Charity Begins at Home
Tony Petrello, president and CEO of Nabors Industries Inc. in Houston, Texas, is well-known for his philanthropic presence in the community. The New Jersey native is a regular contributor to hospitals, medical research institutes, nonprofit organizations and charities. Recently, he came to the aid of fellow Texans in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. How Tony Petrello Helped Houston With Hurricane Harvey Relief
If Petrello was born with a generous spirit, he isn’t saying so. Instead, he points to a devastating event in the personal life of his family. The Real Story Behind Anthony Petrello’s Success as CEO of Nabors Industries
“It changed everything,” Petrello says. “It was the turning point in our lives.”
Petrello’s path to Nabors Industries, the world’s largest land-based oil, natural gas and geothermal drilling contractor, was a winding one. He earned a law degree at Harvard Law School and two degrees in mathematics from Yale University. By all accounts, Petrello was considered a mathematical genius even at age 18. He soon became a protege of Serge Lang, an esteemed, world-renowned author and Yale professor. When Lang passed away in 2005, Petrello announced plans to donate $150,000 to create an endowment fund in memory of his professor.
Petrello met his wife, Cynthia, at college. In 1991, he left his job in New York City to become president at Nabors.
“The first five years I was in Houston,” Petrello recalls, “I worked six or seven days every week, and with my wife’s work schedule, we did not have much time to socialize.” Cynthia, formerly a TV actress and producer, was by then in corporate management as well. The two were caught up in their careers and kept mainly to themselves and a small circle of friends. For a long time, everything seemed to go their way. When they set goals, they achieved them. When problems cropped up, they fixed them.
Then, in 1997, Carena Francesca Petrello was born at Houston Women’s Hospital. The baby arrived 16 weeks early. She weighed just 20 ounces and had a serious disorder that prevents oxygen flow to the brain. Doctors performed several surgeries to save her heart and vision, but it was soon clear that Carena also had cerebral palsy.
With brain defects that severely limited her ability to care for herself, the little girl faced one challenge after another. Although she had language early on, she lost the ability to speak at age 5. Eating posed the greatest challenge; it took months of repetition before she finally learned how to chew when she was 8. Today, Carena relies on a wheelchair to get around.
“It caused a major change in our perceptions,” Petrello says. “My wife thought we’d have a dancer. I thought we’d have a mathematician. Instead, we had to adjust our expectations. You realize that your time here on earth is short and you want to make a difference. You don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself.”
Petrello and his wife also adjusted their priorities. As a brilliant former mathematician who was used to solving problems, Petrello focused all his energy on better understanding his daughter’s illness and finding the best treatment. In 2002, he met with some of the highest-regarded specialists in the country. He was heartbroken to learn that there was nothing they could do and shocked to discover that very little research was taking place. “The lack of knowledge about this problem is astounding,” says Petrello. “And the lack of resources is sinful.”
The doctors and families that he met at Texas Children’s Hospital felt the same way. In 2006, Petrello donated $5 million and pledged another $2 million for a research institute devoted to finding causes and cures for neurological disorders. He and Cynthia have been overwhelmed by the support and generosity of their friends and colleagues.
Hurricane Harvey Relief
Fast-forward to 2017, and you’ll see that Petrello is still working hard to solve problems. Nabors Industries is actively supportive of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and other worthwhile causes.
The generous CEO is good to his workers as well. Employees are grateful for the company’s on-site barbecue pit, state-of-the-art fitness center and other perks of the job. Since 2009, the Nabors Charitable Foundation has awarded their children more than $3 million in scholarships. In turn, employees look for ways to help charities and give back to the community.
There was no greater opportunity than Hurricane Harvey, which wreaked havoc in one form or another from mid-August to early September.
The costliest tropical cyclone on record left residents of Houston and surrounding areas without homes, cars, power, clean water, food, basic necessities or access to their money. Indeed, hundreds of Nabors Industries’ 1,200 workers were themselves hard hit. Petrello and his company responded quickly.
Staff members offered aid to their coworkers and pooled resources to assist in hands-on recovery efforts. Petrello not only matched close to $175,000 in employee donations to the Nabors Disaster Relief Fund, but he also gave paid time off to employees who were helping wherever they could throughout southeast Texas. For more than two months after Harvey hit, the company cafe furnished three hot meals a week to displaced families.
Keeping the Faith Faith in God and Carena’s sunny, positive attitude have been continual sources of inspiration for the Petrellos. They regularly pray for a cure, but in the meantime, they acknowledge their many blessings. Paying them forward is the least they can do to show their gratitude.