President's Column

Navigating Success in the E&P Industry: The “BIG 8” on Your Career Compass

I am often asked by young professionals how they should navigate their careers successfully in the exploration and production (E&P) industry and what the most important dimensions to focus on are. Firstly, I encourage them to be authentic, true to themselves, really stand for something, and harness their unique perspective and differentness as their secret career weapons.

Over the years, I have compiled eight dimensions (D) that are key to navigating job success as measured by respect, validation, reward (salary and position), relationships, and a feeling of achievement and satisfaction stemming from a sense of purpose. As you review the H3 Spider Plot score yourself and reflect on your score. Is your score by design or by accident? In general, I recommend that you never stop being a student because, as a wise Asian quote says: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear!

D1—Have a Sense of Purpose

Start With Why, a book by Simon Sinek, points out that the motivational sequence should be “why,” followed by “how,” followed by “what.” There is no stronger engine inside us than when we care about our job and have a strong sense of purpose. Always look for the “why” inside you, beyond your paycheck. In my experience, when you find it, you will feel different. Remember, you are an important part of an industry that helps 7.3 billion people get their energy every day for heating, cooling, lighting, mobility, and transportation. Even in a competitive workplace, you can find inspiration in helping others. That sense of purpose makes you see the bigger picture even early in your career. What you do is not just a job; even in a small way, you are changing the world.

D2—Be Passionate

People who exhibit passion or fire in the belly, a “can do” attitude, and a “now-is-good” sense of urgency are much more motivational, likable, and fun to be on the team with than grumpy, glass-half-full people. In most companies, being a passionate champion playing to win is how you succeed in the Darwinistic fight for attention and funds. You can do that by reducing complexity and by finding a simple way of explaining your idea and goal. That does not mean that you alone have all the answers. On the contrary, humility as a balance to strong passion and willpower is essential. With this, you invite the perspectives of all those around you in. Nobody doubts where your end zone is, but to get there is a team sport.

D3—Know Your Stuff, Be a Team Player    

You have to keep yourself updated in your field—master the tool kits of your discipline. You have to follow research and grow in wisdom in your discipline and outside it and keep “connecting dots” and speculate about the next big thing. Capture, adapt, and apply the many things that you “honestly stole” from the outside. Be proactive and push for improvements that lower costs, boost rates, increase ultimate recoveries, reduce the overall risk picture, and lift value creation. Refuse to sugarcoat or inflate forecasts and estimates to get something sanctioned. Instead, insist on seeing the upside or good risk in the project (GRISK—doing better than the expected case) and the downside or bad risk (BRISK—doing worse than the expected case). In his article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology (October 2014), Neeraj Nandurdikar showed that the industry’s ability to forecast is dismal and that this is an area where you can help your company and the industry improve. The ability to row in synchrony with many disciplines toward a joint goal is an essential trait to have if you want to succeed in the industry. You can be a catalyst for the new, “the 2.0,” and be a huge source of innovation. Even if we have warned against discipline “silos” for 20 years, we still work too much in isolation. Let us make 2015 the year of massive cross-discipline thinking and collaboration.

D4—Be Curious, Innovate

In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons From CEOs On How To Lead and Succeed, Adam Bryant investigates the types of personal traits that took chief executive officers to the corner office. Surprisingly, the top trait is “passionate curiosity.” These individuals ask questions about everything all the time because they really want to understand. They start building a huge archive of information or “dots” in their minds and then BANG!—innovation happens when they connect two often unrelated pieces of knowledge. The future of the industry depends on relentless “creative destruction” of E&P. Choose to be curious, ask questions—it can take you to the corner office!

D5—Be Courageous, Take Risks

There is no way around it: You have to be courageous to succeed. You have to become comfortable being uncomfortable. Expect to meet resistance; you will always have those who defend the way we did it last time and hence, proposing another way will take courage. To become a champion playing to win, you have to prepare really well and train because it is all in the preparation! But, you also have to step out of your comfort zone and sweat it out. Say to yourself: I stand tall inside, I have a great message, I can do this, and then confidence arrives. Being courageous also means taking a risk on hiring someone unique, and being brutally honest and candid about something that is not good enough, rather than pushing it under the rug. By taking some personal risks you create your own luck.

D6—Network, Build Trust, Collaborate

It bears repeating. You are much more valuable for your employer if you have a huge network. Where do good ideas come from? You alone in the office? Probably not. You are more likely to get good ideas at an SPE conference. That is where you can find a network, which equals possibilities and opportunities. Trusting relationships, that is, people who are more than acquaintances, are also key. These are people you really admire, hit it off with, and want to see as often as you can because you learn so much from them.

For some, business always equals war. However, in many situations, collaboration is now the new way to compete to win. In my view, this soon will make companies increasingly hire for attitude and train for skill. Here is where your SPE membership is critical. It makes you a member of a team of 143,000 on a mission to share! Another benefit of volunteering in SPE is that you get the opportunity to take on leadership roles often earlier than you do in your company. In this way, you may already be a seasoned leader when you get promoted in your company. 

D7—Never Take a Left!

What gets you fired? That you don’t remember how to solve a differential equation or how to compute the net present value? Of course not. People get in trouble for not being ethical, for being corrupt, for not being respectful, for not following the company values, and for not valuing and respecting diversity. I put it this way: Never take a left. You come along in your daily work (and in your private life) and all of a sudden, you arrive at a fork in the road: You are going to the left, but left is the corrupt, unethical, and zero integrity way. Even if you are going left, take a right three times and then you are going left. It may take a little longer, but it is the right thing to do. You followed your company’s rules and procedures, and you followed your conscience. By never taking a left, you safeguard your personal license to operate.

D8—Think HSSE-SR in 4E

Going forward, navigating energy success means thinking health, safety, security, environment, and social responsibility (HSSE-SR) in 4E.

E1=Energy (in our case, oil and gas) production: Oil demand will grow from 92 million BOPD today to 115 million BOPD in ExxonMobil’s 2040 scenario. This assumes that we are working hard to improve another E too: Efficiency! Natural gas demand will grow perhaps even more than projected today if it substitutes more deeply for coal if the planet is to stay below the +2°C rise above pre-industrialization levels. Between 2014 and 2020, 670,000 wells will have to be drilled to keep up with global oil and gas needs. I predict a new technology inflection point with automated drilling, big data, the Internet of everything, and artificial intelligence in the field helping us improve our practices.

E2=Economics: Currently, the competitiveness of the industry is challenged due to increasing field complexity, high costs, and low oil prices. On your radar, you should never accept status quo, always push for incremental and radical improvements to improve your company’s competitiveness, and be entrepreneurial.

E3=Environment: This really is a key dimension; sustainable development is the only acceptable way as is local stakeholder engagement. You cannot be a great global company unless you are a great company locally where the bit hits the rock. Also, if a CO2 fee or tax is introduced in many more countries, it will be very smart to be ready with a low average number of CO2 pounds emitted per barrel produced.

E4=Education: We need to continue to educate the public with facts and engage face to face with all our local stakeholders to earn their trust and to maintain our license to operate. We need to go to our schools in the neighborhood and tell about how energy is the greatest challenge facing mankind, what a wonderful industry it is, and what a force for good we are. Engaging with these young students and making them the next generation of energy professionals will give you a lot of positive energy and sense of purpose as you make a difference in someone’s life.

So, there you have it: my eight dimensions for you to navigate success inside and outside. I wish you good luck. Remember that the past is history, the future is a mystery, and the present is a gift—that is why it is called “the present.” Enjoy every day if you can, and try to make sure there are no ordinary moments—just extraordinary moments.


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