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Alumnus Spotlight: Kevin Bartol

kevinbartol_large01To hear oil services firm executive Kevin Bartol ‘81 tell it, he worked as hard as a student at Rice as at any other time in his distinguished professional career.

The vice president for strategic planning at Rowan Companies, Inc. in Houston formulates innovative plans to expand the company’s business drilling complex offshore wells and manufacturing high specification drilling and mining equipment.

“It’s a challenging and competitive business with lots of complex problems to solve,” said Bartol.

Before joining Rowan two years ago, Bartol was chief financial officer at Jindal United Steel Corp. and earlier worked as chief operating officer at Network International. He is a former investment banker for Simmons and Company International, and was a McKinsey and Company associate. He also worked as a project engineer at Exxon and earned an MBA at Harvard.

“But I can’t say I worked harder in anything than I did as a Rice student. At the time I probably didn’t realize it, but experiencing the demands that (Rice) professors put on students prepared me for everything else I’ve done,” he said.

In fact, when speaking to prospective Rice students today, the 49-year-old executive jokes a bit, telling them, “it’s too bad you chose to attend a school so much more difficult than Harvard or Stanford.”

“You’ll really get worked over (at Rice),” he tells them. “But you’re taught not just information—you learn how to learn. At Rice nobody really cares if you go to class, so you have to be self-motivated. And, after you graduate, it sticks with you.”

A summa cum laude mechanical engineering graduate, Bartol said many people in his engineering class moved on to highly successful careers in other disciplines and entrepreneurial ventures.

Bartol himself took an unusual risk and, with fellow Rice alumnus Brock Wagner, co-founded Houston-based Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in 1994. The firm, which continues to expand, claims the distinction of being Texas’ oldest craft brewery. Bartol, who sold a substantial amount of his ownership in the company in 1999, remains a significant investor in St. Arnold. He is listed on the brewery’s web site as “founder emeritus” and is fondly remembered for his contributions to the company.

“Kevin is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life,” said Wagner. “I’m a little more of a pie in the sky kind of guy, while his mind is very logical, which provided a good balance. He’s also a great negotiator—he could negotiate water from a rock. That was really critical in our research and starting up the company.”

Bartol remains active at Rice, and earlier served as president of the Association of Rice Alumni. He is also a past president of the Rice Engineering Alumni, an organization that actively promotes the benefits of the university’s engineering programs.

He is married to Jacquelyn Bartol. They live in the Southhampton neighborhood two blocks from the Rice stadium and have an 8-year-old daughter, Jillian.