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Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Freedom lost

In Events, Thoughts, Travels, Treasures on April 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Hm, I suppose blogging, if not pursued as part of one’s main occupation is a luxury easily lost. The timestamp on the last posting shows me that it has almost been a year since my last post, and quite a bit has happened without finding any reflection here.

So in May-June of last year, I entered negotiations with the Scottish branch of my former employers, where an old colleague of mine was trying to rope me back in. In the end, he succeeded with that, heaving me into a position one level above my former one and with start date of 1 August 2011 in the beautiful world of well cementing. Reinstatement of seniority, 40% pay cut, and with about 5 months still to go on my studies. So now I was full-time student and full-time employee. Not a good introduction.

On the positive side, I got to travel to Mauritania for some exploratory negotiations, I got to travel to The Hague to discuss my favourite cementing subject Macondo, and I got to fly to France and Norway.

The Hague cannals

The nice end of Nouakchott, Mauritania

However the job is insane, and I cannot find any more suitable term. The responsibility is between the usual 24/7 drilling operations, which, with waning experience, need increasing support, and the Marketing and Sales department with plenty of tenderwork, presentations, trainings for clients etc. I could work 24/7 and not nearly catch up with all the things that I could do.

Secondly, the company, in a fit of megalomania has formulated a carefully crafted strategy, which consists of “outperforming the competition”, operating at an IBT of 20%, catchily phrased as “Club 20” membership, and all the while doubling the business in our line of work by 2015. All that with a goal to operate everywhere and chase every opportunity and “sell apples, if needed”. I have undoubtedly been spoilt by a book I recently read: “Good strategy, bad strategy – The difference and why it matters” by Richard P. Rumelt. And looking at the guidelines coming out of both the geographic and the business line dimensions of our matrix organisation, they are easily identified as the second kind.

I also miss the freedom to read outside the core discipline, think, write focus on one task and do whatever I want. So I have a feeling that this job is not going to last long. I just need to find an opportunity that allows for focus, has a general approach and therefore allows me to escape the narrow corner, which is the world of the well cementing expert. Easier said than done, but nonetheless, I will try. And hopefully find the time to blog about it.

P. S. In spite of the double load, I managed to graduate with merit and even won a prize for my law dissertation. It is only now that I can fully appreciate how much more fun that was, even if it appeared stressful at times.

Update: swamped

In Events, Thoughts, Treasures on October 7, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Wow, it has been a while since I put something here. The courses have started, and i have to say, it has been a bit rocky. The distance learning style takes getting used to. With the current family situation, I have allocated the nights for studying. Unfortunately there was very little guidance at the beginning of the semester. I seem to have taken it rather well, but a bunch of people are already complaining about superhuman efforts to cope with the material thrown at us. But I hope things will settle in.

In line with one of the courses, Legal Systems and Contract Law, I found something interesting in today’s Quote of the Day in the New York times.

“The Constitution is the rock upon which our nation rests. We must follow it not only when it is convenient, but when fear and danger beckon in a different direction. To do less would diminish us and undermine the foundation upon which we stand.”
JUDGE LEWIS A. KAPLAN OF UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT IN MANHATTAN, who barred testimony from a crucial witness in the first trial of a former Guantánamo detainee.

I doubt that there is a better way of saying it. 1:0 against the National Security crowd and for Rule of Law.

Charlie’s and my arrival

In Events on September 12, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Charlie portrait

