Exploration is the heart of the oil and gas industry, and geologists are the heart of exploration.
Paradoxically, though geologists are among those most responsible for finding hydrocarbons, data collected by the Brazilian Association of Petroleum Geologists (ABGP) shows that geologists are less likely than their engineering and economist counterparts to be considered for leadership positions in the business and technology areas of oil and gas companies.
Sylvia Anjos, AAPG Member, past president of ABGP and business adviser at Petrobras, studied the data and said that companies would be wise to ensure that geologists are included on executive teams.
“Once large discoveries are made, there is a tendency to believe that the reserves are enough and to focus on production. Geologists are seen as not really critical. That is a mistake that is avoided when geologists hold leadership positions at companies,” she said.
“Geologists value the odds of making new discoveries, so exploration remains a continuous, important process. I consider that this was one the reasons for Petrobras’ success in deep and ultradeep waters,” she added.
As a passionate geologist and a more than 30-year industry veteran, Anjos knows a lot about geology and about business.
Connecting the Puzzle Pieces
Anjos’s interest in geology started at age six when her father showed her a world map.
“He told me that Brazil and Africa used to be connected, like a puzzle!” she said.
Her interest piqued again in middle school geography class when the teacher described the evolution and rise of the Andes and isolation of the Amazon Basin from the ocean. She was so fascinated that she decided to study geology.
After graduation, Anjos joined Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company, and she worked with a variety of technical projects and teams before moving into management. Over time, the pieces of her career started to fit together.
“It took me a long time, 20 years, to agree to go into management. The third offer I received was for a managerial position with strong technical input, so I decided to try it,” she said.
During her management career at Petrobras, Anjos and her colleagues experienced the opening of the E&P sector and worked on multiple fronts to be prepared for competition.
She currently serves as business adviser for Petrobras Downstream and is helping the company prepare for Brazil’s transition into a new gas regulatory regime and open market.
Anjos said that geologists bring both the technical experience and the skillset needed to be effective in strategic positions.
“If a profession like geology can deal with huge amounts of intangible variables in nature and geological processes, imagine how easy it is for geologists to deal with the more realistic nature of business, as well as the intangible nature it can have sometimes,” she said.
“During climate change discussions, geologists are the professionals that can provide the real approach to the problem. Because we are trained to see in 4-D, we value and position facts properly across time, geological time,” Anjos added.
Opportunities for Team Players
Liz Schwarze, AAPG Member and vice president of Chevron’s Global Exploration Group, said geologists’ manner of thinking helps them adapt well to the business world.
“As geoscientists, we think in three dimensions, and I think that is quite helpful in the multifaceted challenges we face at the reservoir level and even at the industry level,” she said.
Schwarze found geoscience during her freshman year in college when two sorority sisters convinced her to take Geology 101. Before long, she was hooked and chose geology as her major.
“As an introverted science kid with a love for the outdoors, geology filled my soul,” she said. “Studying the Earth requires all the sciences, and the curriculum included lots of field trips. The professors, graduate students and undergraduates all mingled easily as colleagues and friends.”
Schwarze’s love for community and interdisciplinary collaboration deepened during her early years at Chevron.
“About two years into my career, my group became the first cross-functional co-located team in our office. We were a pilot to see if working side by side with the other professionals needed to run an oil field would be better than working side-by-side with people in our function working different oil fields,” she said.
The pilot was a success, and in addition to teaching her about cross-functional teams, the experience gave Schwarze the opportunity to develop a close working relationship with the group’s reservoir engineer.
“He took me under his wing, so to speak, and taught me all about how reservoirs perform, how to forecast production and how to run economics. That helped me really understand the decision-making process,” she said.
Schwarze enrolled in an MBA program and took classes at night while building her career at Chevron.
“From the beginning of my career, I was keen to collaborate cross-functionally and to have my team all rowing in the same direction. I learned on the job that I have strengths in building alignment, focusing on what matters and project management, and I leaned into those strengths to make the jump from a technical contributor career path to a leadership career path,” she said.
As vice president of global exploration at Chevron she is responsible for the company’s worldwide exploration program and chairs the company’s Global Exploration Leadership Team. The position involves reviewing technical projects, a task she enjoys.
“I do get many opportunities to see technical work and offer my thoughts,” she said. “It’s a fun part of my job and I think above all else it helps me connect with people.”
Geologists as Entrepreneurs
Robbie Gries, former AAPG president and president of Priority Oil and Gas, LLC, is proof that geologists not only make good company executives but also can excel as business owners and entrepreneurs.
The 45-year petroleum industry veteran found geology her sophomore year in college when she was looking for a science class with a highly recommended teacher.
“Someone suggested geology, and I said, ‘What is that?’ I had come from a tiny high school and had never heard the word.I fell in love, by the end of that year I had taken three courses and changed my major,” she said.
Gries joined the industry and developed an interest in business while expanding the geographic and technical knowledge she needed to evaluate prospects and projects.
“I never intended to have my own business, but as I left larger companies and went to smaller companies, I learned other skills ... geophysics, engineering, lease acquisition, economics.Soon I was able to become ‘independent,’ and I started my own company when I had an opportunity to buy some producing properties,” she said.
Gries has worked independently since 1980. She currently owns a natural gas production, petroleum exploration and development company based in Denver.
Gries said geologists have unique strengths that help them to successfully run businesses.
“I believe we (geologists) are better at addressing the risk in a project, as we don’t just use numbers; we have a studied approach to reservoirs and better intrinsic understanding of the scientific risks ... and the upside potential,” she said.
Thinking Outside the Barrel
Susan Morrice, AAPG Member and founder and chairman of Belize Natural Energy, found both geology and entrepreneurism early in life. She grew up loving nature and outdoors while picnicking with her family on the rocks near their home in Ireland. She studied geology in college and shortly after graduation got a job conducting research in the United States.
