Filipina is first woman CEO of Shell Philippines

Published November 28, 2021, 1:10 AM

by Myrna M. Velasco

In the technically complex world of energy where men CEOs are regarded as ‘king’, women executives eyeing C-suite positions often work double time to catch up with counterparts.

Shell Philippines President and CEO Lorelie Quiambao-Osial

Unequivocally, one female executive who is rising up to the challenge is newly designated Shell Philippines President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lorelie Quiambao-Osial, a certified public accountant (CPA) known to her subalterns as “LQ”. And while Shell employees and executives fondly alludes to that as “lover’s quarrel”, the “woman on top” is out to change that sobriquet into a “Lady of Quality” – one who is moving away from the stereotype and coming to her own as an excellent corporate leader.

Having been delegated to risky global assignments such as in war-torn Iraq as well as in conflict-ridden Iran, Pakistan and Libya, Osial, in her relatively young age of 46, is a living testament that women corporate leaders will no longer need to mimic men or wear men’s power uniform to succeed.

And in her new CEO assignment that will kick off December 1 this year, Osial is taking on a pioneering journey as she will be the first woman CEO of Shell Philippines on its more than 100 years of operations in the country.

In Osial’s view, the qualities that a leader possesses such as integrity; passion for work; and intelligence are gender neutral where women can be equal to what their men counterparts can deliver — whether that is for the company’s growth or in the wider core of nation building.

“I really think that leadership has no gender. I think that careers have no genders as well. Each person – or all of us are multi-dimensional and that combination makes us unique,” she professed.

In the various roles and positions she had in her more than 20 years with Shell, Osial was always viewed from a multifaceted lens – that she’s not just a female or Asian, but she’s also proudly waving the Philippine flag in her global roles as a top-tier Filipina reaching the pinnacle of leaderships in a multinational energy corporation.

“In Shell, we do have a lot of focus around diversity and inclusion…we really make sure that we have a workforce that is diverse and our workforce must reflect our customers and our stakeholders, so we view talented people in that sense basically,” she said, highlighting that “with Shell, we do ensure that we have equal opportunities for men and women – and people actually succeed based on meritocracy, and not because they have longer hair or because they are female.”

The young CEO describes her brand of leadership as both “situational and transformational”. To her, that means “being able to employ different types of leadership styles and influencing styles depending on what is needed.” Even her tolerance for mistakes in the workplace is anchored on a situation, as she emphasized that safety blunders must not be tolerated because they could risk lives, while misdeeds on ethics and compliance can compromise an organization’s integrity.

Working in tough environments

Before her return to the Philippines in February 2016, Osial was given assignments on business-facing finance roles in “tough environments” primarily in Iraq where Royal Dutch Shell pursued $17 billion worth of investments in upstream and mid-stream gas projects. Prior to that, she also took on finance management roles in other Middle East-North African (MENA) jurisdictions such as in Tunisia and Libya, and in Asian countries like Pakistan and India.

Her 32 months of duty in Iraq, she admitted, brought in new learning as well as experiences that reinforced her passion on how best Shell, as an organization, can inspire its team, as well as improve on the quality of services it extend to customers.

Well, don’t be deceived by her sweet persona or petite frame, because for roughly three years, this lady executive weathered weekly commute from her base in Dubai to Iraq. On her initial days of assignment in that war-crippled territory, she had to deal with a workforce that mostly have not touched computers for more than two decades. She also needed to communicate with them on sign language because many employees can’t speak English and one of them was even a “prisoner of war”.

She recounted “it’s really an environment where people were literally picking up the pieces from where the war had left them off.” She emphasized that when they did the usual “go-sees” and physical survey of project assets, traces of bullet holes were still clearly visible in the pipelines they have inspected.

This Filipina executive was part of the Shell leadership team on the Anglo-Dutch firm’s re-entry into Iraq in 2013 as the company exited that country in 1976. “I was the only Asian and the only female in that role; and I commuted to Iraq for almost three years,” said Osial as she chronicled her field work in Iraq. In those days, she was always required to be in bullet proof vest and navigated the streets in armored vehicles with ex-British special armed services military men in tow.

The new CEO narrated that when Shell entered Iraq almost a decade ago, that country only had two hours of electricity during summer months, but the massive investments injected by the company enabled them to develop the equivalent of two Malampaya fields, Iraq’s power demand situation improved to 13 hours when Osial left in February 2016. “I can remember the first time we installed solar lights, at that night, the people went off to the streets and have their picnics – so that excitement of having energy access is universal, I’ve seen that in Iraq and I have seen it in the Philippines, as well,” she stressed.

While she qualified that the Iraq corporate posting had been physically risky, it’s also in that environment where she learned the unorthodox or out of the ordinary way of doing things and solving problems.

“I was looking after a very diverse team – we have the Dutch guys, Canadians, Russians, Nigerians and then the Iraqis…so it’s really about bringing these people together to be a high performing team. The other part of the challenge was: how our partners had been able to acknowledge that we’ve been a high performing team.”

She added “What I like being in this industry, why I like being with Shell is because of the impact we make – not just on people and societies, but also on a country’s development. And a classic example of that is what we’ve done in Iraq, because that’s a war-torn country that literally and figuratively rose from the ashes.”

To her, it matters that corporate leaders approach concerns with a “cognitive diversity” track – in which your capabilities are defined by how you look at opportunities; how you view risks; what perspectives do you take; how you work with people; and how you put different people to work together in harmony.

Learning with a girl’s mindset

Around February 2016, Osial was called back to the Philippines and was appointed as Finance Director for the group’s upstream business (i.e. for the Malampaya gas field project) and then as country controller for Shell Philippines.

Her next assignment came in 2019 as vice-president for finance process expenditure of Shell Shared Services, which is the business process outsourcing unit of Shell. That has been her position prior to her designation as the CEO of the energy firm in the country.

At Shell Shared Services, Osial was able to work with young people within the age range of 24 to 35, or the so-called millennials and Gen-Zs of the workforce. She has been overseeing five countries – and that’s where she re-oriented herself also on the thriving landscape changes in the energy sector.

“I would like to think that I have a girl’s mindset – or what I say, a learner’s mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset,” she noted, adding that in pursuing the ‘transformative business models that Shell will be embracing in the digitalization and automation space, “I look at these things like the way I look at my child…if I would be bringing them up to succeed in the future, so it is about ensuring that we are building world class talents, and they must continue to be world class talents in the future.”

Without doubt, her assumption as CEO at Shell Philippines will be like an odyssey into a complex web – because this is a period when the country will be traversing its post-Covid recovery phase and the whole world is also desperately seeking for definitive solutions to climate change risks that must save humanity from the greater perils of a relentlessly warming planet.

Osial hinted that Shell Philippines’ investment trajectory will be on technologies that will support government-underpinned energy transition agenda — primarily renewables. Under her watch, Shell Philippines will likewise step up on deploying digital solutions as well as pursue ventures that can help abate carbon emissions.

“I am excited to be one of the CEOs in the energy space,” she asserted. For Shell Philippines, the continuing promise is: “We have been in the country for more than a hundred years, and we look forward to more years of being a strong and true partner to nation building. It is indeed a privilege and a challenge for us powering progress to meet the country’s energy needs today and for the future.”