Mines Magazine

From the football field to the natural gas industry, Mines alums leading with integrity

Chris Valdez ’00 and Ty Harrison ’98 work together on the leadership team of PureWest Energy
Portrait of Chris Valdez ’00 and Ty Harrison ’98

Chris Valdez ’00 and Ty Harrison ’98 first met as Mines students and both were on the Oredigger football team. At that time, they could never have predicted they’d eventually be business partners, starting companies and working together on the leadership team for PureWest Energy, an independent natural gas producer in Colorado.

Cover of Spring 2024 issue of Mines Magazine
This story first appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Mines Magazine.

The duo’s early careers ran parallel as they worked in similar oil and gas spaces, with Valdez working in commercial and technical positions and Harrison involved in the commodity and risk management side of the industry. Their paths converged for a time when they both worked for Encana Corporation before they pursued new opportunities and worked their way up into leadership positions at various organizations.

However, Valdez and Harrison knew they wanted to build something together. In 2017, they founded Middle Fork Energy Partners, a company focused on the acquisition and development of oil and gas properties in the Rocky Mountain region.

They ran Middle Fork Energy Partners for a few years before they had the opportunity to take over management of PureWest Energy in 2020. Now, Valdez leads PureWest as chief executive officer, and Harrison serves as the company’s president and chief financial officer. In 2023, The Denver Business Journal named Valdez as a “Most Admired CEO” among 21 other top-ranking Denver-area executives, and PureWest was recognized with a “Best Place to Work” distinction. Valdez and Harrison place a high priority on cultivating a positive, productive and inclusive environment for their employees while advancing the natural gas industry.

We met with Valdez and Harrison to learn more about the challenges they’ve faced in their entrepreneurial journeys and their thoughts on finding success as business leaders. Here is some of what they had to say.

Mines Magazine: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as entrepreneurs, particularly as you’ve taken over leadership of PureWest?

Harrison: When Chris and I started Middle Fork Energy Partners, it was sort of like running up a hill and falling down again. But the idea is to trust what you’re doing and trust the process. I don’t think we ever reached a point where we said maybe this isn’t working, but we definitely reached a few points where we were wondering if we were going to land anything and if we should keep going. Dealing with those ups and downs and the trial-and-error aspects of the business is one of the more challenging things.

Valdez: When we were first looking for sponsors, we were a couple of guys who had never done this before. We had to sell our vision about what we wanted to build and how great we thought it could be. Luckily, we were successful. That plays into when we stepped in to lead PureWest. We inherited a large number of employees from the previous regime and had to sell those people on our vision and get them behind us. That was probably the most difficult thing—getting them to buy in quickly to what we wanted to do going forward and then ask them to execute it.

MM: How do you make that happen? How do you convince people to buy in when they don’t have experience with your leadership style and your vision for the business?

Valdez: It’s treating folks with integrity and respect. They know a big change is coming, so being transparent really sets the stage for how your interactions are going to go moving forward. Once you start establishing that trust, people will start buying into what you want to do. We’ve prioritized being transparent and giving people an opportunity to shine. Not everybody wanted to be there at first, but those who really bought in and wanted to do the great things we had planned were able to really step up and show us what they could do.

Harrison: Providing opportunities for employees to generate ideas and be empowered to drive positive change in the business has been tremendously effective. Sometimes, somebody might say, “Well, that’s not for me.” And that’s OK. But for the people who say, “That’s for me,” you have a teammate who you can do great things with and enjoy success together.

MM: What are some of the strongest qualities you’ve seen in leaders, and how do you think those qualities translate into success?

Harrison: I think a great leader is someone who is genuine and will give it to you straight but coupling that with compassion and recognizing they’re dealing with real people. It’s developing an environment where we’re thinking about what the company is trying to accomplish but is complimentary to what’s important to the employees and the ways in which they’re trying to grow. When those can coexist and everybody’s aligned, you can achieve great things for business and your people.

Valdez: It’s absolutely that people have to trust you if you’re going to get them to follow you—and that coupled with self-awareness is important. I also think something that probably doesn’t get talked about enough is listening. Listen to what people have to say. It’s on us to set these strategic objectives and directions for the company, but then we need to get out of the way and let our people execute that vision. That’s one of the things that I’ve admired about the leaders throughout my career—those who allow you to have accountability and let you stumble but then help pick you up rather than hovering over every decision. That’s something we try to do as much as possible.

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Mines Magazine

For Colorado School of Mines Alumni and Friends
Ashley Spurgeon, Editor
About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public R1 research university focused on applied science and engineering, producing the talent, knowledge and innovations to serve industry and benefit society – all to create a more prosperous future.