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MSU alumnus moved from oil fields to boardroom

Westhope native Nathan Conway is the chief operating officer of Ward Williston Oil Company, a North Dakota oil and gas firm with corporate offices in Michigan.

Conway started in the business in North Dakota as a high school and college student, checking oil wells on weekends and over summers.

"The field experience early on in my life was paramount in helping kick-start my career," he told Connections.

Conway studied accounting at Minot State, where professors Joan Houston and Jay Wahlund stood out.

"Classes were challenging, and the instructors forced me to think," he recalled.

After graduating from MSU in 2001, Conway joined Ward Williston and quickly scampered up the corporate ladder. On the way, he earned an MBA from the University of Michigan in 2010.

"At times it was like drinking from a fire hose. It was difficult to balance work, college and life," he said of his graduate experience.

As Ward Willistonís chief operating officer, Conway plans to expand the firmís opportunities in western and north central North Dakota as well as open up the Michigan market.

Ward Williston is headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Founded in 1952, it maintains operations in North Dakota and Michigan and has land holdings in Colorado.

The firm was a pioneer in the North Dakota oil and gas industry. It drilled the stateís second successful oil well in the early 1950s. It was also a pioneer in the oilfield services sector, which provided services to other companies working in the area. Conway believes the American oil and gas industry must reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

"We need to produce as much oil from the United States as possible rather than import oil from the Middle East," he said. "By producing oil in the United States, no one will have fought over it, no one will have died over it, and we will no longer be supporting countries that do not like us."

Improving technologies will enable the industry to explore untouched formations while reducing its carbon footprint, he added.

Because of its chronic boom-and-bust cycle, the oil and gas industry has been left with an aging workforce. Conway believes that MSUís new energy economics and finance major will help to correct this imbalance.

"I am delighted to know that MSU was willing to teach the next generation of business leaders in this industry," the 34-year old said.