Interview

Yves-Louis Darricarrère, President, Exploration & Production, Total

Carlos Chalbaud

Could you please comment on the recent accident in the US Gulf of Mexico and how we as an industry will be moving forward on this?

As this will be published in September, my answer would be outdated. Today, I see a very serious accident that the industry takes very seriously. It is too early to say something, but I am sure that answers will come. There are investigations ongoing and, once the causes of the accident are known, the industry will work on its procedures to see if an adjustment is needed. And regulations may also change. Anyway, today it is a clear reminder, even if I think we did not need one, that our industry is not without risk and all we are doing aims to avoid such things occurring.

In this issue the main topic is continuing education. Could you discuss the importance of continuing education in the industry’s future?

Continuing education is highly regarded in Total from the first year of employment.  We not only see it as a chance to provide technical knowledge but also as an opportunity to share our values. To be more specific, a young professional receives more than 1 month of training a year. Lastly, our professional training is provided in the context of a career-management system.

You received two different education degrees, one in engineering and another in economics. What drove you to seek two degrees in different areas? How does this help you in your current role?

I think it helps but it is difficult to explain how. Taking the risk of sounding arrogant, I have three different educational degrees: in engineering, in economics, and a third one in political science, which was not at all in economics but was very focused on public policy, law, and geopolitics. I decided to follow these three degrees not out of ambition but in order to understand the world and what makes the overall organization of society work from a technical, economic, and political perspective. Before joining the oil and gas industry, I knew I wanted to join an international and strategic industry, of which there are few. The oil and gas industry meets these criteria and, having graduated from Paris Mining School, it was a natural choice.

Can you briefly describe Total’s culture? How important is the company culture in the continuing education of young professionals?

While our culture is highly technical, it is also highly human. When our CEO took over, he described what he called the Total Attitude founded on four pillars: 1) listening, 2) boldness, 3) mutual support, and 4) cross functionality. On top of that, when we recruit young professionals it is for the long term. When you look at the top management of the company today you will see we have all spent most of our careers in the company. We have found that this generates loyalty and commitment. Our professional training is based on sharing this culture. Young professionals have the opportunity to meet top management and discuss these values during their first year in the company.

Do you believe that training has suffered during/since the recent downturn due to cost cutting?

Clearly, Total has a commitment to reduce its costs but this has had a marginal impact on our training and research programs. To be more specific, the number of days of training per person did not change. What has been reduced over the years is the number of days available for our staff to teach within the company. It means we rely more on external training service providers and this has helped us to be more efficient.

When you are recruiting someone to join your team, what qualities are you looking for? What would make someone stand out to you?

I expect technical excellence because it is something we ought to have. We need people with the capacity for teamwork and I ask for evidence of that. International and multidisciplinary experience is essential because both are fundamental for our industry; the candidate must have an appeal for this. Lastly, there is what I call the helicopter view, and by this I mean having the capacity to get the big picture of the industry very fast. To answer the second part of your question, what makes someone stand out to me is the combination of all these qualities, particularly having the ability to grasp the big picture.

How important is it for a young professional to develop commercial acumen to support her/his technical skills in today’s competitive working environment?

While I want to stress again the importance of technical skills, we also need communication skills, particularly in what we call the art of influencing. In terms of commercial acumen, once young professionals have a good technical grounding, my advice is to get the management and business skills, but to acquire them as part of  a career path so that it becomes part of their overall career development. Therefore, and this is something particular of Total, pursuing, for example, an MBA program on your initiative is not advisable in Total if it is not done in coordination with the company.

Have you had professional interaction with SPE in the past?

Yes, I was honored recently to become a member of the SPE Industry Advisory Council and am always pleased to contribute to the work of the council. I recently attended a meeting in the frame of the International Petroleum Technology Conference in Doha. Although this was not specifically an SPE conference, SPE participated in the organization of this conference, which I cochaired. I recently went to the Offshore Technology Conference in a similar context, in which SPE is highly involved.

Could you mention Total’s biggest strength and one weakness? How do you cope with the weakness?  

Happily, we have several strong points, so I am not going to mention only one. Among our strengths I see our financial stability, which is very important; our technical abilities, underpinned by substantial R&D; our capacity to manage large, complex, and integrated projects; our attentive ear to local partners and the way we generally integrate in the country we operate; and our capacity to clinch innovative deals either with national oil companies or international oil companies. On the weakness, we were late in our strategy related to shale gas, not compared with other majors as I think we were all a little late, but compared to some other companies. But we are catching up.

What other piece of advice would you like to share with young professionals, our readership, shaping their careers?

Internally I have regular lunches with young professionals where I discuss our business model and strategy and exchange views with them. I very often hear this same question.  My answer is:  first, remain highly professional. You must be highly regarded by your peers. Second, be ready and open to new challenges and new opportunities. Do not have preconceived career plans. Our industry will offer you many different opportunities and if you have a predetermined career plan in your mind you will not be open to accept the flexibility required. This industry is moving quickly and it will offer you many opportunities.


Yves-Louis Darricarrère began his career in Elf Aquitaine in 1978, first in the Mining Division in Australia and later in the Exploration & Production branch, where he was appointed successively country representative for Australia and Egypt at the head office, managing director of the subsidiaries in Egypt and Colombia, director of Business Development and New Ventures, then finance director of the Exploration & Production branch and of the Oil and Gas Directorate. In 1998, he was appointed deputy director-general of Elf Exploration-Production responsible for Europe and the US and was nominated a member of the Management Committee of Elf Aquitaine.

In 2000, he was appointed senior vice president for Exploration & Production Northern Europe and became a member of the Total Group Management Committee. In September 2003, Darricarrère was nominated to the Group’s Executive Committee and was appointed president of Total Gas & Power. In February 2007, he became president of Total Exploration & Production. Darricarrère was born in 1951 and is a graduate of Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris and holds a master’s degree in economic science.