OLLU alumnus is new Valero president

Posted on Friday, March 8, 2013

Weekend College has produced many leaders for Fortune 500 company


 Joe Gorder

Joe Gorder wanted to round out his education. He wanted an MBA that would allow him to move from Information Technology to another career path. But Gorder was squeezed for time. If he wasn’t logging 50-plus hours a week at the office, he was managing responsibilities at home with his wife and two young children.

How could he go back to school?

He did some research and found a solution: Our Lady of the Lake University’s Weekend College. Two decades after earning his MBA from OLLU, Gorder has become President and Chief Operating Officer of Valero Energy Corp., a Fortune 500 company that ranks as the nation’s largest oil refiner.

“The Weekend College provided flexibility of scheduling,” says Gorder (MBA 1992). “It allowed me to go to work during the week and attend classes on weekends.”

While pursuing his MBA, Gorder served as assistant treasurer and director of information systems for Diamond Shamrock. He rose through the company before joining Valero as Senior Vice President of Development and Strategic Planning.

Gorder distinguished himself in that position and received a series of promotions. He served as Chief Commercial Officer and President of Valero Europe, where he oversaw all commercial trading, before assuming President and COO responsibilities in January.

In a statement, Valero chairman and chief executive officer Bill Klesse said, “This new title reflects Joe's commitment to excellence in all aspects of our business and his ongoing leadership in our operations."

OLLU holds fond memories for Valero’s new president. “I made a lot of friends there,” he says. “There was an interesting mix of people from all over – the military, USAA, medical fields and marketing companies. I learned a lot about how things work in other industries.”

As a graduate student, Gorder nurtured big ambitions. But he never specifically imagined himself as the President and COO of Valero.

“If God wants you in a certain spot, he’s going to get you there,” Gorder says. “And if he doesn’t, you won’t get there. I don’t think you can manage a career. There are too many variables. It’s too complicated. God has to have a hand in it.”


 Debbie Hevner

God has also had a hand in the careers of a number of OLLU alumni at Valero. The company employs more than 36 Lake graduates.

When Debbie Hevner pondered a return to college, she had a husband, two children, a full-time job and a new position at the office.


 Ruth Piña

She counted the cost – her company would pay 80 percent of the tuition – calculated the time it would take to earn her degree (four to five years) and plunged ahead.

The education she received from the Weekend College program at Our Lady of the Lake University opened one door after another, and created unexpected opportunities. Barely a decade after graduating with a degree in business, Hevner became a University trustee. At Valero Energy Corp., she rose from benefits administrator in Human Resources to Senior Vice President of the department.

“I loved the Lake,” she says. ”The HR classes I took, the business ethics I learned, all those things we use in our jobs today.”


 Pearl Kilbride

Other OLLU alumni at Valero include Vice President of Human Resources and Human Relations Ruth Piña; credit manager Pearl Kilbride; and human resources information specialist Sandi Rodriguez.

Kilbride earned a bachelor’s in accounting in 1989. But she returned 10 years later to pursue an MBA while working for Valero. “I love Weekend College,” she says, “because I never had to stop my daily work routine.”


 Sandi Rodriguez

Rodriguez is another Weekend College product. She held a clerical position at Valero before graduating from OLLU. “Because of the degree, I was given a promotion to what we classify as a professional position,” she says. “I am so grateful to the Lake for the way they worked with Valero. Yes, Valero paid 80 percent of the tuition. But l still owed the Lake 20 percent and couldn’t have made that in one payment. They let me pay over three months. That was huge.”

Weekend College proved a perfect fit for Debbie Hevner. “My job made it hard to get away at 5 o’clock and go to evening classes at a traditional University,” says Hevner, who has worked at Valero for 28 years. “With Weekend College, I could study at home in the evenings and be with my husband and children. I loved the Lake. I’d like to go back there one day and teach.”