“You know, little girl, I’ve been watching you,” the longtime oilman said to Marsha
Hendler. “You get this business; you need to be an operator.” Some women would have taken offense at being called “little girl.” Instead Hendler saw a golden opportunity to be mentored and, in the process, gained a close friend – “my number one bubba” – until his sudden passing last December.
Despite not having a background in energy – aside from the oilfield service companies that were clients of the marketing company she owns – Hendler was intrigued with the industry and, after giving it some thought, came to the conclusion that she did indeed “get it” and want to be a part of it.
When she founded San Antonio-based TerraFina Energy, LLC, in 2003, Hendler was on her third career. A graduate of the University of Houston (‘73), Hendler has a bachelor’s degree in business management, specializing in hotel and restaurant management, and was in the hospitality industry for many years before going into marketing. Of the three careers, she has found energy to be the most challenging and also the most rewarding. Contrary to what some might think, she also has found it to be the least sexist.
Learning everything she could about drilling and completions, as well as other facets of the business, under the guidance of her mentor and the other bubbas, as she calls them affectionally, while participating in a number of industry organizations, such as the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers (TEAP) and the South Texas Women’s Energy Network, Hendler applied for and obtained an operator’s license from the Texas Railroad Commission in 2011. Hendler has said she does everything – including buying leases and filing drilling permits – leading up to drilling, then contracts the necessary technical expertise, and resumes her work once productions starts.
According to Jo Ann Baker, senior vice president at TEAP, membership is not broken down by gender, so there’s no way of knowing how many members are female but, suffice it to say, Hendler, who says she has never come across another female operator – not that there aren’t any – is virtually in a league of her own.
Having established her company nearly a decade before, Hendler was well-positioned when the Eagle Ford Shale boom took the industry – and indeed world markets – by storm through the widespread use of fracking, and eventually TerraFina would own and operate more than 30 wells in locations throughout South Texas.
Despite her initial success, it didn’t take long for Hendler to experience her first downturn, which began in 2014 with a sharp drop in the price of oil. As a number of companies – some much larger than TerraFina – filed for bankruptcy, TerraFina stayed viable by cutting all unnecessary expenses and taking on a few projects as a contract operator, while Hendler was able to supplement her income with projects produced by her company, Marketing+.
Conceding there were times when she was afraid, Hendler has always believed she would be successful. “In my mind it has always been about my management abilities and certainly not my knowledge of geology. Those are positions I can hire, but to manage and oversee the operation is the key to success. That is where I believe I excel.
“This is a crap shoot every day, but I love what I’m doing and have no regrets.”
Still standing when the carnage was over, Hendler began looking for new prospects in the $3 – 5 million range. There were projects available, but nothing “particularly exciting,” as she puts it. “I have to want to work it.”
Out of the blue, she received a call from an energy-related, woman-owned, capital group based out of northern California that was looking for a female operator to back. The group’s minimum investment is $50 million, so Hendler resumed her search for a prospect, albeit a much bigger one this time.
“I applaud the capital group in that they reached out and were looking for women operators,” Hendler says, believing if project financing were more accessible, perhaps more women might be willing to step into the role of operator. However, she says, “If you’re going to break the glass ceiling, you can’t be afraid of getting cut by the falling pieces.”
Armed with the necessary funding, Hendler began working on a deal in excess of $150 million last year when the seller, for reasons beyond its control, had to pull the asset off the market.
“We put a year into that one and had to throw in the towel. It was a heartbreaker.
“I’ve always felt, since I’ve been in the business, if I had the financial resources, I could make TerraFina into a significant company. Now I’ve got the financial backing and I don’t have the deal.
“From a woman’s prospective, throughout this process, there were bankers and lawyers that would not take me seriously, who treated me like a dumb blond. The guys in the field are the ones I get the most respect from. I’ve got a great network of guys who are willing to help me. I had a harder time convincing the banking and legal worlds that I can perform as well as a man.”
That’s no longer the case and Hendler now has the financial backing to find that deal that just might propel TerraFina into the big leagues.
“I want it known on the streets that we’re a player now.”