Taster: The first page of the narrative (to get you hooked)...

April 21, 2022

I wrote this book to be a legacy for my children, Shani and Tom, who oftentimes were not with me on my career journey, and who recently established their own career paths. But far from writing a chronological diary of personal information, I have written a narrative that provides insights into corporate employment and politics, how they can affect a career and personal life, and what lessons I learned; and I have written a postscript of what subsequently happened to those companies, some of which were swallowed by bigger fish and others which went out of business.

My working life was always a juggling act between personal relationships and work, and this dual and vital consideration became magnified after the children were born, as this story relates.

40 years ‘in oil’ and travelling to many countries resulted in many friendships and plenty of good and bad experiences. And what did I learn from all those experiences? Is there one statement that covers it all?

Go to bed with a clear conscience.

A clear conscience that you have made a worthwhile contribution to the business, behaved honourably towards others, and cooperated with those who needed the benefit of your help. That’s it. At times you will be treated unfairly, perhaps stabbed in the back, or side-lined for others less deserving. That said, your life and career are in your hands, so don’t accept the injustices, and be true to yourself. Don’t remain unhappy and unfulfilled at work; leave and find a better opportunity. I therefore have two further pieces of advice.

Comfort zones are bad for your wellbeing.

Step out to step up.

I didn’t have CEO as a career objective when I started my first job. It doesn’t come to mind when you are fresh out of university and working for a global company that employs 135,000 staff; at least, it wasn’t on my radar. And many who met me on my journey might think that this book should be entitled “The Unlikely CEO,” given my penchant for being frank and outspoken.


Uppermost in my mind then I began the journey was to keep learning in my profession and to have a job that would enable me to travel and live abroad, and that is what BP offered its geologists. Travel was an integral part of my early upbringing, and perhaps that is how I got the ‘bug’. My father drove our family to France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain for holidays in the 1960s, at a time when very few British people were able to travel to the continent of Europe. And while still at school, I drove to Spain one year, followed a year later by a 3,200km tour of all the Scandinavian countries accompanied by school mates.

Next in importance was the starting salary, which, at £6,000 plus £1,200 for having a PhD, seemed to be quite sufficient in 1980. I had been a research student on a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant of £2,000 a year, with some extra cash earned from giving seminars and practical sessions to undergraduate geologists at Chelsea College, University of London. My wife had a well-paid job as a geophysicist with an oil company, we had a mortgage, and it was important that I made a bigger contribution to our relationship.

And so it was with great delight that after six months in BP, my wife and I were on our way from London to Singapore for our first international posting. 40 years later, I am looking back over a diverse and all-consuming career that did see me become a CEO, more than once. It was not a smooth ride – far from it – but a snakes and ladders journey of resignation, redundancy and recognition. When I became CEO for the first time I had been employed by nine oil and gas industry companies, plus there had been a period of consulting and four years out of the industry in a business start-up that failed.