Cleveland named top alumnus


Newton County native and East Central Community College alumnus Randy Cleveland of Fort Worth, Texas, retired Vice President Americas of ExxonMobil Corporation, will be recognized as the college’s Alumnus of the Year during Homecoming activities scheduled Thursday, Oct. 17, on the Decatur campus.

Cleveland recently retired from Exxon Mobil after a 35-year career in the oil and gas industry.

When notified of his honor, Cleveland said, “I’m extremely honored as I know there are many deserving alumni of this recognition. To come in the year that I retired from a 35-year professional career is very satisfying.  It makes me reflect on all the things that positioned me for a successful career and this recognition is icing on the cake.”

Cleveland is a 1981 graduate of East Central Junior College and continued his education at Mississippi State University.

“I’ve always been a big believer in local community colleges,” Cleveland said. “For me personally, I grew up in Newton County and went to Decatur High School.  I had scholarships to go to larger universities, but East Central was an excellent opportunity to move across the street, stay close to home and get a quality education.  I knew I wanted to be an engineer and ECCC had an excellent reputation for a pre-engineering math and science curriculum that positioned me very well for when I transferred to Mississippi State.  The smaller classes allowed me to get to know my professors and build quality personal relationships with students and faculty.  I think ECCC laid the groundwork for building some key leadership and relationship skills that served me well over the course of my career.”

After completing his degree in Petroleum Engineering at Mississippi State, Cleveland joined Exxon Company, U.S.A. Over the years, he held numerous managerial positions with Exxon Mobil and served the company at various locations throughout the United States and internationally.

He was operations manager in Aberdeen, Scotland, and joint interest manager in London, England, before returning to Houston, Texas, to manage Exxon Mobil’s U.S. business. After a merger with XTO Energy into ExxonMobil in 2010, Cleveland, who directed the merger, became president of XTO. In 2016, he was named Vice President Americas for ExxonMobil Production Company, where he served until his retirement.

Cleveland said he enjoyed every position he held during his long career with ExxonMobil and was especially grateful for the opportunities his international travels afforded him.

He said, “Our first move outside the U.S. was to live in Scotland, a place my wife and I had dreamed of but never visited.  It was indeed a dream, a beautiful country with a rich and long history, and an opportunity to make great Scottish friends for life.  To follow that by living in London was special.  For a “country boy” who grew up in Mississippi to be able to see Buckingham Palace and Big Ben on the way to work every day is something I’ll never forget.”

Also, among the highlights of his career was leading the acquisition of XTO Energy into Exxon Mobil. 

“To integrate a highly successful U.S. oil and gas independent company into a large international corporation was a once in a career opportunity,” Cleveland said. “Being President of XTO post-merger was clearly a highlight. I was very blessed to get that opportunity.”

Cleveland considers himself a “people-person” and credits his upbringing and education in Mississippi with preparing him for leadership and management roles.

“My reputation over the course of my career has always been one of passionate leadership and caring deeply about people. I’ve always been considered a people-person and in any large corporation that’s not always the culture. I think my upbringing at home and my education at Decatur, ECCC and Mississippi State helped define my style and approach. 

“I have a strong passion for treating everyone with respect, listening to them in good times and bad times, but most importantly, motivating and inspiring them to achieve their best and reach their potential.  Work hard but always look for opportunities to have fun and give people the room to grow their wings and develop their own skills. 

“Often times over my career I observed leaders micro-managing others, something I tried to avoid.  I tried to provide guidance and help others any way I could but afford them the opportunity to manage their own business.  I held a strong belief that whatever achievements you may accomplish or how successful you might be, never lose sight of the fact that it takes everyone involved doing their part.  It could be a small part or a larger part, but everyone plays a role and everyone should take pride in that.  I made sure that everyone I worked around understood that.”

Family has always been important to Cleveland, and he said his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Billy J. Cleveland, and his wife, Nina, have been the most influential to his life and career.

“Clearly my parents were influential in my early years growing up in the country between Decatur and Union and they still live on the homeplace where I grew up. I saw how hard they worked but also the respect they had for other people.  They always did things with such high integrity and moral character.  They’ve been extremely supportive throughout my life and encouraged me to follow my dreams, even knowing my career would take me outside the state of Mississippi.  My parents and two brothers laugh today about how much I despised working outside in the garden when I was young.  I guess that’s why I hit the books and ended up with a desk job. Ironically, spending time outdoors is one of my favorite pastimes now.

“The other person is my best friend and partner, my wife Nina.  We’ve been married over 36 years and don’t have any children so naturally we’ve done everything together.  We share everything and she’s been there every step of the way over the course of my career.  Everyone always says, behind every successful person is someone there to support and encourage them and that’s definitely the case with me.”

Although Cleveland didn’t live on campus while enrolled at ECJC, he was still very active in student organizations and activities, including serving as sophomore class president. He was named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Junior Colleges and was a member of Alpha Alpha Epsilon Professional Engineering Society and Phi Theta Kappa honor society.

Cleveland was also big into sports and participated in numerous intramural activities including basketball and flag football, and was the recipient of the men’s intramural award his sophomore year.

He said, “I recall the intramural gym was a scene for many pretty heated battles on the basketball court and you’d often find many of us on the gym floor between classes.  Some of the professors would stop by to watch or sometimes we’d have a round on the ping-pong tables, including some of the professors.  And, of course, you’d see some of the students and professors playing spades on the card tables.  It was always great fun and often entertaining.”

As an engineering major, Cleveland said academics was his primary focus and he spent much of his time studying for copious math and science courses. “The other pre-engineering students and the faculty had a close-knit relationship, we often studied and hung out together,” he added.

Cleveland recalled all of his professors being outstanding at East Central, although he said many of them were very challenging.

“In engineering we needed to take several math courses, including four levels of Calculus and Differential Equations.  Dr. Shelby Harris taught those courses and he had a reputation as being very tough and most all students feared him, including me.  In the end I found him to indeed be tough, but very fair.  He pushed me extremely hard and was a tremendous motivation for me to always seek excellence in whatever I was doing.  He was very influential in my time at East Central and that carried throughout my career.”

Cleveland has never forgotten the impact East Central Community College has had on his life and career and, in 2016, he and his wife established the Randy and Nina Cleveland Pre-Engineering Scholarship, which assists a freshman student each year who is entering the engineering field.

The Clevelands established a similar scholarship at Mississippi State University, where Randy serves as a member of the MSU Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council and MSU Foundation Board of Directors. He was also instrumental in assisting MSU in the revitalization of its petroleum engineering degree program, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree.