KUCHING: As we count down towards Sarawak’s Independence Day on July 22, The Borneo Post speaks with Ivan Tan, vice president for Malaysia and Philippines and managing director of Sarawak Shell Bhd (SSB) and Sabah Shell Petroleum Company Ltd (SSPC) on his journey so far and how his career has come full circle back home:
Please share your journey in Shell with us. When did you start, how long has it been and what was your first role?
Tan: I grew up in Miri. I went to school at St Joseph’s Primary School, Miri and thereafter St Joseph’s Secondary School, Miri. In 1997, I received a scholarship from Shell to study A -levels at Loughborough and then Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College in London. Having a dad, who worked with Shell meant that I had insights into our company from a very early age. It made for interesting dinner time conversations! I was fortunate to receive a scholarship from Shell and my professional journey kick started from there.
After graduation in 2001, I joined Sarawak Shell Berhad in Miri as a Trainee Well Engineer. I spent the first two years of my career off the coast of Sarawak and Sabah on offshore drilling rigs. My role as part of a team was to safely drill wells which would allow the oil and gas to reliably flow from the underground reservoirs to our processing facilities. This was an exciting experience at an early age and being offshore taught me about teamwork and being resourceful.
You have been with Shell for about 19 years now – obviously it’s been a good working environment for you to stay so long –what has kept you at Shell?
Tan: I have had some exciting jobs at Shell. I am grateful to have worked in different countries and on significant projects that have helped to change the energy landscape in some of these locations. Every role has offered personal and professional growth, with enough stretch. I have come across inspiring leaders and colleagues who have always made me feel like a valued and respected member of a team.
You have taken on international assignments in Shell, can you share on this and your experience?
Tan: My career in Shell has brought myself and my family to The Netherlands, New Zealand, China and Australia. In China, Shell partnered with Petrochina to deliver natural gas to Beijing as part of the city’s plan to decarbonize. This required drilling the longest horizontal gas wells through hard rock in China. This was a technically challenging project that required strong collaboration with our contractor partners. In Australia, I led one of our joint ventures in preparation for a significant investment decision. I helped to drive a more positive safety culture and operational excellence in the venture. This was my first broad integrative leadership role, which taught me the importance of aligning an entire business around a common purpose to drive performance. I have enjoyed the experience at each location. They have provided me with the opportunity to develop professionally and for my family to live and work in different cultures. However, moving around frequently means that it can be hard for our kids to develop permanency and a close connection to a place and group of friends, which we took for granted when we were growing up.
You are back at your hometown this year, helming the Upstream business. Can you share on your role and your feeling about being back in Miri after quite a while?
Tan: As the vice president of Malaysia and Philippines for Shell Upstream, I am responsible for the safety and business performance of our upstream assets in these countries. I am also the managing director of Sarawak Shell Berhad (SSB) and Sabah Shell Petroleum Company (SSPC). It’s good to be home in Miri. The cityscape has changed so much compared to when we were growing up. I feel extremely privileged to come back into this role at Shell and a deep sense of responsibility to further our purpose here. Shell has always played a significant and trusted role in the development of the energy industry in Malaysia and in the growth of the communities where we operate. I would like for us to continue that legacy.
What are your goals as the VP of Upstream, Malaysia & Philippines and the MD of SSB and SSPC?
Tan: I would like to see Shell as the most trusted and most competitive energy company in Malaysia. We aspire to have a material upstream presence in Sarawak and Sabah. We value our partnerships with Petronas, the government and communities at large. We build a highly capable team that is engaged and motivated. We want to continue to play a significant role in the development of the energy industry in Malaysia.
What is leadership to you and what drives/motivates you in your journey as a leader?
Tan: As leaders, we set expectations, align these goals across the organisation and inspire teams to achieve them. We perform best when we relate to a larger purpose that goes beyond each of us individually. I want each of us to feel that we make a difference in the role that we play at Shell each day. Our purpose in Shell is to power progress together through more and cleaner energy solutions. We have an important role in the energy industry to help society achieve a better quality of life through energy affordability and security, while also being confronted with the real challenges of climate change. We will need to adapt to a lower carbon world and work responsibly with governments, industries and the society towards this cause.
What would your advice be to today’s youth?
Tan: I would advise you to work hard and learn your trade well – having a strong foundation gives you confidence and credibility. Be humble and treat every person with respect – we perform at our best when everyone feels safe to contribute ideas and feels valued.