Thanks to an extraordinary career as an ExxonMobil legend that spanned 40 countries and six continents, Kenneth C. “K.C.” Williams (BS ASE ’72) has been selected as a Cockrell School Distinguished Engineering Graduate.
It is the highest honor the Cockrell School of Engineering can bestow on its alumni. These graduates have presented themselves to the world as consummate professionals, dedicated engineers and strong supporters of engineering education.
Williams became one of only 251 alumni selected as Distinguished Engineering Graduates out of more than 60,000 Cockrell School graduates. He was honored at a ceremony on May 18, 2012 and was introduced by Harry Longwell, K.C.’s former mentor and retired Director and Executive VP of Exxon Mobil Corporation.
“K.C. distinguished himself in many ways during his nearly 35 years of service with the company based upon a foundation of personal qualities of integrity, work ethic and a relentless never-give-up attitude to get things right and completed on time with a unique ability to enthusiastically motivate all those around him to share his objectives,” Longwell said.
Williams began his career as a drilling engineer at Humble Oil and Refining. He worked as a front line engineer for a mere three years before he moved into his first supervising engineering position. He excelled at the position and was given increasing responsibility in both engineering and management working in Texas, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Canada.
In 1992, Williams was appointed vice president of production for Exxon Company International. His responsibilities included worldwide floating drilling and new business initiatives for all countries outside North America.
Williams was then elected director and senior vice president of Imperial Oil Limited in 1999, and president and chief executive officer of Imperial Oil Resources. He led unprecedented collaboration between industry and Aboriginal communities in the Northwest Territories resulting in a historic agreement that marked the first time in Canadian history that Aboriginal groups had the opportunity to participate as owners in a multibillion dollar industrial project.
In 2004, he was appointed vice president of engineering for ExxonMobil Upstream Research Co., where he was an advocate for high impact research programs.
In addition to his diverse industrial experience, Williams also served in the Texas Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force Reserve and on volunteer boards for the United Way.
“I certainly covered a lot of ground in my 34+ years with Humble/Exxon/Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil, and impacted many major projects around the world engaging directly with Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Officers, Ambassadors, Sheiks and Aboriginal Chiefs,” Williams said.
He and his wife of 41 years, Theresa, moved back to Austin after his remarkable career and continue to be involved with the university through faculty excellence programs, the Chancellor’s Council and support for young engineers.
As the initial sponsors of the Longhorn Rocket Association, they have empowered countless students to take the material they learn in their courses and bring it to life by building rockets. Students Jason Kish and Wiley Mosley, both of whom have benefited from the Williams’ support, attended the induction ceremony representing the 70-member LRA team that is currently working to send a rocket to the edge of space.
Williams dedicated his award to his favorite aerospace engineering professor, Dr. Victor Szebehely. His widow, Jo Betsey Lewallen Szebehely, attended the ceremony as well.
“He was a brilliant researcher, amazing professor, clever motivator and loved a good Aggie joke,” Williams said of his favorite professor. “The academic and life-lessons I learned from Dr. Szebehely were the most valuable that I received on the UT campus. As his peers at NASA acknowledged, ‘His work got us to the moon.’”
Williams credits his strong career start to his five terms as an Aerospace Engineering Co-op student with General Dynamics. He gained more than 1½ years of professional work experience before graduating. He thinks it is one of the best opportunities for students to distinguish themselves from other students with similar academic records.
“In reality, Exxon wasn’t taking as great a risk as it sounds when they hired an aerospace engineer and then promoted me to engineering supervisor in three years,” said Williams.
At the Distinguished Engineering Graduate induction, Williams was joined by his wife Theresa, parents Betty and Art Williams, brother Curt and his wife Cindy, and friends Norma and Harry Longwell, Sharon and Orson Smith, Valeria and Ted Koy, Tim Hearn and Nash Dedford.
During his closing remarks at the ceremony, Dean Greg Fenves thanked Williams for teaching him the importance of investing in people.
“When we first met, you encouraged me to keep hiring the best and brightest faculty despite the tough economic times,” Fenves said. “I took your advice and added 27 new faculty members the past two years and through your generosity we now have an excellence fund to recruit and retain faculty in Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics for years to come. Thank you!”