Every year for the past eight years, Forbes business magazine has published an extensive list of the top 30 most innovative and trail-blazing entrepreneurs in as many as 20 different American industries.
In early December, Forbes put out its 2020 list of 600 people dubbed as “revolutionaries” and “game-changers” all under 30 years old. By Forbes’ numbers, 40% of those chosen were female, 59% were male, over 65% were founders or co-founders of their company, the average age of those recognized was 27 and one awardee was a 29-year-old woman raised in Aspen-Snowmass.
“The first issue of Forbes 30 under 30 came out when I was 21 and as soon as I saw it, I made it my goal to be on that list one day,” said Whitney Wickes, an Aspen native who was one of the top 30 oil and gas entrepreneurs recognized on the 2020 list.
“When I woke up in the morning and saw that I was on this year’s list it was a little surreal, realizing that somehow I had made it to that point in a little less than nine years.”
Ever since she was a kid, Wickes said she’s been determined to be the best.
A standout freeskier for Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club in her teens, earning a silver medal in slopestyle at the 2008 Junior Olympics, and riding to become a top-ranked equestrian in her early 20s, Wickes said she’s pushed herself to her limits and excelled in athletics for much of her life.
But after taking a step back from skiing and competitive sports as result of her fourth knee surgery, Wickes said she shifted her focus to academics, pursuing a finance degree at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“I had chosen finance because growing up in Aspen, one of my standards of success and the people I looked up to were people who came from a finance background,” Wickes said.
For Wickes, succeeding in finance meant making it to Wall Street and having a profound career there, becoming a “she-wolf” of sorts.
Soon after confessing that goal to a CU Boulder professor, however, Wickes said her dream was crushed; the professor said she went to the wrong school if she wanted to make it to the New York City financial district.
“That was kind of a turning point for me because I thought about it and realized he was pretty much right,” Wickes said.
But the summer after that semester while working at the old Pacifica seafood restaurant in Aspen, Wickes said her competitive energy was pushed in a new direction: striving to become a leading oil and gas entrepreneur.
“I had a couple of regulars who were oil and gas guys from Dallas and Houston and I became friends with one in particular who took an interest in me,” Wickes said. “He told me about what it is to be an oil and gas landman and I remember calling my dad and saying I know what I’m doing with my life.”
According to the American Association of Professional Landmen, a landman is the “public facing side” of oil, gas and mineral exploration that interacts directly with landowners to acquire leases on behalf of oil and gas companies.
Wickes said the job seemed adventurous and saw it as a way to make a positive impact on communities directly affected by the American energy industry.
Now after quickly learning the ropes and cofounding Rocking WW Minerals, a Wyoming-based mineral and royalty acquisition company, she aims to ensure the transfer of mineral wealth from private owners to corporations in the Rockies region is done ethically, ruling out the Wall Street brokers and flippers and “keeping your minerals in Wyoming”; improving environmental stewardship and maximizing the recovery of hydrocarbons; and abiding by the “code of the West,” striving for fairness and honoring tradition.
“For a lot of these folks, their net worth is tied to their minerals, and if your minerals aren’t developed they aren’t worth anything. So we’re coming in and we’re trying to be a resource to Wyoming, using our technical expertise from the drilling side to be able to really value minerals,” Wickes said.
“It gives people the opportunity to diversify their wealth … and ensures mineral owners get the full value of their minerals.”
When asked what Wickes’ future holds, now that she’s made the Forbes 30 under 30 list and that her industry is facing the global push toward a carbon-free economy, she said her goals are rooted in both the oil and gas industry and the desire to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
For Wickes, the need for countries like China and India — which are two countries the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects will see a roughly 50% increase in carbon consumption between 2018 and 2050 — to switch from coal to natural gas as their main energy sources is the first step toward a greener planet.
She hopes to play a part in helping developing countries make that switch and hopes to serve as what she sees as a much-needed millennial voice leading the oil and gas industry for years to come.
“I think that my generation has definitely villainized oil and gas and they don’t really understand the global significance of fossil fuels, whether that’s from a climate change perspective, an economy perspective or just a domestic security perspective,” Wickes said.
“It’s scary to me that millennials aren’t taking an interest in oil and gas because fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere. … That’s a major motivator for me, being a leader of the millennial generation in oil in gas and playing a role in mitigating climate change from a natural gas perspective.”