know exactly where each other are going to be, where our children are going to be, what our next 6 months looks like, we can track each year what we’re doing, and that has been a huge game-changer to us.
“Our calendars match our values, our calendars match our activities, and so there’s never a question of what’s coming up. Where before we were just kind of conversational about it, and it didn’t work really well. It’s really been fun to pay that particular tool forward to others.
Mike Howard is also a hunter, and I asked him what particular kind of hunting is his favorite. It turned out that he has a hard time doing that.
“Man, that’s a hard question, because I really enjoy being out in nature with a gun in my hand. Starting at dove season, when doves start in September through quail season through whitetail deer season, I enjoy all of it. Then as you go down the big game path, I’ve been down to Africa I think seven different occasions, different countries in Africa. I’ve been to Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania hunting big game, I really enjoy that too.
“What I’ve really become more focused on and passionate about is the preservation of wildlife through big game hunting. It’s the best conservation tool because it’s actually providing a job; it’s giving value to the animals. Therefore the local population in Africa want to keep them, and they regulate them—it’s a very highly regulated industry. I’ve really enjoyed learning about that. I usually take a videographer with me when I go to document the area that I’m hunting in, because so many areas are getting so overpopulated by locals, and they just decimate the wildlife through poaching. So I’m documenting quite a few of the areas so I can go back and show my children and grandchildren and say ‘Look, here is what the Okavango Delta in Botswana looked like in 2011, here’s what Tanzania looked like in 2017.’ So, I’m really interested in that conservation aspect of hunting.”
What about golf? We asked if he is a scratch golfer or is it just something he enjoys for recreation. As it happens, the other aspects of his life have taken priority over the game.
“As our younger children are getting to that really busy age, I have found that golfing is taking a backseat to everybody. So, I golf in order to conduct business probably six times a year, and that’s about it.”
Howard and his wife Meredith are involved in so many community activities that we asked him to give us the details on just one. Without hesitation, he chose his association with one of San Antonio’s cultural jewels, the Witte Museum.
“Currently, just this red hot second, it’s the Witte Museum,” he said. “It’s really a neat museum. It’s kind of our natural history museum and kind of a history of South Texas museum. So, it’s a really cool place. Meredith and I are the chairpersons for the 50th anniversary Witte Game Dinner. What’s really cool about that is that is the primary money-raising event for the Witte operation. One hundred and fifty thousand school kids go through there a year, and this COVID-19 pandemic has really put a dent in their operating funds.
“So, this was supposed to be a layup year—‘Oh yeah, you’re the 50th chair, it sells out every year, 1,200 people can come sit in there, do a big auction and all that.’ Well, we’ve been turned on our head now, and that’s obviously not going to happen. And what’s interesting is when Mrs. [Ellen Schulz] Quillin started the Witte, she was going through the Great Depression back in 1934 before the game dinner was created—this was when the Witte was just getting off. She and four curators moved into the museum to try to keep it alive, and she would buy rattlesnakes from ranchers coming up from South Texas for 10¢. She’d skin them and fry them and sell them back to them as food for 25¢. Through that kind of activity, she kept the Witte alive during a really bad time in Texas history.
“So, we’re kind of thinking about a similar type deal for this year’s game dinner. It’s going to be getting back to those roots of South Texas history because we believe the Witte needs to be a San Antonio institution, a South Texas institution. So, we’re really having to get creative to create an event to raise enough money to keep the Witte going. So, that’s a big focus right now of ours.”
The Howards and Howard Energy are involved with and supportive of many of San Antonio’s institutions and community endeavors, from the San Antonio Zoo to Texas BioMed to the United Way. From a personal standpoint, Mike Howard also works to give back to his alma mater in Kingsville.
“I’m really passionate about giving back to A&M Kingsville, because through my internship, through my degree, my gateway from a South Texas great foundation to what I have today, was through that university. I am on the board of trustees for the Texas A&M Kingsville foundation. We have an endowment there that we take care of—it’s about $100 million. So, whatever I can do to help more South Texas kids get their education—it’s a great way to become more economically mobile, through that university. Eighty-five percent of our graduates down there stay in San Antonio and south. So, it’s a very important institution for South Texas.”
Here we see that, in his personal life, as he does in his family life and his business life, Mike Howard sets his values and priorities and builds his calendar around them.
It’s an extremely busy calendar.
And Mike Howard knows it.
About the author: David Blackmon is the Editor of SHALE Oil & Gas Business Magazine. He previously spent 37 years in the oil and natural gas industry in a variety of roles — the last 22 years engaging in public policy issues at the state and national levels. Contact David Blackmon at [email protected]