Energizing Business

Written by: 
Meredith Moriak Wright

Paula Waggoner-Aguilar ('95 M.S.) (Photo by Liz Wurburton)Fearlessness and a penchant for the Spanish language quick-started Paula Waggoner-Aguilar's ('95 M.S.) finance career in the energy industry.

"After a year at Ernst & Young as a tax accountant, I learned that I couldn't sit at a desk all day," says Waggoner-Aguilar, who earned her master's degree in taxation from UNT's College of Business.

Waggoner-Aguilar's love for the Spanish language came from her mother, a former English as a second language teacher in San Luis Potosi and Mexico City. Waggoner-Aguilar grew up visiting Mexico and completed a postgraduate course in advanced Spanish for executives in Cuernavaca after graduating from UNT.

After applying for dozens of jobs, banging on doors and hearing multiple times, "Lady, we're not going to send you down to Latin America," Waggoner-Aguilar finally received an offer from Dresser Industries, known today as Halliburton, that did send her there as an auditor. Over the years, she has worked in places like Mexico City and Villahermosa, Mexico; Maracaibo and Caracas, Venezuela; Neuquén, Argentina; Lima, Peru; Bogota, Colombia; San Salvador, El Salvador; Cochabamba, Bolivia; and Rio de Janeiro and Cuiaba, Brazil. She has also worked in the United Kingdom, Norway, Canada and Australia.

"Back then, it was unusual to have a woman working in Latin America. I'm still amazed to this day that they were willing to hire me to do that and grateful to the industry and the men that gave me that first shot," Waggoner-Aguilar says.

Though it was difficult to get that first job, she says all subsequent positions came organically based on her skillset and willingness to learn new things. Career opportunities led her from the oilfield to working on pipelines and power in Brazil, to serving as Mexican controller for deregulated gas utilities for what was at the time the world's largest independent power producer, to working on contracts and mitigating operating risks pertaining to the commercial side of exploration and production projects, to becoming the first non-engineer to work as a planner for BHP Billiton Petroleum.

"I found myself in situations where I was the only trained CPA who speaks Spanish and I was getting promoted and doing things people 20 years my senior had not done," she says, noting that she's gained finance and business experience beyond what an accountant traditionally does.

She credits her year at UNT for providing her with a broad understanding of business and stretching her to think differently.

"I was getting my master's in tax, but was exposed to economics, finance and marketing," Waggoner-Aguilar says. "My education at UNT provided a broad base and my professors helped develop my critical thinking skills."

She worked as a graduate assistant for accounting professors Janet Trewin and Barbara Merino-Mayper and credits them, and Teresa Conover, for providing her with a thorough base in tax research, advanced theory and current value accounting.

After more than 15 years working for major companies in the energy industry, Waggoner-Aguilar became a consultant offering small private companies the same financial leadership that benefits major corporations.

"When I was working in San Antonio for the largest private independent oil producer in the nation, and first to drill in Mexico since 1938, I interfaced a lot with their vendors," Waggoner-Aguilar says. "I realized what an advantage the vendors would have if they had the financial leadership of a larger company, at a price point they can afford."

Since founding The Energy CFO in April 2013, with offices in San Antonio and Houston, Waggoner-Aguilar has provided private energy, technology and life science companies with consulting, interim and permanent fractional outsourced CFO services. The firm specializes in entrepreneurial finance and focuses on helping entrepreneurs and family businesses start-up, grow, evolve and navigate through rough patches. She was named Best CFO for Private Medium-Sized Companies in 2014 by the San Antonio Business Journal.

"My accomplishments as a business owner mean so much more to me than any promotion I've ever received," Waggoner-Aguilar says. "There's something different about it when it's your business."

She's also found that she has more time to give back to the community and help mentor the future leaders of the energy industry.

She helped found the Women's Energy Network of South Texas in 2013 and currently serves on both the Board of Advisors for WEN South Texas and also on the Executive Advisory Board  for Pink Petro, two organizations that promote women in the energy industry and provide networking opportunities, career and leadership development. In addition to helping businesses thrive, Waggoner-Aguilar devotes at least 10 percent of her time in support of local innovation and entrepreneurship, helping energy colleagues in transition explore new endeavors, and supporting efforts that educate and promote women in energy.

"It really humbled me when I came to South Texas and saw all these women who are working in energy and really trying to move up," Waggoner-Aguilar says. "It made me realize how fortunate I am to have started in the field, to have the corporate experience and men who taught me along the way. The only way I know how to thank them is by following their lead and paying forward to the next generation."