The Attributes of Successful Professionals
Insight from Jasper Ring, Subsurface Manager for Chevron's Blind Faith Project in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
In this issue, Ali Daneshy of the U. of Houston shares his views about the elements of creativity. Fostering a culture of creativity, Daneshy assesses, is one of the key elements of successful modern industrial organizations. As human creative genius lies at the heart of the modern industrial world, the two Asian giants, China and India, will be expected to infuse innovation and creativity into their booming economies to fuel and drive their growth. Among other initiatives, this growth will require building a highly motivated industry workforce.
In a second article, Jasper Ring of Chevron analyzes the characteristics of high-performance individuals in the industry, and includes advice for young professionals who envision becoming the leaders of the industry in the near future. We thank these two authors for their contributions and hope you find their articles interesting and engaging.
Luis F. Ayala and Tim Morrison, Editors, Pillars of the Industry
Given the enormous economic growth of China and India, there has been a significant drain on the world’s hydrocarbon supply. This has been further exacerbated by the moderate growth of developed countries and supply distributions around the world. In today’s environment, the balance between supply and demand is so fragile that just the slight mention of a disruption or the potential for a disruption sends oil prices higher. As a result, the oil and gas industry around the world has been gearing up over the last several years to meet the demand of a robust and growing world economy. The duration of this activity level is difficult to forecast because of all the uncertainties that affect both supply and demand of hydrocarbons. The industry is much more liquid and diverse today, and world affairs have a tremendous impact on this balancing act.
Increasing the world’s supply to meet current needs has not been an easy task for a myriad of reasons, one of which is the lack of young professionals. Back in the early to mid-1980s, there were a large number of graduating professionals and very few jobs. Many companies were merging and laying off new hires and experienced employees alike. This continued for more than a decade and caused many professionals to seek employment in other industries as well as deterred many college-bound students from careers in the petroleum industry. This is the primary reason for such a wide gap in demographics between experienced employees and new hires today. Over the next 5 to 10 years, a significant portion of the workforce will be eligible to retire. Consequently, the industry is feverishly building and developing its workforce. In fact, acquiring human resources has been stated as a goal of recent mergers.
The necessity to increase world supply and an aging workforce have created an environment rich in opportunity for young professionals in all aspects of the business. With globalization and advancements in technology, the process of producing oil and gas and processing, refining, and marketing hydrocarbon products has become much more efficient, encompassing many disciplines and geographical locations. There are also new technologies emerging such as gas-to-liquids, alternative fuels, and heavy-oil production and processing, all of which will require technical innovation and new talent. The need to conserve energy and to become more energy efficient is also an emerging business. What was once the oil and gas industry is fast becoming an energy industry that is much less segmented but diverse and broader in scope. This evolution is creating an even greater demand for new talent and skills and is causing some universities to broaden the scope of their traditional oil and gas programs.
As the industry changes to meet the world’s energy demand, so are the organizational structures and capabilities of the many companies that make up the industry. Larger companies are providing capital, technical innovation, and synergies on more grassroots economy-of-scale projects around the world, and many are investing in the research and development of strategic technologies, alternative fuels, and energy efficiency. National oil companies are expanding their base businesses and now have a global presence. Integrated oil companies as well as independents also are expanding their base businesses. Service organizations and universities are playing a more important role in advancing technology and providing resources. Growth is common to all of these companies, and the lack of human resources will necessitate being more efficient and focused on core strategies. Training and developing young professionals are at the forefront of organizational initiatives, and development programs are structured, managed, and embedded in the organizational structure of many companies. Outsourcing is and will continue to be much more prevalent, especially in noncore businesses.
In today’s environment, young professionals in this industry have a bright future. Traditionally, the oil and gas business goes through cycles, but for reasons previously highlighted, professionals entering the industry should have a very rewarding career, especially for those high-performing individuals. The fundamentals for achieving the status of being a high performer and gaining the respect of coworkers are much the same whether the industry is at a peak or in a trough. Through my own experiences, including mentoring a large number of diverse professionals, I have observed a number of attributes that are characteristic of high performers that I would like to share with you. These are the same qualities I try to instill in my coworkers. They are quite simple, but they sometimes require a conscious effort to put into practice.
Ambitious—First and foremost, you have to be ambitious and have the drive to achieve career goals; never give up. Most career goals are not achieved overnight and require some patience. Sometimes an indirect path such as working through a development assignment and/or additional training is the quickest means to achieve a particular goal. At times, you may feel a particular assignment is immaterial and not critical, but always strive for excellence. You never know what a particular assignment will lead to next. Also, manage your own career to the extent possible; be proactive. If some sort of training or software is required for a particular assignment, make an effort to learn the material on your own or find someone who is knowledgeable and can help you. More than likely, there are many resources available to you. Seek out those opportunities and assignments that are of interest to you; do not become complacent. Make being in the right place at the right time happen.
Results-Oriented—Being results-oriented is critical to success; always have an objective of achieving meaningful results, regardless of the assignment. Assess the big picture, and map out a course of action within the allotted time before jumping into an assignment. Evaluate the opportunities and alternatives, choose the path of least resistance (at least initially), execute, and stay focused. It is always best to start simple, get results, then cycle back, adding in complexity as necessary. Chances are that you may not have to cycle back at all, and at the very least, you will have results illustrating why more time may be necessary or why a particular methodology does not work. Discussing issues or challenges after having achieved results is much easier than trying to explain issues with no results. Do not get bogged down in the details.
Technically Proficient—Become technically proficient in a particular area, or concentrate on a particular center of excellence. Early in your career, you may have the opportunity to work in several disciplines, but at some point you will probably have to make a decision on a career path. Do not try to become an expert in too many areas—it is next to impossible—but it is important to develop some expertise in a given discipline even if your desire is to move into management. One of the best ways to become recognized and gain the respect of coworkers, which are equally important, within an organization is through sound technical work. If you do move into management, the expertise gained will be very beneficial in making decisions. Do not count on becoming a generalist across a number of disciplines to work in your favor.
Team Player—Always be a team player, and respect the diversity of coworkers. Most teams today are made up professionals from different disciplines, but even if you are working within a team of the same discipline, keep in mind that everyone is different in many respects. What I have found over the years to be most difficult to manage, but probably the most important to have, is the diversity of opinion. It is surprising at times to see just how diverse opinions can be on a particular issue. It is always best to reach a consensus, but it is sometimes difficult. However, it is extremely important to be a good listener and allow coworkers to express their opinions. You will find that everyone has something to contribute, and the quality and buy-in of the solution will be greater if all contributions are taken into account.
Effective Communication—In addition to being results-oriented, effective communication is very critical to success. You have to be able to communicate at a level commensurate with the experience of your audience. If your audience is a peer group, then getting into the details is appropriate and highly encouraged, but if your audience consists of executives, then you should design your talk or presentation with few details unless requested. Having backup slides is desirable if giving a presentation and if they will help in the event of questions that are hard to answer without having some sort of visual aid. It is always helpful to practice, or at least think through, what you are going to say before presenting. Questions are always hard to anticipate, and sometimes the least expected ones are raised, but being prepared will work to your advantage. If you do not know the answer to a question, it is always easier to indicate that you do not know, rather than talking around the question.
This is my perspective on the oil and gas industry as it relates to young professionals. It is a great industry to be a part of for the foreseeable future, and there are many opportunities for those interested in becoming leaders of the industry. I have also cited a few lessons learned and best practices based on my experience that should help you achieve your goals. My best advice is to never give up, strive to be results-oriented and technically proficient, be a team player, respect and be mindful of diversity, and communicate effectively.