Attending The University of Tulsa was a big departure for Robyn (Benear) Ewing, who hails from a family of University of Oklahoma Sooners. She grew up in Bartlesville, where her father worked for Cities Service Company as an engineer, and the family later relocated to Tulsa when the company moved its headquarters. “As a shy person, the thought of going to a great big state school and being on campus with thousands of kids was more than I really wanted,” said Ewing. “My parents took me to see TU, and I thought it was the perfect size.”
“My parents took me to see TU, and I thought it was the perfect size.”
She contemplated whether living in the same town as her parents would detract from the college experience, but says her years at TU were full of fun and memories that she has cherished since; particularly the friendships she made as a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. “Those friendships still exist today.” She credits life in the Theta house for bringing her out of her shell, recalling the time her friends talked her into doing a Greek goddess competition that involved modeling a swimsuit — complete with her parents peeking in through a window. She laughs as she says, “It was probably one of the most horrifying things I did, but when I won, it was even more horrifying for my father than it was for me.”
Ewing wanted to major in the arts, but her dad (who was footing the bill) steered her toward business. “I chose accounting because I thought it would be a great way to open doors,” she said. She counts Ben Henneke, who taught a course in the arts and humanities, among her favorite professors. “His class was an eye-opening experience. That’s the great thing about getting a liberal arts education.”
After graduating in 1977, Ewing accepted an offer from Cities Service to join a program that placed accountants in the IT department. She described it as a great opportunity to lay the foundation of her career at the same company where her father had worked. Her trajectory accelerated when she joined energy giant Mapco at age 25. She was hired into an accounting role and quickly progressed through the ranks. “I had the chance to work with our CFO in a developmental role, and he helped me understand what I liked and didn’t like. He showed me how strategic the HR function could be if done well.”
And when the time came to rotate out of accounting, that’s where she headed.
“HR is really about the business. What makes it impactful is understanding the business and how you align the HR function within it.” She says the study of accounting gave her the ability to speak the language of business and helped her earn respect as a business partner.
Williams acquired Mapco in 1998 and today, Ewing serves as senior vice president of strategic services and administration and chief administrative officer as well as chairman of the Williams Foundation. She says that while she’s the only woman on the executive team, she finds Williams to be very inclusive.
A typical day includes plenty of juggling. “You have to be able to pivot quickly,” she says. The company came close to an acquisition by ETE in 2016, which put many corporate initiatives on hold. “We’re restarting in a lot of ways,” she said. Current projects include reviving Williams’ talent program, evaluating incentive programs and hiring new executive officers and board members. “If you’re not adept at change at this level, I don’t know how you’d be successful.”
Ewing says one of her greatest career legacies was designing a rotation-based professional development program at Mapco along with her CFO. “It took a lot of work to sell the concept to invest in training people coming out of college and rotate them through multiple jobs. But we hired good students — many of them from TU — and the organization saw the value in that program.” She employed the same philosophy to introduce a similar program at Williams.
Outside the office, Ewing enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband, four kids and eight grandkids. The family lake house brings everyone together for gatherings that include an abundance of laughter, traditions and movie quotes. Family favorites span from holiday classics to Marvel action adventures, but Ewing has one decree when it comes to film selection: “I don’t like anything with a sad ending. My mom always said there was enough sadness in life that I don’t need to see it on the screen.”
A favorite quote by Maya Angelou – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – captures the philosophy Ewing embraces in her life and in her career. “I can’t tell you how important and true that is, especially being in HR,” she said.
As for how she felt when she learned of her selection as a Distinguished Alumna, Ewing says, “I was shocked. When you look at that group, it’s a group of accomplished individuals who I greatly respect. Two of my dearest friends, Marcia [MacLeod] and Caron [Lawhorn] are Distinguished Alumnae. I have respect for them and what they do, so it’s an honor.”