Interview

Ana Zambelli, General Manager, Brazil, Schlumberger

Could you discuss your current position and your responsibilities with that?

I already have had several positions within Schlumberger, a few of them in management. I have been in corporate management and quality and HSE (health, safety, and environment) management. Currently, I am the general manager for Brazil. So I am responsible for all Brazil operations, including the operating activities themselves, technical, marketing, clients, HSE, service and quality, personnel, and the development of the Brazil workforce—that includes all the people currently working in Brazil, Brazilians and expats. I have about 1,400 employees, and we have 12 sites, including offices, bases, and operations facilities.

As you have spent your professional life with Schlumberger so far, is there a perspective that comes from working for a service company that differs, in your opinion, from that of working for an E&P operating company?

It is always difficult to discuss an experience that you don’t have. Having said that, even though the technical skills are alike, the profile for people working for the service companies is quite different than that of people working for the operators. As a service company, the most difficult skill is to influence something without leading it.

In your career development with Schlumberger, have you had specific mentors?

Schlumberger does not have any formal mentoring program. What you develop throughout your career is informal mentors, the opportunity that comes from working with people from different countries, backgrounds, and levels of experience—it may be an engineer with 2 years or with 25 years of experience. I did establish what I would call strong professional friends. These are people that I have consulted when I’ve had to take difficult decisions or needed professional advice. I use them as advisers, sometimes for specific issues related to our business, but also in regard to career development. I’m very assertive, but it is always good to hear input from other experienced professionals that you respect.

Have you been put in the position of informally mentoring others?

I had several positions in Schlumberger, two of them in human resources (HR)—one as a training manager, at a very early stage in my career, where I used to train field engineers and a second one, right before I came to this job, as career-planning manager for Schlumberger worldwide. In that job, I was supporting the HR professionals in how to develop careers and facilitate the careers of our employees. Also, it involved identifying high-potential employees, and their profile for management or technical positions. Throughout this period, I think I learned a lot about mentoring others.

I also was a member of our gender-steering committee, established by upper management. Our objective was to look into the challenges of the industry in achieving gender diversity so that we could overcome them and properly expand gender diversity inside the company. Part of the initiative that we started recently is an informal but structured mentoring program. Through this effort, we are selecting employees and are going to be rotating the group. It started in 2009 with four females—who have between 3 and 7 years’ seniority with Schlumberger—and this first group focused on females with potential for management. We are doing it for a year with these participants and then will select another group with a different focus, probably people with technical potential.

What advice would you give to young people preparing to enter the oil and gas industry, or who have recently joined it? How might they best advance and have fulfilling careers?

I think that the oil and gas industry has a serious shortage of the skilled people that it needs. For a long time, we had an image of not being the most receptive industry or not being a “clean” industry that people would be proudest to work in. I think this has changed in recent years, but we still have skill gaps to fill. My major advice for young professionals who are joining the industry is that you need to be technically qualified. It is very important that you dedicate time to participate in conferences and events, to write papers, do specialization courses—and while in school, to really work with your university in the scientific sphere. The oil and gas industry is an extremely high and advanced technological industry, even though a lot of people have a different perception from the outside. Our focus when recruiting is a person’s technical capability. If they have a strong technology background, graduated from good universities, and have a strong CV from a technical aspect, that is what matters. Everything else we can teach them.

When you joined the company, were you not sure whether you would go in a technical or a management direction?

I was not sure. When you come out of university, you don’t really understand that clear difference. You think that everybody technical is management and everybody management is somehow technical. And there is a certain degree of mix. In most companies, even if you are planning to go toward a managerial position, you start in a technical role. If you don’t understand the technical foundation of the company, you cannot really manage the company. I think that with the years, you start directing yourself naturally, what your inclination is toward one or the other. But it is important that managers never lose their technical abilities.

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed the most in my career is having the opportunity to alternate management and technical positions, and that helps you continue to develop yourself without losing the technical strength. When you work only in management—without going back to a technical position— you always have a little concern, am I going to lose my technical skills?

The question of work/life balance has received more focus in recent years as the employees joining the industry seem to be placing increasing value on it. How have you addressed work/life balance so far in your own career?

What you say is true, and a lot of people ask me this question, when I participate in discussions with young engineers. The first thing I normally tell them is I don’t believe in work/life balance as a premise because can you really think of your life without work? Are you really balancing work and life or are you balancing your life with the work in it? So to me, work is part of your life. And I would not lie, I mean, jobs like mine, I have to work long hours and travel, and it demands dedication. If you are not willing to dedicate yourself and put in those long hours—doing the traveling on weekends and giving up some of your holidays—you can’t do it.

What I tell the people working with me, and the new population starting in the company are the two things that help me find a good balance in my life. One, set priorities. You can’t be a superwoman or superman; you can’t do it all. You have to decide which areas are worth putting your efforts into, and which areas you should delegate—and this is professionally as much as personally. You really need to focus on the key tasks and be able to let go of the others. Two, put in some limits. For my example, I do work very long hours during the week. But during the weekends, when I’m not traveling, I dedicate quality time to my family and friends. If there are emergencies, I will take them, and that will not upset me. But if there is just normal work, I will push it back until next Monday. And that’s how I think I keep a good balance.


Ana Zambelli, general manager, Brazil, Schlumberger, began her career with the company in field operations during 1996. She progressed through a series of positions in operations; health, environment, and safety; and human resources, working in the United States, Africa, and Europe, before assuming her current post in 2007. She holds an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and a graduate degree in petroleum engineering from Heriot-Watt University in the United Kingdom.