As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jordan Jayson.
As the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of U.S. Energy Development Corporation, Jordan Jayson determines the vision and strategy of the firm, as well as oversees the implementation of change management. A strong proponent of business growth Mr. Jayson, in coordination with members of U.S. Energy’s executive leadership team drove the transition of U.S. Energy from an Appalachian-based producer to a diversified exploration & production (E&P) operating firm with assets located across 13 states and multiple oil & natural gas basins. Under his leadership, the firm is in its best financial position since its inception in 1980.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely! After graduating from Johns Hopkins University, I spent ten years working on Wall Street. In 2009, I was in London working for a large financial institution when my parents asked me to join and help lead the family business. They founded U.S. Energy Development Corporation in 1980. I said yes and five years later, in 2014, I was named as the second generation CEO and Chairman of the firm. Today we have two offices — our headquarters in Arlington, Texas and another office in Amherst, New York.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My parents, Joseph and Judith P. Jayson were the two strongest influences in my life. They both began their careers as teachers, so helping others had always been a part of their DNA — whether that be with their partners, family, or friends. For me, even from an early age, they stressed the importance of a good education, strong relationships and building a competitive drive which pushed me in everything I did from being a Division I athlete to the leadership role I am in today.
The opportunity to learn from and work alongside my father was too good to pass up. He was a man who had created and overseen the growth of multiple companies, helped develop thousands of employees careers, and been entrusted with investor capital. Many of the approaches my father used to build investor success are still part of our corporate culture today. We are heavily focused on creating value for our investors, providing continuing education to our team, and building strong, long-term industry relationships. I am extremely grateful for the guidance my parents provided for myself and others.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
U.S. Energy was established with the vision to be the most well-known and respected direct energy investment company in the United States. To achieve this, we built a corporate culture on six specific core values: Investor First, Trustworthy and Sincere, Collaborative, Responsible to all Stakeholders, Innovative, Passionate and Driven.
These core values have been a part of our company’s mission and vision since our founding 40 years ago, but over the past few years our executive team has taken the time to document this initiative and reinforce these values within our team on a daily basis. Because our team understands and believes in our culture, we are able to provide superior results for our investors and partners through performance, execution, and communication.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The challenges we faced in 2020 with the onset of COVID-19 and (specific to U.S. Energy’s business) the rapid decline of oil price, remains top-of-mind today. Our team navigated the situation quickly to make necessary changes to protect our employees and investors. The experience our team gained from navigating the 2015 price crash and the downturn in the oil and gas industry gave us the experience to recognize levers that needed to be pulled internally at a much faster pace in 2020.
Our executive management team collectively agreed that we needed to reduce our wages and overall costs immediately. We shut-in unprofitable wells and reduced 2020 corporate expenses by 30%. Our swift actions allowed U.S. Energy to remain free cash flow positive while continuing to grow.
Leveraging my prior experiences of navigating crises as a CEO, it’s critical to have a team that is aware and understands the complexity of crisis management. If they are able to grasp the difficult decisions that need to be made swiftly, the firm will be better equipped to preserve value, continue to employ people, and be in a position to grow.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up has never been an option. During challenging times, a leader needs to consider all stakeholder groups relying on the firm. This drives me each and every day. When I joined the company in 2009, family was a huge motivating factor for me. I wanted to not only preserve the family business, but grow the company in the process. As I begin my eleventh year with U.S. Energy, my sustained drive comes from the desire to build upon our great foundation.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Being a leader doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers, sometimes that is the most challenging aspect to overcome. Great leaders need to aggregate all available resources to not just overcome, but thrive in difficult times.
As a 40 year old company, we have navigated challenging financial markets, changes in political leadership, as well as commodity price cycles. This wealth of past experience provides an advantage, but it’s critical that leaders supplement the company’s strengths with the right team. Our devoted and experienced team has provided the opportunity for the firm to grow in the current environment.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best way to engage and inspire a team is thoughtfully and intentionally. Over the past several years, we have spent numerous hours reinventing our corporate culture. We have implemented greater lines of communication including employee training events, off-site leadership and charitable events, and company lunch-and-learns. This additional transparency has created a culture in which our employees go above and beyond for our partners and fellow teammates.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Swiftly. Communicating difficult news is never enjoyable, but it must be done. It is critical to humanize the delivery of bad news. Empathy is a core leadership trait which allows one to connect on a personal level. This promotes a culture of transparency regardless of the magnitude of a situation.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
A great leader always has their head on a swivel and is looking around the next corner. There is no crystal ball. Good management teams spend as much time discussing the downside scenarios as they do the upside. Lookbacks are also paramount in reflecting on prior performance and for planning ahead. It is extremely important for leaders and their teams to stay abreast of changing trends and relevant news that may impact your respective industries.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
People, people, people. Surround yourself with a strong team, as a leader you cannot do it alone no matter how hard you try. With a strong team in place you can accomplish great things — in good times and bad.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
During difficult times I have seen many companies lose sight of their mission, fail to put their employees and customers first, or fail to communicate. To avoid these missteps, it is best to approach every situation in a proactive manner rather than reactive. Think ahead and communicate each step of the way with important stakeholders.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Maintaining positive free cash flow is of the utmost importance. To forge ahead during turbulent times, leaders must be 100% focused on costs and protecting revenue streams. Having a diversified capital structure also allows for additional protection in low commodity environments. Having cash reserves as well as the access to additional sources of capital will assist growth during downturns.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Communicate. Communication is critical in every industry and in every situation. We have put a great deal of effort into our strategic messaging to ensure that our board of directors, executive team, managers and team understand the firm’s mission, vision, core values and our approach during difficult times.
- Work as a team. Show your staff and colleagues that you are all in this together. During the pandemic we addressed our team and kept them in the loop of all critical changes and let them know that we needed their help. This helped keep everyone engaged and invested.
- Come to terms with not having all the answers. Being honest with your team and stakeholders is the best thing you can do in any situation, but you must have a plan of action to show a path forward.
- Reiterate your vision. Effective leaders lead by example. When you lead with your core values and continue to reiterate your vision for your team it helps to reinforce the tone during times of uncertainty.
- Make difficult decisions early. Sometimes it is best to rip the bandaid off. During the first few months of the pandemic crisis, we made the decision to cut expenses and shut-in unprofitable wells. This wasn’t an easy decision, but because we acted swiftly, we were able to preserve value on behalf of our partners.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Without question, it was from my mother. Before we would go into a meeting, she would not mince words. She would bluntly say to me, “Close your mouth, and try to listen more than you speak. You might learn something in there.” I still laugh when I hear her words playback in my head before I walk into a meeting. I truly admired her ability to be direct and no nonsense, while being empathetic. She was the perfect blend of common sense and compassion.
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