Melody Meyer, President, Chevron Asia Pacific Exploration and Production
Andres Zöldi, TWA Interview Editor talks with Melody Meyer, president of Chevron Asia Pacific Exploration and Production
March 2011—In downtown Houston, Chevron has its largest offices: two twin buildings linked by an impressive sky ring that serves as a bridge. Both towers are partially occupied by Chevron Energy Technology Company (ETC), an organization that forms the nucleus of Chevron’s R&D and technical support. And while Fridays are usually quiet in Houston offices, it doesn’t seem to be Friday on the ETC management’s floor. This same week, the leader of this group of 2,500 people, Melody Meyer, has been promoted to president of the Asia Pacific business unit. Chevron’s E&P world is divided into four regions; Meyer was selected to lead one of them. She will have 10,000 people reporting to her and a budget exceeding USD 6 billion. Every person carries a story of her own, and Meyer starts sharing hers:
I started in 1979, right out of college, in Gulf Oil’s pipeline division. The pipeline company had developed all of the West Africa facilities at that time, so I got a chance to work in major capital projects to be installed in Angola, Nigeria, and Zaire (now Congo). At that time, industry was growing aggressively, and I got a chance to work with some very senior people in the team. When I think back, 32 years ago there was no Internet, no email; so we communicated with telex or by short phone calls every other day…. and we were investing tens to hundreds of millions (the equivalent of billions today).
How did you get into the oil business?
I grew up in around the oil field. My dad was a PE. I saw the industry as very exciting because of the importance of energy to the world. It offered unlimited possibilities, with so much responsibility and opportunity, to make a difference. Plus, I hadn’t been in an airplane or a hotel before, and suddenly I was introduced to a global environment with lots of responsibility and authority. It was thrilling and exciting. I loved it from day one, and it’s been like that for 30 years.
Is the same feeling valid for a young professional (YP) just starting in this industry? What does it offer?
The industry offers the opportunity to make a positive difference. Energy importance is ever growing as communities and economies are developing around the globe. This industry has been reinvented over and over, and YPs play a big role in that: they will continue to make our industry safe and clean, and will address even bigger challenges every day. What we easily do today were once huge challenges in the past. YPs will have to keep an eye on the future. They should be aware that by the time they move up to leadership roles, the generation they will lead are the 10-year-olds of today. Our YPs have to make sure they have the talent and the leadership skills to be ready to face the challenges of the future.
Technology companies are definitely places where challenges are tackled. Is ETC a place where technical people can achieve their potential?
This industry, and Chevron in particular, requires leaders with deep technical background. The majority of our leaders are engineers, geologists, and earth scientists, and the skills and knowledge that come with those disciplines are highly valued. The technology company has a unique concentration of subject matter experts that are deep in their fields, and they are absolutely critical to the success of the company. They have broad impact on global challenges, which is definitely a great place to be. Technical leadership and business leadership are both equally important to the success of the company.
“YPs... will continue to make our industry
safe and clean, and will address even
bigger challenges every day.“
We usually find success as a product of combining skill, hard work, and an opportunity taken at the appropriate time. Do you recall any such opportunity?
Well yes, after eight or 10 years into my career, I was taken out of project management into development of production operations. At that time, we were exploring in China and in Papua New Guinea, and I was the operations adviser at the front end of those projects. We had to take those discoveries in new regions for us and develop them to first oil. Just the ability to integrate the exploration, development team, legal, and all operations on the ground, and to coordinate the development plan to ensure good economic value, adding opportunity to Chevron, the partners, and the governments…. It opened my eyes to understand how all the teams should be engaged for a positive outcome. I was recognized later with a Chairman’s award for the Papua New Guinea project. It was a real learning opportunity for me.
And after that you started to be placed in managing roles?
Yes, I went to Tengiz in Kazakhstan as operations engineering manager. It was in the startup leadership team for several years, so being on the ground and forming a new startup was a real adventure. We made all the early decisions to form the joint operation, and we had a very talented team to pull together. After that assignment, I went to Angola as the production manager. Angola was a mature operation, and I had been a project manager on many of the facilities there early in my career, so it was very rewarding to get the opportunity to lead the operation. Angola operations were offshore, with large tankage and marine offloading, and it was a great opportunity to learn how to work incident-free in a very large production operation.
What skills do you look for in the YP that you add to your team?
I think it is important to be deep technically but also to have the ability to integrate across disciplines to create business opportunities and business value out of that synergy.
So I just look for people who are deep technically, who have a broad perspective and the ability to integrate across disciplines, and who are hardworking with a “can-do” attitude. I look for YPs who have an attitude of openness to change and always being happy with progress, but never being satisfied, always wanting to drive performance improvements. I think those are the qualities needed for success.
The human resources aspect of this industry is very competitive, especially for the kind of YP you just described. What does Chevron do to retain people?
I think our strongest enabler for talent retention is the positive culture that we create, coupled with the opportunity to work on high-impact global projects. We have strong “Chevron Way” values that create a shared culture throughout the company. And you can see throughout the organization that we certainly value high performance.
You can also see by walking around ETC’s corridors a very broad cultural diversity. What does that bring to the organization?
