Trilingual: Conan Shearer bridges business, IT and supply chain management

Conan Shearer graduated with a W. P. Carey MBA and an MSIM degree, but he also learned to “speak” three languages: business, IT and supply chain management. “I can easily sit with an IT or supply chain specialist and get it, and then translate that to real business terms and language,” says Shearer, who was recruited by Exxon when he graduated in 1997 and has been with the company (now ExxonMobil) ever since in a variety of capacities.

A Rainmaker is someone who makes something happen: at his company, in his career, in his community. The Rainmaker series showcases department of information systems alumni who are catalysts of growth and change.

July 22, 2014 — Conan Shearer graduated from the W. P. Carey School of Business with two degrees — an MBA and a Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) — but he also learned to “speak” three languages. Shearer speaks and understands the languages of business, IT and supply chain management.

“I can easily sit with an IT or supply chain specialist and get it, and then translate that to real business terms and language,” says Shearer, who was recruited by Exxon when he graduated in 1997 and has been with the company (now ExxonMobil) ever since in a variety of capacities. “What’s special about W. P. Carey is that it teaches graduates to be fluent in more than one subject and to be able to switch languages between groups.”

It’s likely his grasp of knowledge that spans business functions was one of the factors that made Shearer attractive to the Exxon manager who recruited him to the company. But it wasn’t the only one.

That recruiter was Phil Rogers, now a clinical assistant professor of information systems at the W. P. Carey School.

An outstanding candidate

“I came to ASU for an information session open to all graduating seniors and grad students who might be interested in working at Exxon,” Rogers recalls. “Conan stood out among the 30 or 40 students who attended the session. His questions were so much more interesting and probing than what we would usually hear at such sessions. Being a dual degree candidate, he was a particularly attractive prospect to me. At the time, we were hiring very few MBAs into the information systems function at Exxon, so a candidate really had to stand out — and Conan did.”

Shearer began his career with ExxonMobil as a systems analyst supporting the Chemical Company in Houston. Over the next few years, he held various positions, including supporting Chemical’s patent process, supervising a team of IT analysts and planning for Chemical’s IT during the ExxonMobil merger transition. In 2001, he moved to Fairfax, Virginia, as an IT account manager and later became an e-business manager. He returned to Houston in 2004 and held various IT, business and planning management positions supporting upstream research, major capital projects, production and the global services company. In 2010, he returned to Fairfax as ExxonMobil’s global strategic sourcing manager.

In September 2013, Shearer moved to Prague, where he manages ExxonMobil’s payables operations for Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South America and parts of North America. His team members come from more than 60 different countries and speak more than 20 languages.

“I’ve had 14 jobs over my 17 years with ExxonMobil, moved my home five times with the company, worked in services and in the oil and gas business line, and have had global and local teams,” Shearer says. “So I’ve had multiple careers within the same company.”

An aspiring anthropologist

Shearer wasn’t always planning a career in information systems. He received his undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of North Carolina. “My parents were academics/librarians and encouraged us to study what we loved,” he explains. “I was intrigued by cultures so I enjoyed anthropology.”

But after graduating, he shifted gears and helped run a small roofing business. When he discovered that his partner didn’t wish to grow the business, Shearer decided to take a mini-MBA program at UNC to test his long-term interest. “I’d always been business minded, and I liked the course, so I decided to pursue a full-time MBA,” he says.

Shearer researched several business schools, and chose ASU because he and his wife thought it would be an adventure to move to the West. He also was attracted to Arizona because he enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing and skiing. During his first year in the MBA program, he decided to add the MSIM program to his plate because “the marriage of IT and business was a no-brainer and a game changer. You can apply it to any business scenario.”

Shearer’s first job with ExxonMobil was as an IT analyst, which he describes as being like a business consultant who had to understand the marketing group’s process and needs and find ways to automate and improve those processes by leveraging his knowledge of system design, development and implementation. He didn’t write code but translated and managed the system development, serving as the integration point between the real business and the systems. “That is the wheelhouse of the dual degree I did at ASU,” he says, “marrying business with IT.”

He says that part of ExxonMobil’s employee development process is to give new hires multiple opportunities early in their careers to broaden their experiences, allowing them to learn about the business and industry while developing their leadership and functional skills.

Aligned with the ExxonMobil DNA

“ExxonMobil truly surprised me,” Shearer says. “They are very smart and professional but lack ego or attitude. They are surprisingly process-focused and extremely good at everything, such as the recruiting process, versus Silicon Valley. ExxonMobil’s DNA is engineering, and I align with that type of data-driven decision-making and thinking.”

Shearer says he has stayed with the company all these years because of the opportunities he’s had to work at diverse and interesting jobs and because he has been constantly challenged. His current position in Prague taps into his interest in anthropology and cultures because of the diverse nature of his global team. “It’s a cultural melting pot,” he says.

Living in Europe also has been a great experience for his wife and their three children (ages 14, 11 and 7). “The family is settled, we love the school and we are exploring,” he says. “So far someone from the family or all of us have gone to France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy and Denmark — with a lot more trips planned.”

Even though he works so much and has moved around a lot over the years, Shearer has managed to spend a lot of time with his family and to achieve a work-life balance. Travel and recreation also help. He says one of the reasons he chose to go to Prague was to be close to skiing in the Alps, although this past winter was a bad year for snow, so he only managed to ski one week, in Austria.

Advice to W. P. Carey students

Shearer says that based on his experience at W. P. Carey and at ExxonMobil, he would offer this advice to students in the Information Management program:

  • Be passionately curious and constantly explore new ideas
  • Be confident (but modest) — egos aren’t appreciated
  • Be team smart — find what motivates others and tap into it
  • Keep it simple — have real depth but always be able to simplify

And Shearer remains a big supporter of the ASU business school and the IS department.

“Obviously I’m a fan,” he says. “It was the best investment I’ve ever made and my life is richer than I ever dreamed, and not just financially.”