Charlie's official portrait


I think it is time for an update, otherwise I am loosing the plot, and things get forgotten, and the whole idea of blogging my time of freedom becomes pointless.
Travelling through Luanda for the last time, after saying goodbye to the neighbours, the clients and the colleagues and helping the neighbours ransacking my place and what I had left there, was a bit weird. And when you, after finally packing everything into the remaining bags, sit in the car and get to breath for a moment, looking at the city passing by, you start feeling a bit of the freedom.
At the airport, there was a somewhat expected problem, as in I had about 88 kg of luggage and an allowance of 40. Added were after some negotiations 12 kg for my newly obtained Silver status. The bad news was that excess luggage was chargeable at 50 USD/kg, which seemed excessive, but not negotiable. Also there is a maximum of 30 kg per bag, so that I had to loose 1 bottle of Cachaca, 2 bottles of Detol cleaner and a souvenir, that one of my colleagues had given me (in the unlikely event, that you find this, I am sorry, but I kept the Palanca and the stand :-()
So after all negotiations (I got them to waive another 6 kg and paid with the 1500 USD I had left over from my last salary cash advance) I barely had time to get into the lounge, and then failed to call my wife. She had been a bit edgy, because as part of my quest for freedom, I had handed in my mobile phone the last Friday at work, so I was keen to let her know that I was in the air and all was well, but the WiFi network in the lounge was not working. So then I splashed out some more and called her from the sat phone in my seat. This was really an expensive trip.
I arrived in Bangkok as planned and was met by my wife, delighted son and mother in law, this time without any problems at Suvarnabhumi airport.
My wife told me on arrival that we were due for an appointment in the hospital the next morning, and that they would probably not let her go again, as a preliminary exam showed need for action.
So indeed the next day, Aug 31st my second son Charlie arrived 5 days earlier than planned, so that my wife rightly pointed out that she had been right in pushing me to fly earlier than the originally planned Sept. 1st, and I felt justified in my position to drive my negotiations with the company as hard as I had, incl. the ultimate resignation.
After 4 days, we were all release from our suite in the hospital and have been living in Bangkok, trying to find our first son opportunities to socialize (swimming pool. condo playground and an English nursery school twice a week), while nurturing Charlie into a stable and sustainable growth.
On a separate note, I have enrolled at RGU for the intended Oil & Gas Law course, and pending some administrative hiccups, I should be on my way to development in that direction.

The End – The Beginning

In Events, Thoughts on August 27, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Australian soldiers demobilizing in Weymouth 1919

Australian soldiers demobilizing in Weymouth 1919

So today was my last day at work. After waiting a little and intervening on a water-with-electricity incident waiting to happen, I met with the personnel manager to hand over my computer and excess electronics. Then I started my farewell round in the operations base. Congratulations abound. At last I submitted my badge to the IT department and left to check-out my house. With every item I returned, I felt lighter. It is what I imagine a soldier feeling like when being demobilized after the end of a war. The old-fashioned ones that have a defined ending, that is. You lay down your arms, you lay down your armour, you say farewell to your comrades, and with every bit you loose, you feel lighter, but a fatigue creeps in, together with the disbelief that you have actually survived. It was not as joyful a feeling as yesterday, when the account manager for my client invited the client support and client engineers for a farewell lunch, with very complimentary speeches and a lot of people trying to say recognizing and nice things.
So what is next?
I will be travelling to Thailand on Sunday to meet my family again and get ready for the birth of my second son. After that I will spend some time having fun with and looking after my family in Thailand and the UK.
In parallel I will commence a distance-learning Oil & Gas Law LLM program for a year. The reason is that from my experience the technical expert role I have had so far has turned out to be something between a dead end and a mambo with one step forward and two steps back. With the law degree, I am hoping to be able to branch out into something that has more strategy but benefits from technical understanding, such as contracts, arbitration, M&A, investments or something along these lines. I hope it will work and be more interesting that spinning the hamster wheel while trying not to fall off, as I have done for most of my career so far.
Whether it will work? I will keep you posted…

Post-Mortem of an employment

In Events, Thoughts, Treasures on August 24, 2010 at 7:14 am

To ensure the cause of death is known, generally a post-mortem examination is performed to understand the causes of the demise. So I am applying this technique to my recently deceased employment with a leading oilfield services company, to better understand it and to make sure I understand the causes and do not get into the same spot again.

