A city once known for strip malls and sprawling suburbs has grown into a sophisticated metropolis in recent years. With a serious art scene, one-of-a-kind restaurants, and luxury condominiums going up in the city’s more pedestrian friendly areas, there are suddenly more reasons to leave the office a little earlier and experience some of Houston’s Southern charms. Almost 40 percent of the 655 Booth alumni in the Houston area work in the city’s energy sector. Many visit the city’s historic private clubs and more-casual dining spots for networking. Others use the well-connected airline hub as a springboard for sector-related international work travel.
The Houston Experts
Je’Anna Abbott, ’02 (EXP-6), Professor of social responsibility, University of Houston
Robert Beck, ’91, Manager of international business development, Anadarko Petroleum
Frank Bella, ’99, Director of business development, Shell Energy North America
Michelle Burchfiel, ’98, Treasurer, ExxonMobil Corp.
Dan Pickering, ’94, Copresident, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co
Throughout her 17 years at ExxonMobil Corp., Michelle Burchfiel, ’98, now a treasurer at the energy giant, said she’s been able to meet a close-knit group of Booth graduates both inside and outside the company. Most recently Burchfiel has returned to Houston from a stint in Prague, and is enthusiastic about “re-engaging” with fellow Booth graduates through informal after-work meet-ups that are sometimes organized by alumni. “It’s interesting to see how different paths evolved,” said the executive about the group. “We all landed in the same city, but took different paths to get here.”
When Booth alumni settle in Houston, Frank Bella, ’99, is one of the folks on their speed dial. Bella, director of business development at Shell Energy North America, often dispenses the kind of advice it takes to make it in the city’s highly competitive energy industry. “It’s a welcoming alumni community and we are pretty good about helping out,” said Bella, a 15-year veteran of Shell. Several times a year, he takes calls or lunches with fellow Booth graduates who are thinking about breaking in, and also meets with current students through the Energy Group’s trip to the city.
For Robert Beck, ’91, flying back to Chicago’s campus and participating in the Energy Group’s annual conference is a good time to reconnect with fellow alumni—some of whom also come from Houston to participate as panelists, said the manager of international business development at Anadarko Petroleum, based in The Woodlands, Texas. Back home, he’s focused on speaking with prospective Booth students, many with engineering backgrounds who are eager to take the next steps toward a business career. The connections tend to linger. Recently, a Booth graduate whom he had advised on a career path relocated to Houston and “we grabbed a beer one afternoon,” he said.
Je’Anna Abbott, ’02 (EXP-6), said attending the annual Worldwide Booth Night hosted each fall by various alumni clubs around the world has been a great way to ramp up her networking in recent years. But tapping into the network doesn’t always mean mingling over drinks, said Abbott, a Houston native and a professor of social responsibility at the University of Houston. As a runner, Abbott often goes on 5 a.m. jogs with fellow Booth alumni through sprawling Memorial Park.
The tight-knit network of alumni in the city are often part of the same social circles, says Dan Pickering, ’94, copresident and head of asset management at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., an investment bank. “There’s a fairly cohesive group of energy-focused Booth people that are brought together by common geography,” said Pickering. But that doesn’t mean he avoids speaking with newbies. He always obliges a cold call from a Booth graduate: “For me, the hook is, ‘I’m a Booth person and looking for some help.’ That’s just not something I want to turn down,” he said.
The culture break: The Menil Collection
The 17,000 works of art at this private collection in Houston’s Neartown neighborhood include pieces from artists including Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and Henri Matisse. And unlike the city’s larger art museums, at the Menil “you can go and see the whole place in an afternoon,” said Burchfiel of the works housed in the Renzo Piano–designed building. If you’ve got more time to wander, the 30-acre campus also includes the interfaith Rothko Chapel and the recently reopened Byzantine Fresco Chapel.
The out-of-towner lunch: Pappasito’s Cantina
When Beck meets out-of-towners for lunch, he often takes them to Pappasito’s Cantina, a Texas-based chain of casual high-quality Tex-Mex restaurants. Stopping in for lunch is great way to show off the city’s Mexican-influenced cuisine, he said. “Their cheese enchiladas and the fajitas are the best in the world.”
The private meeting: Coronado Club
Lunching at the storied Coronado Club in the city’s downtown business district means it’s easy to bump into peers, said Pickering, who visits several times per month. Nonmembers must be accompanied by a current member, but the club’s classic décor and business-focused atmosphere make the space ideal to tackle more formal discussions. “It’s one of those places where you’re far enough from everybody and where you’re not listening to others’ conversations,” said Pickering.
The lazy afternoon: Memorial Park
At almost 1,500 acres, Memorial Park has 30 miles of hiking trails and attracts visitors ranging from serious mountain bikers to inline skaters. And with croquet and tennis courts, along with an 18-hole, recently redesigned golf course, it also offers a great way to connect with clients outside of the office. The urban location makes it popular with the city’s professionals. “When you’re at the park, you never feel like you’re in the city, but it’s really right next to downtown,” Abbott said.
The last-minute dinner: Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar
The Heights, a historic neighborhood near the city’s downtown, has added plenty of restaurants in recent years that are worth returning to, said Bella. One of his favorites is Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar, which he described as a small neighborhood place that’s a good bet for an after-work meeting. The trend of New American dining is new for Houston, and unique eateries are replacing restaurants with “a more strip mall-ish” feel, said Bella.
The happy hour: Red Lion Pub
The British-themed pub with Indian-inspired bar food, including curried chicken wings and Punjabi egg rolls, has become a key spot for informal networking, said Abbott. “It’s actually kind of a meeting place for Booth alumni,” said Abbott, who often visits the pub for happy hour events.
—By Alina Dizik