It is truly an honor to be invited to speak at this prestigious event. Whenever I am asked to speak at events like this I try my best to speak from my own practical experiences. One of the reasons is that bright individuals like yourself can Google topics like the one for tonight: “Unleash Your Potential – Embracing Opportunities for Business Growth”, and you will find a host of articles. In fact, I did Google “Unleash Your Potential” and found just shy of 1 million results; 940,000 to be precise. Tonight, you can rest assured that the thoughts I will share with you, come from personal and practical experience. My practical experience comes from over 30 years in the energy industry (this is where you are supposed to gasp to make me feel like I don’t look like I have had 30+ years of experience). Over my career, I have had the good fortune to actively participate in great examples of business growth across the globe including in Egypt, Algeria, the UK and Trinidad & Tobago. In the process, I captured some universal themes relevant to our topic. From these themes, I have picked four that I have found to be extremely impactful:
2. Wise Risk Taking
3. Continuous Learning
4. Giving Back
I’m sure that most of you here today have seen Star Trek. The crew’s mission was to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before’. For those of us who are not afraid to date ourselves, we will confess to remembering some futuristic concepts and gadgets, which in the 60s and 70s seemed literally out of this world. Well these concepts and gadgets came from the minds of dreamers, and guess what? Many of the things that amazed us back then are commonplace today, only decades after the first Star Trek episodes were aired in 1966. “Beam me up Scotty”, is still a dream, but don’t bet against it ever happening. You just can’t underestimate the power of a vision.
Dreamers often see and envision a world ahead of their time. In the business arena, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg of recent times and Thomas Edison and Henry Ford of yesteryear serve as popular examples. But right here in Trinidad there are the likes of Professor Julien, Arthur Lok Jack, and many others.
Unfortunately, many of us dream less with age, which robs us of so much. From my own experience, the greatest examples of potential being unleashed, were almost always coupled with what’s popularly called a BHAG, or big, hairy, audacious goal. As an example, I worked in Egypt at the start of their gas business in the Nile Delta back in the 90s. The dreams then included LNG trains, a cross-Mediterranean pipeline, a pipeline to Israel and a large domestic gas business. As is often the case with big dreams, not everything has worked as envisioned but I look at recent reports from Egypt and the LNG business and large domestic business are a reality. And, with a recent giant gas discovery of approximately 30 TCF, I wouldn’t bet against the other elements of the dream coming to fruition. Closer to home, while I was not here at the start of the LNG business I had a close association because of the role I held in Chicago at the time. The story here also has a familiar ring. While we currently are concerned with natural gas supply shortfalls, we shouldn’t forget that the dreams decades ago resulted in one of the largest LNG complexes in this hemisphere. Further, I am convinced that the story is far from over.
Here are some questions worth asking: Do you dream big? Does your company have an inspiring vision? Would you consider your company’s vision a BHAG?
Wise risk taking:
It was Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook who said, “In a world that’s changing so quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Let me start fleshing out this theme by sharing a personal story. I remember the first time I took a really big risk in my career. I was living quite comfortably in Chicago but I realized that I wasn’t going to learn about the exploration and production side of the oil industry in Chicago. Then, a position became available in Egypt, and I can still hear associates saying, “Egypt?” Fortunately, I had met a trusted Egyptian who worked for Amoco and I consulted with him. I could also hear the voice of a trusted graduate school professor who once asked me, “Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or a big fish in a big pond?” He then said, “If you want the latter you will have to take risks.” To make a long story short, I moved to Egypt with my young family at the time (my youngest was 2 months old) and that was one of the most transformative decisions of my career. Fortunately, I married someone who was not only agreeable and supportive, but also implicitly understood dreaming and wise risk taking, so she didn’t think I was losing my marbles. My wife, Karen, isn’t here tonight, so if any of you know her please let it slip that I said all these good things about her. That way I will earn some brownie points. Over two decades later, we know we unleashed our potential and grew as a result of taking a calculated risk to step out of our comfort zone.
Will Smith from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air provides another personal real life example. He recently shared a powerful account of an impromptu experience he had with sky-diving. He was visiting Dubai and he and some friends decided to go sky-diving. When the moment came though, he was racked with fear. But, he came out of his comfort zone and went for it. Describing his experience, he shared this quote: “On the other side of your maximum fear are all of the best things in life.”
Having explored two personal experiences, let me jump back into the business world to make two important points. When you work in a high hazard industry like oil and gas, and you have to make big investment bets, you think a lot about risk. This industry has taught me that wise risk taking always takes into account the welfare of people. So, for example, the risks I will take with money I will not take with safety. No amount of financial return is ever worth someone getting hurt or killed. At bpTT, while we embrace risk taking we have clear boundaries consistent with Values, which include Safety and Respect. So, the first important point is, wise risk taking has boundaries.
Once the Values boundaries are not violated though, we have to be prepared to take risks. In my business, we frequently invest over US$100 million on one exploration well with a chance of success that is often far less than 50 percent. In fact, bpTT is doing that right now with two exploration wells being drilled off the east coast of Trinidad. When you have to take these kinds of risks, you understand that wise risk taking utilizes appropriate expertise, and in a business setting you learn to appreciate true talent. This is the second important point: when taking wise risks, consider your advisors. In a business setting, you must consider the talent you surround yourself with, to instruct the risks you take.
Fortunately, for over 50 years, Trinidad & Tobago has trusted bpTT to take enormous risks with its human and hydrocarbon resources. I view this as a huge responsibility, but what allows me to sleep at night is the quality of the people in my organization who participate in wise risk taking. I’ll use a recent topical subject as an example. After fabricating our last 6.5 platforms in Trinidad, we had to make a decision on where to fabricate the Angelin platform if the project is sanctioned. The risks associated with the decision were substantial. However, I was 100 percent sure that I could rely on the input of talented people who have the interest of the country and company at heart.
