Our People: Ian Leybas Talks Tribal Affairs, Adversity and Fishing

Nov 28, 2023 10:00 AM ET

Ian (pronounced Eye-an) Leybas was born at the Choctaw Nation Healthcare Center in Talihina, Oklahoma. His father was Native American, and while he grew up not knowing his father, Leybas is a citizen of Muscogee (Creek) Nation and feels very connected to the tribal community. In his current role at Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC), he is able to help tribal communities thrive.

“Through Marathon Petroleum’s Tribal Affairs Working Group (TAWG), we engage directly with leaders of the Choctaw Nation, the Cheyenne Arapaho Nation and the Muskogee (Creek) Nation on workforce development to improve the communities in eastern Oklahoma,” said Leybas, Senior Manager for MPLX Gathering and Processing (G&P), a midstream segment of MPC. “It is definitely one of the most fulfilling things in my life.”

Leybas stays busy in his role as a leader with MPLX G&P, supporting tribal communities with the TAWG, family activities, and making time for his favorite sport of fishing. His experiences have taught him to work hard and play hard.

Life in Oklahoma

“I’m definitely my mama’s boy,” said Leybas. “I’ll be 50 in December, and she never fails to tell me how proud she is of me. I’ve been blessed, even through adversity.”

Leybas grew up and went to school in Oklahoma. He’s a proud graduate of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Accounting degree and then his master’s in business administration (MBA) in Finance in 2019.

Leybas met his wife Crystal in college, and they have been married for 23 years and have two children. His daughter, Kaylee, is 21 years old and a senior at Oklahoma State University (OSU); his son, Cole, is 16 years old and a sophomore in high school. Leybas says they have a pretty nice little family that stays active and loves spending time together.

Leybas has worked for MPC for almost 15 years. He started in project accounting as an administrator doing accounting work, then went into financial analysis and worked his way to manager of forecasting and analysis. He then transitioned to work in Operations with MPLX G&P, Eastern Oklahoma.

“I enjoy it. Accounting is wonderful, but operations is exciting. It never stops. It’s a 24/7 job: the operation of moving gas and liquid from sales to delivery,” said Leybas.

“We work directly with the Choctaw Nation, the Cheyenne Arapaho Nation and the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. It is definitely one of the most fulfilling things in my life.”

Commitment to Tribal Communities

In areas where we operate, MPC is committed to building strong partnerships with tribal nations and communities who are historically marginalized. A portion of the company’s Tribal Affairs Working Group (TAWG) is made up of employees from these various business units that operate on or near tribal lands. MPC’s Principal ESG & Stakeholder Engagement Representative VJ Smith manages the TAWG and supports 21 tribal partnerships.

In 2021, Smith asked Leybas to help build the network with the Native American tribes in Oklahoma where MPC has an operational footprint across multiple tribal lands. Leybas then officially joined the TAWG and has become a key member.

“Our relationship with Indigenous peoples is founded on respect,” said Smith. “Respect for the distinct history, cultures and legal status of Indigenous Peoples and their unique relationship to the land.”

Since starting with the TAWG, Leybas and Smith have worked together on workforce development and community needs projects and meetings with several tribes in Oklahoma.

Leybas also serves as an advisor at the OSU Institute of Technology and helps align the educational program with changes happening in the oil and gas industry. He helps students network and secure jobs when they graduate from the program.

“These programs are making a difference in our communities, and watching the students fulfill their vision to better themselves means the world to me,” said Leybas. “Students ask me ‘how did you get to where you are?’ I tell them to put their head down and do the work. Do the right thing when no one is looking. Know where you want to be and stay on the course to success.”

Facing Adversity

His success hasn’t been without some challenges. In 2019, Leybas found a small lump on his hip that he thought was unusual. He almost forgot to bring it up at his next doctor’s appointment. When he did, his doctor sent him for a biopsy, and the results turned his life upside-down.

“I found out I had non-Hodgkin's Peripheral T-Cell lymphoma, cancer in the lymph system,” said Leybas. “It was intimidating. It was a scary time.”

Through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and stem cell transplant treatment that caused him to lose his hair and 50 pounds, he tried to stay positive. After his initial treatment, scans showed the cancer was in remission. A year and a half later, a routine scan showed the cancer had returned.

“Being a numbers guy, I know the statistics and what the relapse data says,” said Leybas. “That was rough. That was mentally hard.”

But he had lots of support from family and friends that helped him persevere. His doctors said he was still strong and young, and there were options. He tried CAR T-Cell therapy, a promising treatment for patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that had relapsed. Leybas said that treatment showed fabulous results with minimal side-effects, and he has been in complete remission for several years. He goes for scans every 90 days, and he’s happy to be back to doing all the things he loves.

All-American Fisherman

One of Leybas’ favorite hobbies is competitive bass fishing, and he’s made quite a name for himself in the sport.

“Fishing is therapeutic. I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” said Leybas.

In 2022, he qualified to fish in the Major League Fishing Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American tournament at Lake Cartwell in South Carolina. He said 16,000 people start off each year and only 48 qualify from the different divisions. This year, he made it to Championship Saturday and will be featured in the show that airs Dec. 23 on CBS Sports. He also re-qualified this year for the 2024 All-American at Cherokee Lake in Tennessee. Leybas worked with his management team to allow him to display the MPLX logo during the fishing tournaments.

“It is awesome that the company not only supports us at work, but that they encourage us to have a strong work-life balance as well,” said Leybas. “You work hard and you play hard. Make sure you take care of business but enjoy it.”