Wednesday , September 27 2023

Staff of oil companies not swimming in money — SNEPCo MD, Aiboni

The first female Managing Director of Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Limited, Elohor Aiboni, tells JOSEPHINE OGUNDEJI about her life, career and other issues

How does it feel to be the first female Managing Director of SNEPCo?

In one word, I feel ‘honoured’. I feel honoured and privileged to be leading the company as its first female managing director. I am grateful for the networks that I have developed across the industry, the expertise I have gained playing different roles and for the gift of foresight I have received from my mentors over the course of my career. All of these have contributed to my success to date. It is now my responsibility, and one which I take very seriously, to lead by example and drive inclusive leadership in a way that will encourage and empower our future leaders as they grow to take up more leadership roles and support one another to safely outperform.

The oil and gas industry is dominated by men. How did your appointment come about and what was your reaction when you were announced as the MD?

Things are changing, and our industry is not left out. As in other sectors, more women are rising to the top positions, and by merit. In Shell, we are very deliberate about succession planning, so, my becoming the managing director was not an overnight decision; neither was it a fluke. Succession planning is taken seriously, and each employee plays an active role in their own personal development. Be that as it may, I must say that the appointment came as a welcome surprise, and the moment was indeed humbling.

Have you suffered gender discrimination at any point in your career?

Over the course of my career, there have been a few instances of uncomfortable situations but none of them, in my estimation, have impacted my progress. If they had, I do not think I would be where I am today serving as the Managing Director of a world-class organisation.

 As a young engineer, I learnt early to ask for what I wanted, including additional tasks, not because I wanted to prove myself but to differentiate myself with what I brought to the table. I must say I was selective with what task or role I took on. In most cases, I defined the additional tasks myself. My norm to this day is to challenge the status quo.

One other nugget I learnt was to think about what would be in the best interest of the organisation. It is important to frame one’s position within the context of the impact on the business, the team, and the organisation. One should avoid personal slights, because things are not always about one. I am blessed to be part of an organisation that values accountability, performance, and a learner mindset. That is why I am where I am today.

It is widely believed that employees of oil companies are always swimming in money. What are the downsides to the job that many don’t know about?

Wow! Did you say swimming in money? If that is the case, why would I still be here, after 20 years, on an 8am-to-5pm work cycle? One thing is sure though; Shell seeks to be top quartile when it comes to our employee value proposition which, by the way, goes beyond salaries and benefits.

We believe we can attract the best talents, and the way to keep them is to have a very good EVP. As an organisation that employs the best, to stand out, one must bring one’s A-game to work daily. This might be too much pressure for some. Personally, I think this can be turned to one’s advantage, as it simply pushes one to drive and develop oneself, which invariably makes one market-ready any day.

Did you envision at any time in your career that you would get to this position?

I honestly did not set out to be the MD, but I had the aspiration of being in a top management position. I made sure I stayed open to opportunities. I asked for roles that would develop me into a great leader.

You are a woman of many firsts, as you were the first female asset operations manager in SNEPCo. What achievements are you most proud of in that role?

During my time leading the Bonga (an oilfield) team, the asset won numerous awards, including the CEO HSSE Awards, Upstream Impact Award, and the Asset of the Year Runner-Up in the Shell Group. Leadership is much more than awards. For me, leadership is about impacting lives. In my role as Asset Manager, I developed and helped many young talents emerge and take up leadership and technical roles. That is an achievement I am truly proud of.

Was there ever a time you felt like quitting?

Quitting? No, but I do remember doubting my capabilities on several occasions, and even more recently when I got my current role. To overcome the doubts, I remembered my past achievements and found validation from within. I also spend time with my support system– friends and family members that believe in me. They always remind me of how resilient, hard-working, and talented I am.

What are the things that have helped and sustained you over the years in the course of your career?

As I worked, I also studied leaders in the organisation and knew from my early days that taking a technical career path was not an option for me. I had great joy working with and leading teams, making strategic decisions, and solving problems. I knew I would do better in management roles. Even then, I was very diligent with all the technical challenges that came my way, and that was how I distinguished myself. I have also had several mentors over the course of my career who have inspired me professionally to get to where I am today.

In what ways has the Petroleum Industry Act enhanced the operations of SNEPCo in Nigeria?

The PIA has brought more clarity and certainty to our industry. It has established clear regulatory framework for the oil and gas industry. This means that oil companies can better plan and make long-term investments with greater confidence. PIA also provides for fiscal stability by setting out clear fiscal terms for the industry. This means that oil-producing companies can better understand the financial implications of their operations in Nigeria, and plan their investments accordingly.

I believe that the Petroleum Industry Act has the potential to enhance the operations of oil-producing companies in Nigeria by providing greater industry stability, increased local content and simplified licensing arrangements. However, its full impact will depend on how it is implemented in practice.

Nigeria recently launched the first oil drilling project in the northern part of the country after decades of exploration. What does this portend for the nation going forward?

This could potentially diversify our country’s oil production demography by spreading economic development more evenly across the country. There will be more opportunities in the support industry, and employment will take a leap to power new facilities and operations. Ultimately, there will be a national economic growth.

You are passionate about women and girls’ development. How do you plan to use your role as MD to help girls and women excel in their different endeavours?

Indeed, I am passionate about the development of women and girls. I am also committed to doing the much I can to help in my little corner.

Let me share a few things with you. I know, first-hand, the importance of formal female mentorship. For this reason, I leave my door open to mentor young women within and outside my organisation. My focus is across the board – mid-career to young graduates, as well as those in the university. I devote time to mentoring women professionally and personally.

Second, those around me will tell you how much I promote equity, and challenge stereotypes and biases. This is one way to address the limitation of our potential, and encourage girls and women to take on new challenges. I encourage girls and women that have common goals and interests to network and collaborate. Let me add that I am also intentional about creating the required safe and supporting environment for girls and women to grow, as well as learn and take risks without being judged or afraid to fail.

Many Nigerian youths feel they have to travel out of the country before they can become successful. What’s your take on that?

Yes, the ‘japa’ syndrome is real. Change is constant, and for an individual, the need to improve one’s standard of living is also legitimate. However, I don’t believe that migrating in search of greener pastures is the only way to improve one’s life. There are many young people making their mark in Nigeria in their chosen fields. It just takes a different level of resilience, creativity and doggedness, because of the challenges we face in our country. Still, it is possible to thrive here too.

What are some of the principles that have guided you this far?

I learnt great values from my parents. Incidentally, those values align with those of the organisation I work for– honesty, integrity, and respect for people. The learning and empowerment that I received from my mum and dad remain with me to this day. They taught me not to compare myself with others, and to understand that everyone’s journey and idea of success is different.

What was growing up like for you?

I was born in Lagos State, but spent most of my childhood in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State. Port Harcourt was truly a beauty to behold back then, and I still have fond memories of my early education there. I had an educated father, who was also keen on producing better educated children. Imagine such a father, and a mother who was a teacher. It meant that for us, the children, education was not optional. As a matter of fact, every day for us was a classroom experience. We learnt early that hard work, dedication, and resilience are required to get through life’s challenges.

Did your parents have an influence on the choice of your career?

I was given the freedom to be what I wanted to be, and I am so grateful to them for that.

What do you do for fun?

I like watching football and lawn tennis, as well as listening to soothing music, and travelling.

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