rowing up in a West Texas oil family, Christina Kitchens ('99, '05 M.B.A.) says an oil and gas career was the last thing she was interested in as a young adult.
"We went through the downturn in the 1980s. Things were bad in the industry and many found themselves out of a job," she says. "Having experienced the cycles of the business, my family often told my brother and me to do anything but oil and gas."
But life had other plans for Kitchens, who's now the fourth generation of her family to go into the field.
She started her career in the Xerox finance department as a student and worked her way up. She finished a bachelor's degree in psychology at UNT, focused on performance management, and earned an M.B.A. in strategic management.
In 2001, she'd nearly passed up an opportunity to work in Citigroup's credit and energy finance division. A Citibank mentor encouraged her to reconsider.
The experience she then had in finance coupled with know-how that comes from growing up in oil country made her a great fit. Her career "took off" at Citibank, where she assisted with oil and gas lending and the integration of First American Bank, a newly acquired Texas bank, in the mid-2000s.
"I was in charge of many energy-related and integration projects, setting up energy portfolio management and moving products to the Texas marketplace," she says.
She stayed with Citibank for eight years and then continued to advance in her career by building out groups at Sovereign Bank, F&M Bank and CTB Energy Finance.
She landed with East West Bank, based in Pasadena, California, in 2015. One of the 25 largest public banks in the nation, it is consistently named a Top 15 on Forbes' list of 100 Best Banks in America.
The bank tapped Kitchens, as group managing director of energy finance, to expand its Texas footprint in commercial lending by launching a national energy finance platform.
"This was an opportunity to give this bank energy exposure going into the recent downturn," says Kitchens, whose accolades include being named to The Dallas 500, D-CEO's list of the most powerful DFW business leaders. She also was named one of the Top 20 people under age 40 in energy by Oil and Gas Investor and recognized in Who's Who in Energy by the Dallas Business Journal.
East West is the third bank for which she's built an energy division.
"The energy industry is so very important," Kitchens says. "When people think about oil and gas, they often think about putting fuel in their tanks and the big companies of the world such as Exxon. They don't think about the independent and mom-and-pop energy providers or advancements on the tech side."
"That program pushed me and was the seed for me launching the Women's Employee Network Program at Citibank," says Kitchens, also a founding member of the Women's Energy Network and the Texas Energy Update.
"I wanted to provide a conduit to support and attract more women to the industry," she says. "Everything is better with diversity of experiences and people who know how to bring different people -- and therefore different perspectives -- to the table."
Christina Kitchens ('99, '05 M.B.A.)
In the M.B.A. program, we had group projects on the management side. On a couple of occasions my group said, "You sure do like to be in the driver's seat, so we're going to let you drive." I didn't get it at the time, but those things gave me confidence. They were saying that I had permission to lead. That was important because it helped me focus and understand that leading was part of my personality.
I absolutely loved my time in UNT's Professional Leadership Program. Something that stuck with me for many years from PLP was that the program head gave me a card with a motivational poem, The Cork and the Whale, and a piece of cork to be a reminder of perseverance. The poem was about a cork that floated in the great big ocean with a menacing whale but, no matter what happened, it always kept floating to the top because it was made of special stuff. I kept that cork tucked in my purse for many years and still have it stowed away at home.
In oil and gas and banking, there were always few women and minorities. That is changing, and all for the better. The more people who get involved in the industry who can communicate and educate differently, who bring diverse perspectives and perhaps balanced objectives, the more that helps these vital industries thrive.
I'm an avid clay shooter. I was often invited to clay shoot with clients. I am one of those people who, even if I don't know how to do it, is going to show up and figure it out. In this case I happened to really take to it. I also love playing golf, oil painting and collecting first-edition books of American and British classics.
I listen to a wide range of music: dub step, rap, rock and classic rock -- anything with a good beat. I have people pull up to me when I'm driving and my car is sometimes vibrating from a good beat. It draws a look of surprise at times.
All in the family
My husband, Lorenzo Robles Jr. ('09), is now working as an IT manager for the College of Science while pursuing a master's in history. We'd known each other in Odessa and he followed me when I transferred to UNT to be near my brother, Jason Kitchens, who was enrolled as a student and played Mean Green football. Our parents were overseeing an oil and gas project in Kazakhstan for many years, so I was the big sis who had to keep the all-too-popular brother on the straight and narrow.