As the chief financial officer at California Resources Corporation (CRC), Francisco Leon admits that he may not always be the loudest voice in the room. He tends to let his work do the talking.
That said, Leon is quite vocal about his passion for the energy industry—which has changed his life as well as provided thousands, if not millions, of jobs to Latinos of all backgrounds. Indeed, the oil and natural gas industry has quite a diverse workforce, from the employees “turning the wrenches” (as Leon puts it) all the way up to those who have risen into positions of leadership like himself.
But Leon’s sense of fulfillment isn’t just because of how welcoming the industry is to people of diverse backgrounds: his own background has helped him to see the myriad ways in which affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy can impact an entire society.
Two Connected, But Different Worlds
Leon grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, and frequently crossed the border into San Diego—he quickly noticed a stark contrast that would forever impact his mindset. “We have two cities that are incredibly interconnected, but they’re also very different,” Leon explains. “You had a very capitalist country that saw so many signs of progress, and it’s right next to a third-world country that lacks urban planning and underinvests in infrastructure.”
Leon’s cross-border experience would be further solidified by a college summer internship for a natural gas pipeline company in Colorado that was looking to make in-roads to Mexico. “Prior to that experience, I didn’t know much about the energy sector,” Leon admits, “but it fit everything that I was looking for. I wanted international experience, I wanted to meet people from all over the world, and I wanted the opportunity to do business and travel extensively.”
Travel and international business experience aside, the CFO has stayed in the energy sector for all these years because of one simple reason: he believes in it. “I often think of the people back in Mexico that are resources rich but energy-poor. They simply do not have access to the kind of quality of life we have here in the United States,” he says. “Mexico is an incredible country, but there are energy blackouts, interruptions of service, and a large part of the population doesn’t have access to the basics that are commonplace here.”
The Impetus for Greatness
Leon acknowledges that the energy industry has more critics than ever before, but says that the industry, by and large, doesn’t get the chance to balance the argument. The CFO remembers prior presidents speaking about the importance of energy independence and the industry’s desire to find an alternative to getting oil from the Middle East.
“That’s the narrative I entered this country hearing,” Leon says. “You saw people in Texas with incredible innovation and entrepreneurial spirit find a way to drill for oil in ways they hadn’t before. They created a boom in the industry, and the US went from having to depend on foreign oil to being a net exporter. To me, that is incredible. We took what was a problem and came out better for it.
“Fast forward to today,” the CFO continues, “and this is what California needs now. I believe we can meet the social and economic needs of our working families and our state’s ambitious environmental goals by replacing our chronic dependence on imported energy with locally produced oil, natural gas, and renewables.”
According to Leon, the industry is also incredibly rigorous about the resources that it uses and distributes. It is perhaps doubly, if not triply, tougher in California, where CRC is based. “We have some of the highest operating standards here, and we produce some of the cleanest energy,” Leon explains. “It can be frustrating to see that the state wants to continually subsidize technologies that are frankly inferior. But I think it just makes me double-down on my efforts for an industry that I care so much about.”
The CFO says that if more people were cognizant of exactly what his industry produces, and how, it might create a more even-keeled conversation that would lay the groundwork for the future of energy for the world.
“We focus on safely and responsibly supplying lower carbon intensity energy and are committed to decarbonization and the energy transition,” Leon says. “And oil is not just a source of energy—it is also an important raw material for many products we use every day. Some are obvious, like rubber, nylon, and plastics, But perhaps more surprisingly, oil is used in things like aspirin and medicines, ink, plastic for glasses and contact lenses, fibers in clothing, as well as the energy that powers most transportation around the world.
“Oil and gas have made humanity better,” he adds, “and it continues to enhance the quality of life for people here. I have a deep sense of passion around the benefits that my industry provides.”
The Energy to Give
The many mentors Leon has encountered throughout his career have motivated him to continue helping the next generation of leaders find success in the energy sector. And the mentoring program at CRC has helped formalize the CFO’s desire to give back.
Outside of CRC, Leon’s passion continues to drive him. The CFO is a board member of the Union Rescue Mission (URM) of Los Angeles: the largest privately funded homeless shelter in the US, the URM serves more than sixty-six thousand homeless individuals in Los Angeles County alone.
“I’m blown away by the quality of the URM staff and other board members,” Leon says. “These are people who truly want to help people get back on their feet—to make a difference.”
By the Numbers: The California Energy Industry
- 92 percent of all transportation fuel in California is based on crude oil, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
- The state’s energy deficit requires California to use 70 percent of all the oil it produces on jet fuel alone.
- In California, more than 25 state and federal agencies oversee all aspects of the exploration and development of properties, production, transportation, and sale of oil and natural gas.
- California’s oil and natural gas industry is much more diverse than other industries, with over 28 percent Latino, 11 percent Asian, and 6 percent Black employees.