Q&A with Speed Alumnus Alan Kleier

Alan KleierMarch 2, 2017

An alum of the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering, Alan Kleier has dedicated his life to engineering. Graduating from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Kleier was ever traveling the world in pursuit of the next job culminating in his long career at Chevron. Now retired, Kleier spends his time between his home in Florida and Louisville, where he serves on the Speed School Industrial Board of Advisors.

How is retirement? What do you do with your time?
It’s been a challenge. I'm actually on a board of a publicly held corporation (Energen corporation). I play some golf. I have five grandchildren. I spend time with them. I’m a season football ticket holder. I come up here in the Fall more than the rest of the year. I’m here a lot in the Fall.
What is your educational background? Where did you go to high school? What is your engineering specialty?

I was second generation Speed School. My father was a 1934 graduate of Speed School. He sort of told me from the day I was born that I was going to go to engineering school. I just felt like it was predestined. Because that’s all he ever said. My job was to follow the family where dad went. Speed School had a good reputation and always put out good engineers.

The harder decision was to move away. I had eight or ten job offers. I had an offer where I co-oped (CNI Girdler), a consulting company. I had a job offer at Colgate. Then I had several job offers with Firestone in Indiana, Alcoa Aluminum in Evansville, the NRC in Oakridge. I had done my thesis on aerodynamics, actually wind energy.

I ended up going into oil and gas, because I took a plan trip with Texaco. It intrigued me. I thought I was interviewing for a refinery job, but an upstream. In that industry, the upstream is the drilling and production, the mid-stream is the marketing and transportation, and the downstream is the refineries. What I learned is that the downstream rarely makes money. All most people see is the price of gasoline, but there are just pennies of profit in a gallon of gas.

The oil companies make their money on equity crude. If they have money on properties in the United States. The profits that come from the oil and gas and liquids is there’s. Overseas, you have various kinds of contracts with different governments. Generally, you have a production share contract. For instance, in Angola, I had 650 barrels of production a day. 250 went to the government, 200 to partners, and 200 to Chevron’s account, and we paid all the expenses. You basically produced the 650 for the 200. When you sell it by the barrel, that’s where your income is made.

What inspired you to become an engineer? Was it your father? What was his field?

I didn’t. I know when they gave me my first plant trip, that I wanted to do that. I was not that kind of engineer that would do well at a drawing board. I found it great. I love doing it. I like to explain to people how much we did to protect the environment. The first time I had to report was the environmental health and safety. We made sure we didn’t have accidents, we didn’t get people hurt, we didn’t have spills, reducing those incidents. But you want to minimize the impact, because we live in the environment.

How has moving around as much as you have shaped your life? Where do you live at the moment?

It made me realize that my roots never got too deep. A place to live was nice and I lived in a lot of nice places, and some I liked more than others, but I never got that ingrained in a place. One of the things that I always tried to do, was that there were things I liked and things I didn’t like about every place. When I lived in Wyoming, I could go to Yellowstone (National Park) and (Mt.) Rushmore, I saw things because I was close by. California is a beautiful state. West Texas is desolate, but really wonderful. Angola, the Angolans are lovely people. I didn’t really have a favorite place. I saw how things were relative to stuff. You just put it in a moving truck and away you go.

How do you balance work and life?

I never did a very good job at that, and I’ll be the first to admit that. In my mind I was doing what I had to do to take care of the family. I saw that as my primary role. While I sacrificed a lot, I was able to provide for them in the way that I wanted to. Both my kids got through college debt free.

What have you learned working on the Industrial Board of Advisors? What does that position entail?

It has reconnected me back to the university. Daddy was a graduate as well. This has always been our school. UofL has always been our school and Speed School in specific, and it allowed me to reconnect. It gave me the opportunity to give back. If I can help them in their development or with their career, it’s been a success for me.

What do you look for in a great employee? How important is the balance between technical acumen and an ability to communicate?

In today’s environment, interpersonal skills are important. Every company works in teams now. Those that are unable to communicate and work with others. They’re going to find themselves at a real disadvantage. What I was looking for in an interview was anyone who would look me in the eye, and who could articulate the value they created and the work that they did for their employer. I can’t tell you how many times I would get questions like “when do I get my first vacation?” In many cases, it’s such a competitive environment, that they’re using vacation as a hook.

I always looked for those that wanted to learn and asked questions to the company, instead of those questions you talk to the HR manager about. I actually liked it when the kids asked me how long it would take to get my job. They didn’t like the answer that you’d have to work 25 years. But at least they were ambitious enough to say they wanted that.