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“I like taking hardships and turning them into opportunities,” Kathleen Eisbrenner stated boldly when she accepted the Junior Achievement (JA) Hall of Achievement Laureate in 2016. That pronouncement resonated with Katie Mehnert, Founder & CEO Pink Petro, who had adopted a similar personal maxim: Why waste a good crisis?
The media often presents being a woman in a male-dominated industry as a hardship. Kathleen made it look easy. In her dresses and silk blouses, she didn’t try to look like a man; with her soft-spoken voice, she didn’t try to sound like a man; and with her gentle demeanor, she didn’t attempt to act like a man. But in the man’s world of oil and gas, she knew gas and was considered an expert on liquid natural gas (LNG).
Having been one of the first women admitted to Notre Dame for the full four-year educational cycle, Kathleen said, “That accomplishment set the tone for the rest of my life.” From the time she graduated in 1982, having earned a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering – one of two women in her graduating class – she was immersed in the natural gas sector, starting as a pipeline engineer with Northern Indiana Public Service Co., and later spending the early part of her career as a gas marketer for various companies.
Kathleen was an early champion of natural gas. In interviews and presentations from years ago, she would call it “the energy of the foreseeable future,” and that certainly was the message at Gastech 2019.
In an industry that still struggles to provide avenues for women to be seen and heard, Kathleen’s name appeared as the keynote speaker at conferences. The networks sought her insights on the LNG market. And in an industry where even insiders often struggle to name a female CEO other than Vicki Hollub at Oxy, Kathleen was a serial CEO.
After Tulsa billionaire, George Kaiser, purchased technology she was instrumental in advancing to enable the offshore regasification of LNG, he hired her to be CEO of Excelerate Energy. She would go on to found and serve as CEO of NextDecade, as well as Pangea LNG and its marketing unit Levant LNG. (During the time in between founding Excelerate and NextDecade, she spent two years in the Hague as EVP, Global LNG, of Royal Dutch Shell.)
After her untimely passing in May of 2019, industry insiders were quick to acknowledge Kathleen’s contributions. James Ball, editor-in-chief of Gas Matters, credited her with “changing the face of the gas industry,” and called her a “force of nature, a visionary, and a pioneer.” An article by the Hart Energy staff commented on her “remarkable career” and called her “one of the foremost female executives in the global LNG industry.” Numerous publications referred to the wife and mother of four, just 58 at the time of her death, as a “rarity” for rising to the top of a male-dominated industry.
And, as Katie Mehnert, Pink Petro CEO, wrote in a tribute to Kathleen, she was “one gritty entrepreneur.”
In memory of Kathleen Marie Eisbrenner, the “patron saint of LNG”, she will be honored at the 2019 GRIT Awards℠ & Best Energy Workplaces℠ on October 10.