Tim Harris suddenly found himself without a job and 14 years of oilfield experience that wasn’t helping him land a new one.
“I realized, ‘I really have no transferable skills,'” Harris said. “‘I’ve been doing this for so long that I’m very highly specialized. What am I going to do?'”
The answer was the online Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance program at his alma mater, Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Seven months before he completed the program in July 2017, Harris had his job back with Halliburton, a worldwide oilfield services company.
Now, he has an advanced degree and a fallback plan firmly in place.
“It was super stressful,” Harris said. “I’m the only one [in the household] who had a full-time job. My wife [Kristin] is a personal trainer. She decided to go back to school, too. She’s earning a degree in nutrition at Texas Woman’s University. We both said, ‘We’re going to jump into this and improve our lot in life.'”
Harris even got some friendly advice from Halliburton CEO Jeff Miller about which MBA emphasis he should pursue.
“Jeff said, ‘You’ve already got a strong management background, but you’ve not been exposed to finance.'” Harris said. “‘With any company, at a certain level, finance is more important than on-the-ground skills, because everything becomes about the numbers at a certain point.’ I thought that was great advice. It’s also more transferrable. Every company needs finance.”
Right Time, Right Place
Harris initially enrolled at SOSU in the year 2000 to earn a bachelor’s degree in education. He left school when he was hired by Halliburton. Harris completed the final three semesters of a general studies degree online a decade later.
“I always had this grand dream I was going to write the great American novel,” he said. “Then, I realized I was going to have to have something to pay the bills and settled on education. I was working two jobs and losing my mind.”
His dad, Rusty Harris, worked in the oilfields at the time, so Tim asked if he could work for his dad’s company. Because Rusty was a supervisor and couldn’t hire his son, he introduced Tim to some of his colleagues at Halliburton.
“They hired me on the spot,” Harris said. “I thought I was just going to do it for the summer and then go back to school. I made so much money as a 21-year-old, I didn’t go back. I started as an assistant service operator.”
Harris has held several positions in the company, including his current position, general field professional, field service manager and associate field professional since he started in 2003. He also worked for a venture capital company for 10 months before he returned to Halliburton, where Harris is now aiming for loftier goals in his career.
“Now that I’m back with the company after being laid off, I want to get my career progression going again,” he said. “We’ve already had meetings on succession planning and things like that. I think it helps a lot that I have an MBA now. I can say, ‘Hey, I’m also educated here.'”
One of the most interesting aspects of Harris’ career is the large amount of time he spent working in Angola.
“A lot of people look at working overseas in a commuter position as being gone all of the time, but it was kind of like being semi-retired — five weeks on, five weeks off,” Harris said. “When I was home, I was home. Nobody was calling me needing anything. It was nice.”
He also fell in love with the country in Southern Africa and its people.
“It’s really awesome,” Harris said. “It’s kind of a culture shock when you first get there. There’s a lot of disparity between the ultra-rich and the people who are in extreme poverty. We try to give back. We hire a lot of locals to boost the local economy. It was cool to be a part of that.”
Harris was blown away by the spirit of the Angolans.
“The people are really cool,” he said. “You see someone in what we would consider a really bad circumstance, living in a third-world country, and they are super positive about life. They are willing to work and see they can improve their lot in life, which is an inspiring thing to see. We’ve got all of these advantages, and they don’t really have the advantages we have and are making the best of it.”
Harris, who lives in Sherman, Texas, initially had plenty of time to concentrate on school in the online MBA program, but he had to make some adjustments when he was rehired — especially with an odd work schedule.
“It wasn’t so bad when I was unemployed, but I work 10 days on, five days off, and I’m on call 24 hours for those 10 days,” he said. “If I get called at three o’clock in the morning, I’ve got to do it. Trying to get the work done got a lot more intense toward the end because I was working again.”
However, he had some help as he transitioned back to working full-time.
“My professors were really good,” Harris said. “A couple of times I had to email them and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a little bit late. Is this okay?’ They’d say, ‘No problem. Take your time.'”
The online format, including the ability to work on school any time of the day, was a big reason for the success Harris enjoyed. He graduated with a 3.83 GPA.
“I thought it was great,” he said. “I like to learn things on my own anyway. You really have to be a self-starter if you want to pursue an online degree, because no one is going to be there to hold your hand. They’re like, ‘Here’s what you need to do.’ You have to do it. If you’re in the MBA program, you don’t need much guidance. You know what you’re going for.”
Harris enjoyed the finance courses the most because that area of study was new to him.
“They were also the most difficult since I really had no financial background,” he said. “I was learning stuff constantly. There was a lot of novelty to it. It was difficult, for sure, but I really liked it because it wasn’t my background.”
Harris is glad to have school wrapped up so he can spend more time with his wife and their eight-year-old son, Carter.
“He’s super pumped now that I’m done with my classes,” Harris said. “He’d say, ‘Oh, you’ve got homework today?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, buddy, I’m sorry,’ because he’d want to go swim, go outside and play or play video games.”
The extra time at home is especially important since Harris still has a crazy work schedule.
“I’m working in El Reno, Oklahoma, which is about a three-hour drive from home,” he said. “I have an apartment with some guys I work with because none of us actually live there. It’s almost like the college life all over again with a bunch of roommates.”
Perhaps the online MBA with an emphasis in Finance will help him have a more normal schedule soon. Either way, he knows he made the right decision to return to SOSU.
“You have to know what you’re getting into,” he said. “Be prepared for the time commitment, especially when you’re talking about a master’s degree. Come in with your eyes open and be prepared to make some sacrifices. You might not be going out to dinner with your friends that night. When your buddy calls up and says, ‘Hey, I’ve got tickets to the baseball game,’ you have to say, ‘Well, I’ve got a paper due.'”
Learn more about the SOSU online MBA with an emphasis in Finance program.
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