20 Under 40: John Paul Merritt

John Paul Merritt | 39

Pony Oil
Education: University of Oklahoma

From growing up in Oklahoma City where he learned all about hard work as a fifth-grader helping his father make and sell Christmas wreaths out of wire grid panels and cedar tree branches to building his own company, John Paul Merritt’s journey can easily be summed up as an All-American success story. With its headquarters firmly rooted in Dallas, Merritt has built his land-focused oil and gas company, Pony Oil, from a laptop in Starbucks five years ago to more than 35 employees and $145 million in revenue for 2018. He also opened a family office, Merritt Plus that invests in Dallas businesses like unleavened Fresh Kitchen in Snider Plaza. The Highland Park father of four also is heavily involved in his children’s schools (Armstrong Elementary and Westminster Presbyterian), Christ the King Catholic Church, and several nonprofits. His Golden Rule: Work and live like your children are watching. “My faith and family is the most important thing in this world to me, and just as I followed my father’s examples, so will my children.”

Q: What was your “lightbulb moment” that lead you to your career?
A: Not sure there was a “lightbulb moment,” but I truly believe that my failures and my ability to learn from them have provided me a unique skill set that has helped propel Pony Oil to what it is today.

Q: What do you love most about the Park Cities?
A: This is an easy one. Community. (My wife) Kriti and I constantly tell ourselves how lucky we are to be able to live in a community that cares so much about their city, friends, and families.

Did You Know?
If there were one thing I could change about the community, it would be that by law all Mexican restaurants have to give free queso along with the salsa and chips.

Q: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

A: In the 5th grade my father taught my younger brothers and me how to make Christmas Wreaths out of wire grid panels and cedar tree branches. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving we would go out and find cedar trees to trim and make a couple of samples and bring them home. We loaded the sample wreaths up on wagons and went door to door. They were an instant hit and sold about a hundred. I remember being so excited … until I learned I now had to fulfill the orders. I would spend the weeknights in the cold garage cutting the wire and tying the grids together in circles prepped for the cedar branches. On Sundays, we would go out and collect the branches and weave them through the wire. I remember how hard my father worked on top of running his own paving company and didn’t take one penny of what we sold. This experience not only taught me how to sell and deliver but set a great foundation on what hard work was all about.

Q: Where do you see yourself and/or your career 10 years from now?

A: Continuing to grow Pony Oil with the headquarters being firmly rooted in Dallas, Texas. Along with expanding the Company’s strategy to additional basins in the United States, Pony Oil will continue to evolve by taking more of an Operated approach to the industry. Pony plans to use the Company’s land expertise to advise and invest in Operating teams who will capitalize on drilling and executing with increased economics.

Q: Which leadership skills were the most challenging for you to develop and why?

A: Patience! I move very quickly and constantly reminding myself to slow down. Luckily, I have some very smart and patient people that I work with to offset that flaw.

Q: What is your favorite local store?

A: Unleavened Fresh Kitchen

Q: Where is the best place in the Park Cities or Preston Hollow for a power lunch – what do you order?

A: The Park House – Steak

Q: If there was ONE thing that you could change or improve in the community, what would it be?

A: I would make a law that all Mexican restaurants have to give free queso along with the salsa and chips.

Q: If you could buy a book (or rent a movie) for your neighbor, what would it be?

A: “Principles: Life and Work” by Ray Dalio

Q: If someone made a movie of your life, what would the title be and who would play you?

A: “Really!?!?!?” – Vince Vaughn

Q: If we looked at your social media accounts, what would we learn about you?

A: Not active on Facebook but have private Instagram that shows how my family and friends are my greatest assets.

Q: If you could, what advice would you have for your teenage self and why?

A: Work and live like your children are watching. My faith and family is the most important thing in this world to me and just as I followed my father’s examples so will my children.

Q: What, to date, has been your most impressive or rewarding accomplishment in both your professional and personal life?

A: My most rewarding accomplishment is my family and my most professional accomplishment is what my team and I have built at Pony Oil.

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