It’s been almost 30 years since a young, inexperienced Alisa Choong excitedly joined the oil and gas industry. The enormous scale of the sector and its impact on everyone’s day-to-day lives fired her ambition.
Now, Alisa is facing that same excitement again; this time in her new role as Executive Vice President for Technical and Competitive IT (TaCIT) at Shell.
After various roles in the sector, Alisa joined Shell in 2007 and found it to be a company that offered her the platform for personal growth as well as the potential to leave her mark on one of the world’s largest, most successful companies.
Alisa began her career with Shell as an IT support manager before moving business areas and stepping up to a general manager role in IT. By taking on similar roles in a different business area, Alisa developed a better understanding of how different areas supported, and collaborated with, each other. This prepared her well for her current role.
Charged with keeping her finger on the pulse of rapid technological advancement, Alisa will be looking at how disruptive technologies, like ‘The Cloud’, can impact and, ultimately, benefit the oil and gas industry. Essentially, Alisa has been charged with seeking out and evaluating, in her own words, “new ways of doing things” for the company.
“Throughout my life I’ve been curious about things. With that curiosity I’m really looking forward to running a part of the Shell business where we look at strategic technical innovation to create something deployable that will make a difference in the organisation,” she explained.
“The real challenge with my new job is looking at how we add value to the front line,” added Alisa. “It is good to be incubating, having new ideas and evaluating new technology but we also need to be able to deploy that and make it work in an asset environment: don’t do things because you want to do things, do things because it adds value into the business.”
Asked if the prospect of managing 1,000 employees was daunting, Alisa is characteristically modest in her response. She said: “When you are in leadership roles your team is very important, you really have to trust your team and make sure that you empower them and challenge them to reach their full potential.”
That Alisa has achieved so much in an industry that has traditionally been viewed as male-dominated will help encourage more women to consider a career in oil and gas. However, Alisa’s humility won’t let her take full credit for her achievements – Asia’s non-traditional view of working mothers is, in her view, key to her continued success.
“We have good support systems,” she explained. “Shops are open until 10pm, we can easily get affordable help at home, and it’s very common for parents to be working. All of this encourages a lot of women to break through the glass ceiling in Asia.”
As a mother of two boys – a 17-year-old and an 11-year-old – it’s an issue that is close to her heart. No matter where Alisa’s role at Shell takes her, she is always happiest when she’s back home chaperoning her kids about town. “Whenever I am home I spend a lot of time being their chauffeur, but I like that because that’s where I can talk to them. I like chauffeuring their friends too so I can hear them talk. I like to meet their friends’ mothers – it’s important to know the people your children spend time with.”
The importance of encouraging more women to work in the sector is not lost on Alisa, who is keen for the industry to work harder to attract women: “Half of the world’s population is female, if not more. If the sector doesn’t change and adjust their ways of working to suit a woman’s lifestyle and the different path of a woman's career, I think they will lose a lot of talent.”
And talent retention is something that Alisa sees as integral to successful businesses, taking it upon herself to mentor those in her team. “The time and the attention that I have spent on people are really important,” she added. “I am just giving back what has been shown to me throughout my whole career.”
Asked for her advice for women looking to follow in her footsteps, Alisa responded: “Just go for it. Don’t think about regrets or failure - it will be a learning experience, good or bad, and when you come back from a bad experience it will only make you stronger.” Valuable advice that she has clearly applied to her own career.