Technical Leader interviews are conversations with senior figures who have become pioneers of innovation and technical excellence within the E&P industry. Interviews explore their careers and outline their vision, as well as imparting the advice these individuals have for younger professionals. For this interview, we travel to Reading, UK, for a discussion with Iman Hill, Senior Vice President, Santos Basin, BG Group.—Anthony Onukwu, Editor, Technical Leaders
I was enticed by the prospect of a diverse career, during which I could experience working in many countries with different cultures. The industry is also exciting because of the challenges it presents in extracting hydrocarbons that are ever more difficult to access and doing so safely and with as little harm to the environment as possible. The technology and innovations required are enormous, and the potential to be part of an industry that takes seriously its social responsibility to the communities in which it operates is very satisfying.
I joined BP in 1984 and like all budding petroleum engineers (PEs), I was sent offshore in the North Sea, to be an assistant PE. This entailed doing anything from supervising a logging operation to making tea. It was a very grounding and rewarding experience, and there can be no better place for really teaching you the practicalities of the industry and especially embedding in you, as a young person starting out, the criticality of thinking safety at every moment of your work.
The number of women was extremely low and, with the exception of the Norwegian sector, you could always be guaranteed to be the only woman on an offshore installation. The number of women entering and remaining in the industry has ebbed and flowed. In the 1990s, it was not unusual to have the graduate intake into petroleum engineering to comprise roughly 50% men and 50% women. However, fewer people, making no gender distinction, choose to study subjects at university that enable them to enter the technical disciplines, such as petroleum engineering, than was the case when I started in the industry.
I am not going to limit the answer to technological challenges, as I believe that there are three main areas that present a real challenge to the industry.
First, access to reserves—most of the easy-to-develop oil and gas in the world has been developed. The majority of reserves today and in the future reside in environments that are difficult for oil and gas development, for example, deep water, tight (gas) reservoirs, and high pressure/high temperature. The industry is changing its paradigm of where to access and develop reserves, pursuing unconventional resources, such as coalbed methane, and developments in hostile environments, such as the Arctic Circle. Technology innovation and application is key to maximizing recovery of such reserves. A specific example that illustrates the technology challenges of such developments on many fronts is one very close to my heart, the Tupi field, a presalt field in the Santos Basin offshore Brazil. This will be the world’s first deepwater carbonate development in water depths of more than 2 000 m (6,562 ft). Technologies aimed at reducing drilling time, subsea technologies, and subsurface imaging are all important, as are the innovations taking place in solutions such as floating liquefied-natural-gas processing.
Second, human resources—this is the industry’s biggest challenge, how to attract, develop, and retain its most valuable resource. We need to continue to build constructive relationships with universities, but actually schools are where we should begin, each of us can do more in this area by going to talk to schools to provide a balanced view of the industry and perhaps dispel some of the negative myths that exist. This industry can provide some of the most exciting work opportunities, and companies that can create an inclusive work environment—where each person feels valued, able to contribute, and challenged and excited, as well as commensurately rewarded, will be the winners of the talent war. In the next decade, capital is unlikely to be the limiting factor in the industry’s ability to bring on new developments. It will be the availability of skilled people.
Third, relationships—increasingly this is a differentiator and should be viewed as a long-term activity, enabling a trusting and mutually beneficial relationship to be established between owners of reserves and exploiters of reserves.
Establish good, solid grounding in the technical disciplines. Working in the variety of disciplines that petroleum engineering encompasses—e.g., reservoir engineering, production technology, and petrophysics—is beneficial because it gives you an understanding of how the disciplines interact with each other and with other disciplines, such as geology and geophysics. Also, remain technical for long enough—say more than 10 years—before branching out to work for stints in complementary disciplines, such as economics and planning. If you establish the technical background first, these other kinds of assignments also can be beneficial, as they provide the broader experience needed for making executive decisions later on in life.
I firmly believe in mentoring, and I personally like to be a mentor. I think what makes the difference is establishing a trusting relationship, with expectations of the mentee and mentor clearly agreed on and a commitment to making the relationship a priority.
I have learned that a leader’s job is to create value and maximize opportunities for people. Approaching situations with enough balance, and not being so vested in a particular outcome, can open up a wealth of innovative and value-creating solutions.
I have learned from formal and informal mentors and role models, not all of them senior to me, and I have appreciated all the input that I have received, so it would be very difficult to just mention one or two.
First, a structured program of experiential and classroom training is vital in the first 3 to 5 years. This need not be restricted to large companies, as smaller companies can tailor programs to suit their needs. Second, a more structured coach system to provide hands-on support at entry and mid-career levels. Third, leadership training at different levels, recognizing that formal and informal leaders are present at many different levels in an organization.
It is easy to focus on and characterize issues based on the things we can see—such as gender and ethnicity. However, I believe that the real issue that the industry is articulating, and has been grappling with for decades, is how to create an inclusive environment and a diverse workforce that brings in many different styles of thinking and decision making and enables talent throughout any organization to be used to its full potential.
I don’t like making generalizations, but there may be enough evidence to indicate that women bring a more people-centric approach to business. This doesn’t mean that they are less decisive about making tough decisions but that they also care a lot about creating development opportunities for others. Personally, this is very important to me.
People generally want to work in an environment where differences are accepted, appreciated, and encouraged. Sometimes, without being conscious about it, companies can encourage and value certain behaviors that are foreign or not natural to women. And this is probably the main reason for women not continuing because they perceive that they will not progress.
Young professionals, irrespective of gender or background, can help a lot by being role models and taking time to tell the real stories of the workplace at schools, colleges, and universities, which can encourage women to enter the industry.
Personally, I don’t agree with or like the concept of positive discrimination, such as setting quotas. It can create a belief that women are only progressing because of these policies, and for those of us who have worked monumentally hard to get to where we are, this would be just unacceptable. I am in favor of companies really knowing their staffs—their skills, development needs, and aspirations—and then proactively supporting them so that people can reach their full potential.
I have been a member of the SPE since 1984. It is a dynamic and useful network, and I am pleased to see the much more proactive approach that is now taken by SPE on industry issues.
The attractions are the industry’s difficult and interesting challenges, the opportunity to work in multicultural environments all over the world, the chance to help meet a serious social-responsibility agenda, and the opportunity for involvement in technology innovation.
The technical challenges especially are gaining access to reserves; attracting, developing, and retaining the top talent; and building and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships between the owners and exploiters of reserves. I discussed all three of these more fully in answering, I believe it was, question three above.
The opportunities that young professionals have are to help the industry harness diversity by promoting an inclusive culture and to help make people development a priority in the industry.
Iman Hill is Senior Vice President, Santos Basin, BG Group, having assumed this position in March 2008. Previously, beginning in 2005, she served the company as General Manager, Developments.
In a career that has spanned more than 20 years, Iman started in the industry with BP and served for 10 years in a variety of petroleum engineering disciplines, including working on a North Sea platform. She then became Chief Petroleum Engineer for Monument Oil and Gas, where she was responsible for redeveloping a 400-well field in Turkmenistan.
Iman was hired by Shell in 1997, becoming Principal Reservoir Engineer in Malaysia and then taking a series of managerial positions in The Hague, which included having responsibilities for Middle Eastern activities and, later, serving as Leader of Shell’s Global Exploration and Development Planning Unit. Subsequently, she was Senior Regional Adviser for Africa to the Chairman of the Shell Group and to the Exploration and Production Chief Executive Officer. Iman then was named General Manager of Shell Egypt and Chairwoman for all Shell companies in Egypt, including gas and power and the downstream retail operations in Shell Marketing. She joined BG in 2005. Iman holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Aberdeen University.