“I found entrepreneurism was the backbone of the country, so I decided I’d better become one … fast! I did just that within three years of graduation,” she said.
Along with love for business, Morrice developed a passion for Belize, and she decided to start an energy company that made a sustainable difference in the country and its people.
She found a Belizian partner, and they struck oil on their first try. Morrice credits her success with studying the mind and mindsets and adopting a firm belief in AAPG founder Wallace Pratt’s statement, “Oil is found in the mind.”
The company Morrice founded, Belize Natural Energy, has been the No. 1 revenue generator in Belize for more than 12 years and has won multiple international awards for its holistic, sustainable business model.
Susan credits geologists’ creativity and imagination with helping them to be successful in the business world.
“Geoscientists usually have nurtured their imagination. We never have all the data points, so we have to think outside the box – or barrel! – finding other value chains to increase the number of profit lines and not just rely on the price of the crude roller coaster,” she said.
What Geologists Bring to the Table
Schwarze agreed that the ability to face uncertainty is an advantage geoscientists bring to executive teams.
“We all live with uncertainty, and I think geoscientists are generally more comfortable with it. We see that our industry faces ups and downs, and it is impossible to predict the future, whether that is at a macroeconomic scale or at a local field scale,” she said.
“Things happen to disrupt our predictions of the future. In geoscience, we are forever striving to understand the rocks a little bit better. Taking that over to the financial side, we are more likely to have humility about our predictions, and I think that can give us an edge when it comes to adjusting to the downside or the upside.”
Anjos cited three advantages that geoscientists bring to companies.
“Geologists have a knowledge of the petroleum systems, the audacity to question previous unsuccessful concepts and most importantly, a managerial sense of cost and reward,” she said.
“When geologists aren’t at the table, companies lose their unique ability to understand the uncertainties of nature, the exact value of geological risks and most of all, a profession that is trained to argue and to raise other hypotheses for the same subject!” she added.
Anjos has seen firsthand the financial benefits that come from having geologists on management teams.
“Geologists bring oil and gas companies a more effective sense of risk analysis. They know when the value of the prize compensates the risk of investment,” she said.
Anjos noted how major discoveries in Brazil happened because Petrobras leadership made the difficult decision to go further after drilling dry wells first.
“The giant turbidite fields of Campos Basin and the supergiant fields of Pre-salt in Santos Basin are huge discoveries that happened when two excellent geologists were directors at Petrobras and made the right decision to go against the odds to make the discoveries,” she said.
Strategies for Seating the Table
Schwarze said that diversity and inclusion – not only in professional discipline, but also in gender, background and experience – is a fundamental part of making companies’ teams successful.
“Each and every one of us has a skill we brought to this industry and a myriad of experiences that form the core of how we react and make decisions. I call this our consequence history,” she said.
“Every one of us is unique because we’ve had different childhoods, academic and work histories. So, if you exclude geoscientists or any specific group, you miss out on bringing that person’s unique skill and consequence history to bear on the challenges at hand. So, when seating a table, casting the net wide matters.”
Schwarze noted that diversity and inclusion is a high priority for Chevron, which has a series of programs and platforms to promote diversity, inclusion learning and dialog.
“Our reputation and effectiveness depend on our diversity and inclusion efforts,” she said.
She noted that, in addition to seeking diversity, businesses should have a vision for growth and continuity in their leadership teams.
“Companies need to take the long view in development, communicate clearly what it takes to be a senior leader and link sponsorship programs to succession-planning processes,” she said.
Advice to the Next Generations
For Morrice, a key question for young people considering management is knowing whether their values align with their company’s.
“Make sure the company is on the ‘same page’ and has the same values that you do ... Reflect on that journey within before anything,” she said.
Anjos believes strongly that geoscientists should build a strong technical foundation before moving into management. Doing so will help them develop the skills they need to explore multiple hypotheses and make decisions, she said.
“In my experience, people who come into management too soon can focus more on administrative details or can be driven to make decisions before understanding all the options,” she said. “This is not good for the long-term health of the company.”
Schwarze noted that geoscientists considering management should have a clear understanding of what it means to lead teams.
“Not everyone is a good manager,and you have to really like to set alignment and direct others, you have to achieve personal satisfaction through the work of others and you have to relish giving the recognition and praise to the team,” she said.
She invited geoscientists entering the profession to conduct a series of self-assessments, both at the start and during the course of their careers.
“Identify your goals – life and professional. Identify the basic trade-offs you are willing to make. Identify your strengths and opportunities; leverage the strengths to new roles and close the opportunities through training, mentoring and practice,” she said.
Gries noted that ongoing self-assessment also is important for geoscientists considering careers as business owners.
“Ask yourself, can you mentally handle uncertainty?Can you prepare for the ups and downs of business in the commodity world? That being said, if someone had asked me when I was 25 if I could handle that I would likely have said, ‘no.’But in my 40s I started learning how resilient I was and what a powerful tool networking was ... this gave me confidence and tolerance for risk,” she said.
Schwarze encouraged young employees to communicate actively with their companies when seeking to advance in their careers.
“Advocate for yourself,” she said. “Make a clear case for your own abilities and ask a supervisor what it will take to get to the next level.”
Gries encouraged self-improvement even when corporate support is not an option.
“Invest in yourself. Find areas where you can improve and pay for it yourself, take the time to do it even if your company won’t support it,” she said. “I took many classes outside of work to improve areas where I was weak.”
Morrice encouraged young people to think big and dream bigger.
“Go way outside your comfort zone and find out what you are made of,” she said. “Be all you can be and live the life of your dreams!”