Shell’s new vice-president in charge of Nigeria and Gabon, Peter Costello comes to Nigeria with experience spanning three decades in the energy value chain. He spoke in Lagos recently on his vision for Nigeria and Gabon, among other issues. Ejiofor Alike presents the excerpts:
Your Nigeria job is your posting to Africa; could you give us an idea of what went through your mind as you prepared to come to Lagos to assume duties?
Two things ran through my mind. I was starting life with Shell following the combination with BG, and coming to Nigeria was a good indication of the new world I was stepping into. So, here am I getting to work in the biggest black nation on earth; the home of talents in all fields of human endeavour, including a Nobel Literature prize winner; rich in every sense of the word and above all, the home of more than 100 million-strong soccer fan base! Would you have wished for anything less if you were in my shoes?
With a First Class Bachelor’s degree in Science and Technology, and an MBA majoring in Business and Strategy Development, and having also started your working life in British Gas (BG) in 1986, where you held various positions associated with gas pipeline, engineering, HSE, projects and operations, there is no doubt that your resume more matches the unique terrain you have found yourself. So, what did you find as you landed in Lagos?
The first thing was the weather. I was coming from Kazakhstan and so you can have a sense of the sun and shine I met here. Then the people; the welcome was visible right from the immigration desk. And then I faced what we now fondly refer to as the Lagos traffic, and of imbibed a new virtue: patience!
But seriously speaking, the first thing that I noticed is how resilient and committed our people are and this, in the face of extremely uncertain times. Just imagine this, our business here is run by Nigerians. Our three main companies – Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC); Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) and Shell Nigeria Gas are headed by Nigerians. Then there is the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) where we have a 25 per cent stake and are Technical Advisor, a world-class operation being run by Nigerians. So my role here is basically to build on the excellent platform for increased value in the Shell presence in Nigeria.
Since I came here last year, I have a deep respect for our colleagues in the Niger Delta because they continue to demonstrate such dedication as they work to deliver our collective objectives in spite of the challenging conditions they have to operate in. Shortly after I arrived, we celebrated the Bonga team for making a U-turn in Bonga’s performance and winning the Upstream “Asset of the Year” award. The Erha (SNEPCo Non-Operated Venture) team also won the 2016 Global Development “Barrel Chasing Champion” award for initiating studies that enabled the Operator to turn around a large number of opportunities thereby increasing production and arresting a long-standing decline. To realise that I would be working with this calibre of people was very encouraging. To find such talent and passion in one group of people at the same time is rare.
Having assumed duty as Vice President, Nigeria and Gabon in October 2016, looking after the Shell business in the two countries, what is actually your vision as VP Nigeria and Gabon?
You know, given the exceptional talent here and the huge resource base of the country, I’m confident we can address the challenges in our operating environment, and continue to deliver real value to all stakeholders. I know a lot of work has gone into driving costs down and improving our production availability and this must continue. We must understand the criticality of being competitive – we have to generate positive cash flow. No business can keep making a loss and still remain in business. If at the end of my time here, it can be said that we ran a safer, more competitive and better business than our competition, I will be a happy man.
You took over in late 2016 as Vice President Nigeria and Gabon from Markus Droll. So, what are your expectations for 2017?
First of all, once again, I would like to thank our staff for contributing towards our finishing 2016 strong. There is even more work to be done in 2017. The ‘Fit-for-the-Future’ programme we have embarked on, underpinned by the continued Winning Ways of Working culture change should move us towards sustainable cost competitiveness and operational excellence as we keep a keen focus on our cash delivery. It must be clear to all that ‘improving the business is the Business.’
In 2017, I am committed to meeting as many people in and outside of Shell as I can. In December, I connected with the young leaders and Shell Women’s Network groups and hope to continue holding such employee engagements across the business throughout this year. I am keen on keeping the conversation going. I want to hear from staff so we can share ideas on how we can keep our business winning! Finally, as I have said over and over, working safely continues to be our number one priority. Success will not mean a thing if we lose any one to achieve it.
What is your career advice to staff?
You know, all my life, I have been somewhat of risk-taker when it comes to career opportunities. I try not to let anything stop me from taking up new positions. Sometimes, people inhibit themselves by listening to the negative voices in their heads, ‘what if I don’t succeed’, ‘what if it doesn’t work out’. Personally, I would hate to look back and say the words ‘I wish I had’. That would be too disappointing. I would like to encourage staff to have a positive mindset. You need to own your own development. And never let anyone or anything stand in the way of you attaining your personal and career goals. Go out there and be spectacularly ambitious!
Let us take a break from work; who is Peter Costello, the family man?
So, I am married with two children. My wife Elena is here with me in Lagos and the children are in the UK. Molly is the youngest at 15 going on 16 albeit she thinks she is 26. Oddly enough, my son, Adam who has just finished university, seems to be looking at a future in the energy sector too. I come from a little town in the south of England called Bournemouth and our football team recently got promoted to the Premiership League. So that’s very exciting and I am hoping they stay up there!
Do you have any hobby besides football?
I like to play tennis (albeit badly), going to the theatre, watching movies, and listening to music. I also love food. Some people eat to live. I live to eat. But you see, that is why I play tennis to balance things out! As I have said previously, I also love experiencing other cultures and having a job that gives me the opportunity to do this is a huge blessing and privilege.