When asked what kind of law they practice, most attorneys in Houston say energy law. It’s not surprising, given that the city houses 4,600 energy-related companies and one-third of the state’s oil and gas workers. Rajesh Sharma is no exception. The securities attorney, a Houston resident since the age of sixteen, sees his job at Apache Corporation as “helping meet the world’s energy needs.” That also happens to be in the company’s vision statement.
Sharma brings a unique combination of skills to the Fortune 500 oil and gas company. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s in professional accounting at the University of Texas at Austin and spent several years as a CPA, including stints at two of the Big 6 (now Big 4) firms as well as at Arco Pipeline Company. After five years at Arco, he decided to go to law school—a goal he’d had high school. After earning his Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston Law Center with honors, he held positions of increasing responsibility at various law firms, including Norton Rose Fulbright, Hunton Andrews Kurth, and Mayer Brown.
His tenure at Arco Pipeline Company showed him that he enjoyed an in-house environment. “At a law firm, you have lots of different clients with differing goals. At a company, everyone is working toward the same goal. I wanted to focus my efforts on helping one business succeed and be part of a team where everyone shares that passion,” he explains.
He started as Apache’s securities counsel in 2009. “My main internal clients were the corporate secretary and the governance officer,” he says. “They were both very experienced and very good at what they did, so I was able to learn from the best; they both had a lot of experience to share.
“Apache’s general counsel Anthony Lannie thinks very strategically, and in an effort to cross-train me, he eventually asked me to be the assistant general counsel for mergers and acquisitions,” Sharma recalls.
Those tasks took him all over the world. “I’ve had the opportunity to work on transactions in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Argentina. While we take the lead in the negotiations, we do retain select firms in those jurisdictions as these are these are very large and complex transactions. Our international deals are challenging and interesting and very impactful to the company. It’s been a privilege to work on them.”
In February 2016, the company’s governance officer left the company, and Sharma was asked to take on those responsibilities in addition to his M&A responsibilities. When the corporate secretary retired in July 2016, the board appointed Sharma to the role. “I enjoy interacting with the board and engaging with shareholders on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) matters,” he says.
The company’s ESG efforts have been noticed, and Sharma is very proud to be part of the company’s efforts. Apache was recognized as one of the Just 100 by Forbes magazine and Just Capital for 2020. The list recognizes companies for their treatment of and engagement with stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, employees, communities, and the environment. Apache was also named E&P Company of the Year (September 2019) by the Oil & Gas Awards and the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute. Sharma’s efforts have also received recognition: he received the 2019 Corporate Sector Achievement award from the University of Houston Law Alumni Association.
As part of Apache’s focus on continuous improvement, Sharma is taking advantage of new technologies for streamlining communication—for instance, contracting with a board meeting software provider. “Before this software, board meetings were a very paper-intensive effort,” Sharma says. “Now we can upload documents to a shared site and members of the board team can review and comment on them wherever they happen to be, making board meetings more efficient.
“Making things more efficient is good business, but it also reflects one of the mottoes of Apache’s founder Raymond Plank,” Sharma continues. “He always emphasized a sense of urgency. Once the company decided that a certain move was appropriate, he said we should waste no time accomplishing it. We are able to move more quickly than our larger industry peers, so it is a competitive advantage.”
Sharma admits that the current climate, in which fossil fuels are being challenged and countries around the world are rewriting energy regulations, is tricky, but he says Apache is clear about its mission. “Our expertise is oil and gas exploration and production. We are a nimble company and will invest and restructure as necessary.”
Recent studies by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggest that even in a carbon-constrained world, the demand for natural gas will continue to grow for the next twenty years, and natural gas and oil will continue to play an important role for decades to come. Apache will be ready. “We will continue to provide those energy resources in an environmentally responsible and profitable manner,” Sharma says.