Interview by Kap Maceda Aguila
WHEN Lorelie Quiambao Osial first joined Pilipinas Shell two decades ago, the company didn’t even have a shirt in ladies’ sizes. “My shirts were so big for me it looked like I was wearing my father’s,” she says with a laugh.
Another time, upon arriving at an offshore oil platform for a stint, Ms. Osial realized rather belatedly that she had packed a hair dryer with her — confounding her mostly male colleagues on the 50-person rig. “I didn’t realize it until I stood there with five engineers, and they had to check the equipment against the load of the platform. That was when it hit me that it was a bit of a male-dominated world.”
Well, you could say that this male-dominated world is now Lorelie’s domain. At the end of last year, she started to helm Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. and Shell Companies in the Philippines. During an online media event, outgoing head Cesar Romero had an obvious look of excitement as he introduced Ms. Osial as his successor. He also confessed to being embarrassed that she is the company’s first lady head in more than a century of doing business here.
“I think that gender is not the be-all, end-all of everything,” she shares with “Velocity,” adding, “I am excited with the role just as any person is excited to do a new role. It is an honor for me to be the first female CEO and country chair of Pilipinas Shell.”
Ms. Osial steps at a most trying of times, but she’s clear about her focus, even if the future is not. “Before the pandemic. Everyone had their great forecasts and predictions on where we’re all headed. Somehow, the pandemic has changed that. That will continue to evolve,” she declared, unafraid.
Here are excerpts from our one-on-one with her.
VELOCITY: What do you think about being the first lady chief executive at Pilipinas Shell?
LORELIE QUIAMBAO OSIAL: I am an advocate for diversity and inclusion in many ways, and it’s backed up by studies as well — that the more diverse an organization is, the better it is with outcomes; the better the thinking for solution and innovation is. In between diversity and inclusion is equity — in that space providing equal opportunities and ensuring that there is fairness. It’s a total thing, more than just gender itself.
It’s one of those traditionally male industries, much like automotive — although there have been lady auto executives here in the country as well. Did you think about that when you joined the company?
I think when I was making choices when I was younger, that was never a consideration for me — that if an industry was male-dominated or not. And I really look at it in terms of what I can bring, what I can learn, and if I can grow as well. I joined Shell because of the values of the company and its business principles, and I saw an organization where I could help make a difference. It is a very relevant company in a very relevant industry. It’s about how you make an impact that matters. If we look at the Philippines — what we have been doing for over a hundred years in nation-building, in the different businesses we’re at whether it’s downstream or shared services area — that for me is more of a driver. The company has evolved and continues to evolve while making sure we have a positive impact on our employees, community, society, and the planet.
In your CV’s personal summary section, you write that you “consistently establish high-performing diverse teams, shaping an inclusive environment with a strong sense of care, community, and motivation even in times of transition and change.” I think this line particularly stands out today as the world remains in flux. Can you discuss this further as it pertains to where the Shell is right now?
In previous roles, I had to pull together diverse teams. Nationalities were a big feature of those teams, so it was about making sure that they come together as a team to maximize strengths and set them up for success. I had to ensure that people were able to partner with each other and collaborate and work together to achieve outcomes that they are meant to achieve — and even exceed expectations. I’ve had to do that several times. If you’re opening your mind to different perspectives, different alternatives, and looking at what could be not expected or aren’t the obvious solutions, that helps in the time we’re currently at.
The world had been evolving even before COVID; volatility and uncertainty were already there. COVID, of course, came in which has been unprecedented in over a hundred years. If you look at Shell, we have refreshed our strategy globally and locally. Because of that, you will see change in the portfolio. At the same time, we’re also looking at different business models and different operating models. And with that, we also had some organizational changes completed last year. So, we’re now bringing together a new organization which is only a few months old, but comprised of multiple generations. We’re looking at different types of diversity. We’re also looking at innovation. For some, innovation is exciting and great, but people react to change differently. And for some, that creates uncertainty as well. So, it is about ensuring that people are motivated and are performing at their best and setting them up in that sort of environment. That’s what we’re doing at Shell. We will continue to grow our business, we will continue to evolve, we will continue to innovate — for our customers, our investors, the communities we operate in, for the country, and for the planet as well.
Where is the Philippines at in our energy journey compared to our neighbors or even countries in Europe? Are we on the same trajectory?
From an energy perspective, each country is quite different. If you look at the United States and some countries in Western Europe, you could say that they’re a little bit more mature. That’s how we look at it when we evolve our company; we should be on pace with society. When we particularly talk about our energy transition phase, we have to be on pace. And it’s not just dependent on energy companies. It is about different sectors coming together: government, private corporations, and communities.
What does securing our energy future mean to you? We’re seeing a lot of auto brands getting set to bring in electrified offerings in the Philippines, and many have declared they’re going to eventually stop the production of internal combustion engine-powered vehicles. How is Shell preparing for this energy future?
We’re looking at electrification and electric vehicles very intently and, at the same time, we’re also leveraging on our global expertise and experience. Again, we’re going to do it in pace with society. Definitely, for us, it is important. I can’t divulge more than that right now, but that is a prominent feature or aspect we’re looking at.
Is there a hard stop for Shell’s fossil fuels in the Philippines?
You have to look at the external world as well. We want to make sure that we have the pulse of what’s happening. We are planning.
Is there something that you can disclose to customers, stakeholders, shareholders? What are your priority areas?
It is an evolving world. We are going to evolve with the world and the expectations of customers. We want to innovate in terms of products and services. We are also looking with interest at different business models. We want to promote sustainability and offer cleaner energy solutions in a responsible way. We want to continue developing world-class Filipino talent — not just developing current skills but skills for the future as well. The other part I would say is to continue our work in communities through our social arm Pilipinas Shell Foundation which has millions of beneficiaries now. We want to uplift lives.