Our diversity brings tremendous different points of view, different approaches, different knowledge bases, and our culture enables everyone to interject those ideas in a comfortable way. If you head down one path, without multiple choices, you tend to have an inferior project. Diversity brings value in the form of broad thinking, innovation, and knowledge.
If you had to name one strength and one weakness of Chevron, what would they be?
Our strength is in our values and the shared culture of protecting people and environment. It’s the “Chevron Way” values that make us strong. And as far as a weakness, we are constantly working to improve in every area. So, rather than a weakness, we have many challenges. We build on our strengths, but it’s a constant push to improve and enter in new challenges. We drive for continuous improvement.
As those challenges grow, what are the pillars of technology that will keep the industry running for the next 50 years?
The energy industry has many challenges. Certainly technologies that help us find the resources and technologies that help us produce those efficiently, economically, cleanly, and safely—all of those are technical solutions. Even in certain areas of operational excellence and safety, there are technologies that enable small footprints and clean operations. I see those areas to continue to be important as they always were.
You use the term energy instead of oil and gas. Why?
Because while we are an oil and gas company, we are also pursing all forms of energy; and I think it is important to recognize that we need all kinds of energy. Energy is important and it will be delivered in many ways.
What is Chevron doing in this respect?
We are the largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, taking the same exploration, reservoir management, drilling, and production technologies that we use for oil and gas and applying them to renewable energy at scale. In recognition of the significant challenges of bringing new supplies of energy to market, we have a sharp focus on energy efficiency—improving our own energy efficiency by almost 30%. We also offer energy efficiency services to government and academic institutions through our Chevron Energy Solutions company. We also invest in other forms of renewable energy where they have the potential to be economic, and improve our base business, such as in biofuels.
“We also invest in other forms of renewable energy
where they have the potential to be economic.”
Working cleanly is indeed a way of caring for the environment. What have Chevron and ETC been doing in the aftermath of the Macondo incident?
Chevron was a strong participant in the joint industry task forces that made recommendations to the administration to help restore confidence in safe deepwater drilling. Chevron was a key player in that effort. We provided technical experts in the areas of drilling standards and marine well containment response. Significant recommendations made by the task forces have been well received by the administration and are being acted upon.
The joint industry organization, the Marine Well Containment Company, was part of the containment recommendation. It was well received by industry and the government. If prevention fails and there is a deepwater blowout in the future, the company will provide containment services, and it has ongoing technology development efforts. However the primary focus of ours has always been, and will continue to be, working on prevention so that this equipment will never be used.
Being a technically deep organization, you must have a strong relationship with universities and national labs. What value does it bring to ETC and Chevron in general?
We create a lot of value by partnering with them. It’s a great access to tremendous talent. We know that we cannot have all the bright minds that we need when solving a problem. So by partnering with national labs and universities, we can tap into some of the best talents, and by letting them understand our business challenges and our problems, they can be involved with us to help solve those challenges. Eventually, we also have the opportunity (as in the case of the university) to ask that talent to come work with us later.
And you must have a very fluent relationship with SPE?
We are very supportive and involved with the SPE. In fact, it is clear that we share and support the mission, as one of our employees, Ganesh Thakur, will be the next president of SPE. That is quite exciting for us. This underscores our commitment to SPE’s mission and what it does for its members and the industry.
Finally, one personal question. A topic that interests many of our readers is balancing work and family. How do you do that?
I do get asked that question frequently. I always tell people that it is so important to develop a strong network to support you. Nobody can do it alone. And that it is true for a woman and a man working in this industry, with family, spouse, and children. It is great to have a supportive spouse and children who are also flexible. And actually it is important to have good dialog about what type of things might be faced over your career and how the family responds and is flexible to those. So the key is to have a supportive network.
It’s a challenge for men and women and certainly for dual-career couples that have unique challenges to manage, but I think over time the whole industry is figuring that out better and better. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy now, but there are certainly increasing examples of how it can be done. Balance is important, because you cannot put off your life goals for career goals; the key is to work them together.
Melody Meyer is president of Chevron Asia Pacific Exploration and Production (E&P) Company in San Ramon, California, and responsible for exploration and production activities in the Asia Pacific region. Until March 2011, Meyer was president of Chevron Energy Technology Company in Houston and responsible for research and development (R&D) and technology services to Chevron’s global upstream, midstream, and downstream businesses. In her 32 years with Chevron, Meyer has spent 19 of them working on international projects and in operations assignments, 10 years in leadership roles in North America E&P, and the past three years leading the energy technology company. She has held various positions with Chevron, including manager of operations engineering in Kazakhstan, offshore production manager in Angola, vice president of the US onshore mid-continent–Alaska E&P business unit, and vice president of offshore Gulf of Mexico E&P.
Meyer graduated from Trinity University in 1979 with a BS degree in engineering science–mechanical. She attended the Tuck Executive Education program at Dartmouth College in 1997. Meyer is the executive sponsor of the Chevron Women’s Network and of the Chevron University Partnership program with the University of Texas at Austin. She is on the executive committee and board of the National Ocean Industries Association, and Trinity University Board of Trustees.
In 2009, Meyer was honored by Trinity University as a Distinguished Alumna, by BioHouston with a Women in Science award, and by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers with the Rhodes Petroleum Industry Leadership Award.