The subject is 9 1/2 years old. It was born out of a relationship between a graduate student and a recruiting outpost of said oilfield service company in its outer rims of manufacturing.As usual, the intention was a short fling in the shape of an oilfield internship, but it turned into something more serious, when the recruiter said that they had way more jobs open than internship positions.
This indicates one of the chronic illnesses of this employment, which can be postulated as one of the guiding principles of the company. Find out what people want and then give them something else. I wanted an internship and got a job. I wanted to work in project management and came to work in well cementing, after just having gotten excited about the prospect of working in Coiled Tubing, that was mentioned in my assignment letter.
There are several symptoms which could be possible causes of death, some of which are localized, yet recurring, while some of them seem to of a global nature:
Something advertised as the lifestyle, but really means a total lack of concern for the quality of life of the employee, including a general assumption that the employee will be found at work, preferably in the company facilities, whenever called on the ubiquitous mobile phone. This symptom appears localized but seems to have the potential to spread. In its worst form, it evolves into a general lack of concern about the life of the employees regarding time, accommodations, workload or other needs, especially occurring in times of economic pressure on the industry.
Another symptom frequently encountered is a total disregard for capabilities required to survive and succeed in a given business environment. This is a concept I picked up from an excellent article in Booz&Co. Strategy and Business magazine. It makes a lot of sense to me, and a lot less so to my previous employer, as it appears. The underlying deficiency might be that the company has been suffering from an intense focus on the current PnL sheet (drawn up for every small business unit in an almost fractal way) and on its ongoing service operations, with little regard to the surroundings of these. The condition might be cause by an extremely strong position of engineers with field background all across the company. Now I know I start sounding like a Southern hick, but my dad, who worked as a commercial guy in a big project engineering company, always said that you cannot let engineers run a business. They will neglect what is necessary for the business to be successful and focus on getting the job done at all cost, especially their own.
One more symptom I consider critical is localized around the business segment I was involved with. It deals with services related to wells during their construction and later lifecycle, where high pressure pumping and iron pipe is used, in order to isolate the well from the surface (see Macondo well, Guld of Mexico) or to pump fluids into the reservoir to enhance productivity. As such, the segment, especially where not related to the resvoir and its productivity, has always sat a bit askew with a company, that started out trying to measure and learn about the subsurface. And while enhancing reservoir productivity fits quite well with that idea (after all you can use the understanding of the subsurface to optimize that treatment and then measure how much it has improved), the other activities have always been rather brainless and therefore not of great interest to the corporate whole. So the unit was considered at times a candidate for sell-off merger, farm out or similar divestment. This is not exactly a career-enhancing position, especially if the employee is trying to break out from the brainless box and get onto something with bigger picture and more brain, and if he is considered a sort of expert in the brainless fields.
This then maybe leads into something which is closer to a relationship comparison than post-mortem. When I joined the company, it was a well integrated oilfield services provider embarking on a quest to bring brains in the form of information technology into the oilfield by means of a large acquisition of a non-oilfield IT services provider. This bold experiment turned sour in spite of attempts to integrate the whole entity with a strong matrix structure, and after a while, the IT business minus a few oilfield related activities was divested again at a massive loss. Since then the company has lost a lot of appetite for experimentation. It has reverted back to business segment focussed parallel silo structure. Development through cross-fertilization has practically ceased. This unfortunately has closed a lot of development opportunities. Interesting enough though, the appetite for growth by acquisition is back, with a major merger with another big multi-segment service provider.
One crippling result in this is something that I have seen and also found in discussions with other people. The ongoing transitions, in conjunction with a locally difficult business environment (which is by no means overall depressed) has caused a sclerosis in the system, where nothing moves. No plans are in place on how to deal with situations, no action is taken, not even elementary requests receive a response. It seems like a hamster wheel, where people just keep pedaling in the hope to get somewhere. Well watch a hamster, and you will see that the only way to get somewhere on a hamster wheel is by either jumping off or falling off. So here I go, jumping before falling off and hoping not to land on my face.

Prologue

In Events, Geek Alert on August 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm

First blog to share. I hope you have read my profile, so you have a cursory idea of what this blog is supposed to be about. But I haven’t started yet. There is a plan in place, but then sometimes things happen differently.

I have spent most of the day trying to sort out our things here in Angola, so the packers on Monday can come and cart of the majority of our things to our home in the UK, while I am carrying a shopping list and elementary things for my subsistence to our home in Thailand to see my family again. The newest member of the family is due on 4 September by means of Cesarean Section.

Geek alert: Did you know Cesarean section was called that, because the Cesars of ancient Rome were delivered that way, as a normal birth was to mundane for a future emperor and god?

On Friday will be my last day on the job. The account manager has indicated that he will throw a farewell lunch with the client, and next Saturday, the neighbours will host a Hash, so I can hare and for a farewell  gift get me a nice degrading Hash name.  So that looks like a week of fun ahead.

Today in one week, I will board a plane and say goodbye to Angola.