Do you live within your comfort zones or do you take calculated risks? Do you hire, equip and trust talented people to support wise risk taking?
Here is something I can guarantee you. If you dream big and take risks, even wise risks, you will make mistakes and sometimes they will be big. However, if you are committed to unleashing your potential and growing you must learn from these mistakes, and ideally you must learn fast. I am not talking about learning in the traditional sense of “beating books”. I am talking about learning from and for application. On a personal level, some of my greatest growth spurts have come after colossal failures, not because of the failures but because of the lessons I learned. For example, I can vividly remember making a judgement call on a commercial arbitration that ended up costing the company hundreds of millions of US$. I am still with the company because my judgement was not cavalier or based on shoddy analysis but in the end, I had to own that I made a mistake. The lessons learned contributed to the creation of a new team of legal and commercial experts in the UK focused on commercial arbitrations and I grew tremendously from the experience.
In my view, Trinidad & Tobago has great stories about dreaming big, taking risks and continually learning. The petrochemicals industry in Pt. Lisas is a great case study in unleashing potential and growth. By dreaming big and taking risks, Trinidad & Tobago has for decades punched way above its weight as the largest exporter of traded methanol and ammonia. As many of you may know, bpTT has been engaged in negotiations with NGC related to our gas sales contract, which expires at the end of next year. Throughout the negotiations, we have been reminded of how visionary the political and business leaders were who established Pt. Lisas, and the risks they took when natural gas was viewed as a nuisance associated product of oil. What is equally important though, is to see how NGC has continued to learn in the face of a fast-changing energy world. In fact, in the negotiations, they repeatedly acknowledged that what got them here is not going keep them successful in the future. This kind of learning will unleash potential.
Regardless of the type of profession you’re in or representing here today, the technology, tools, and strategies you use in the workplace are constantly evolving. Employers like yourselves are looking for employees or candidates with a competitive edge. We expect candidates to be up-to-date with their skills, knowledgeable in the latest industry trends, and adaptable to any situation. It’s important to create a culture of learning and continuous improvement and to allow the space for our employees’ to dream, to take risks and to put forward solutions to some of our most challenging problems. You will also have to allow them to fail and then learn fast.
How committed are you to personal learning and how committed is your organization?
I suspect that some of you may be wondering, what does giving back have to do with unleashing potential and growth? As I wrote this section, I was also thinking that some who know me well may think that because of my Christian beliefs I just wanted to get this concept in. Well, I am certainly influenced by my faith, but the evidence for what I am suggesting exists in abundance outside of my faith. Consider with me for a second, three of the most prominent contemporary names in business and tell me if you detect something in common: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros. All have given away more than 30% of their wealth, and the list of successful business people like the three named, is actually quite long. Here in Trinidad & Tobago, because of recent media coverage, the late Dr. Anthony Sagba would certainly come to mind when you think of successful people who have practiced giving back. However, I know that the list is far longer. In fact, I know that every close colleague of mine at the CEO ranks in the energy sector practices this principle. So, while I have not actually done a regression analysis I am confident that the correlation factor for giving back and achieved potential and growth is extremely high. The important question is, why? Is it the case that successful people have given back because they have realized their potential or is it that people who are inclined to give back achieve high potential? Having considered this deeply I have drawn two conclusions that I believe might be helpful in answering the question. I encourage you to listen closely because I will not have the time to expound on these conclusions:
• The first conclusion is that giving back reminds you of purpose (i.e., what really matters) and true purpose is an essential ingredient if we are to unleash our potential and grow;
• The second conclusion is that giving back demonstrates a firm belief in the fact that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It denies the destructive theory that for me to do better others have to do worse.
These two conclusions are equally relevant to our personal and business lives.
The famous basketball player Dikembe Mutombo used to say, “When you take the elevator to the top, please remember to send it back down so someone else might use it.” He certainly understands the power of giving back.
The giving back concept is powerful for individuals and it is powerful for businesses. At bpTT we recognize this. Of course, we are learning still how to best serve our communities where needs are changing every day and we see it from Mayaro to the Beetham Gardens. Our social investment programmes like MIPED – the Mayaro Initiative for Private Enterprise Development, and Beyond Borders, a partnership we’ve established with the Rose Foundation, are aimed at ensuring that people from these so called “disadvantaged” communities are given a fair chance for opportunities in growing their businesses within their communities and beyond. We intentionally try not to blow our own horn too much, but I will tell you that this is a part of bpTT’s culture that I am extremely proud of. Don’t hear this though, as a plug for Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR should have its place of prominence in any business, but what I am talking about is a mindset which should permeate our lives whether we are in the corporate world or not. The old adage, “it’s better to give than to receive” is supported by research. Studies have shown a relationship between volunteering and increased self-esteem, with volunteers reporting both greater personal empowerment and better health. Now, I have nothing against money, but I am absolutely convinced that if a person’s aim is purely to amass wealth, they will limit their potential and growth. Likewise, I believe that if a business does not consider its long-term impact on the environment in which it operates, it will limit potential and growth.
So, there you have it. Dream, take wise risks, learn and give back. As I close I would like to take you back to Star Trek and have you share in an exercise we engage in within bpTT from time to time. We sometimes close our meetings with the Klingon or Vulcan sign. Try this with me – it means, “Live Long and Prosper”. I leave you with the hope that you will live long and prosper as you and your businesses unleash your potential and continue to grow.