Ken Thompson kindly sat down for an interview before the ARCO Alumni happy hour in Anchorage as part of our tribute to Marlan Downey. Click to watch the video interview. Below, Marlan’s colleagues and friends share what made Marlan so special. Please share your own memory of Marlan by clicking to add a comment.
Marlan was my favorite “boss” in my whole life,” shares Mary Sculley. “When Marlan joined ARCO International we were all intrigued by his quiet demeanor and slow conversational style. He would listen, ask questions rarely, and then point out a ‘missed’ connection that would send everyone back to the drawing boards,” recalls Mary, HR, ARCO 1989-1996.
In an attempt to pull all the teams together in the International headquarters office, Marlan started the Chili Cook Off which became a competition between driller, geologists, finance, etc.
Recalls Phoebe Wood who worked with Marlan on the finance side at ARCO, “Marlan Downey possessed a graciousness and humanness that complemented a towering intellect and business acumen. So many of us (as well as ARCO) benefited from being able to observe and emulate him,” said Phoebe.
Not a morning person
“Knowing that he was not a morning person endeared him to us, just as knowing that his disagreement with you would come with a smile and a head shake and excessive politeness. His commitment to caring about an individual was on display every year when he hand wrote personal letters to us. I will miss hearing from him,” -- With deepest sympathy, and enduring admiration , Phoebe Wood ARCO 1976-2000.
His commitment to caring about an individual was on display every year when he hand wrote personal letters to us. I will miss hearing from him. - Phoebe Wood, ARCO 1976-2000
Marlan’s wife Marea helped get Marlan out the door early every day. She would fix his coffee, hand it to him with his briefcase and coat, raise the garage door, hand him his keys and kiss him goodbye. One day, Marea forgot to raise the garage door and Marlan backed right through it,” said Mary. This was a story retold many times.
Marlan was my mentor, my confidant, my hero and my friend. –David Nicklin
Whether talking to someone for a story or at an ARCO Alumni event, the over-riding theme is that people recognize ARCO was second to none when it came to technical expertise. And as Ken Thompson shared, the upside of ARCO being acquired was that this talent dispersed around the globe to support companies large and small.
Talking to former associates, it is evident that Marlan played a huge role developing ARCO’s technical expertise. “It certainly has been my experience that the technical talent at ARCO was pretty unparalleled,” said David Nicklin.
Marlan set out to form a bridge where technical expertise superseded the regional territorial business units. His mission was to strengthen the technical staff.
First Impressions: Marlan’s first appearance on the ARCO scene was at the Management summit in Ojai California around 1990. David recalls showing up at the meeting with a big chunk of core from a well ARCO had just drilled in Indonesia. “It was all the excuse Marlan needed to get away from the clamor and go somewhere quiet to see the core and talk geology. It proved to me that the reputation that preceded him was correct: he was fundamentally a rock guy and always open to discussing the technical fundamentals,” remembers David.
Marlan was fundamentally a rock guy and always open to discussing the technical fundamentals. -David Nicklin, ARCO 1981-1999
Galen Treadgold found that Marlan was the most approachable senior manager he ever had the good fortune to work for. “Marlan seemed to always anticipate the next problem with a technical argument that may have taken us weeks to recognize. When we headed in the wrong direction he'd gently push back with "that all sounds fine as long as we're not constraining solutions to those that obey the laws of physics..." He was the only one that could call a room full of 40 and 50 year old geoscientists "kids" and we'd feel very comfortable with the classification. He will be greatly missed by this kid.,” said Galen Treadgold, ARCO 1985 -2000.
Mary Sculley also recalls Marlan sitting in a meeting, listening respectfully, allowing multiple questions and answers and then saying, “well, kid, your team did a good job, but I have only one question.”
Putting your money where your mouth is: David left Arco at the end of 1999 to form his own company. Marlan agreed to be an Advisor to the Management Committee and an investor. David was aware that Marlan had made similar offers to others as well. “It was the person he was,” said David “The most important advice he gave me and my colleagues was this: “Kids, if you want to be successful in this business, you have to be committed, you have to put your money where your mouth is, and ALWAYS pay the investors back first!” This advice has helped structure every deal I have done since and I don’t regret a single cent of my own investments, because Marlan was right there with us, walking the talk,” said David.
Frank Kryza and Marlan loved to talk about books and writing. “Marlan was an able critic of first drafts and, with hindsight, I cannot think of any subject that he couldn't discuss without teaching me something. And he was a lot more fun than an encyclopedia,” remembers Frank, ARCO 1982-1998.
Marlan was an able critic of first drafts and, with hindsight, I cannot think of any subject that he couldn't discuss without teaching me something. And he was a lot more fun than an encyclopedia. - Frank Kryza, ARCO 1982-1998
“Throughout all the years of knowing Marlan, I can think of no one who, after meeting him, did not feel immediately uplifted. It was as if suddenly, the rest of your day was brighter and any problems you faced were suddenly smaller and more manageable. His smile and his warmth were infectious, his intellectual depth reassuring. He just made the world seem like a whole lot better place. Knowing him was one of the greatest privileges of my life.” –David Nicklin, ARCO 1981-1999.
“Marlan was a brilliant blend of technical and exploration talent. He showed me that one could be a hands-on explorationist and a generator of innovative technical advancements at the same time. One did not have to be one or the other in an oil company; one could be both. Marlan also taught the value of prediction over mere technical description in exploration. He emphasized that properly utilized technology should lead to predictable outcomes, not just be intellectually interesting. The warmth and good humor of his interactions with people were legendary. He was a friend and mentor, and I will miss him greatly.” – Jamie Robertson, ARCO 1975-2000.