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Thriving on Challenges

Intisaar Al Kindy, the first Omani Exploration Director of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) for forty years, drifted into geology almost by accident – but it proved to be a lucky turn of fate
This article appeared in Vol. 9, No. 6 - 2013

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Source: Jane Whaley When Intisaar Al Kindy was growing up in Oman, scholarships to universities and colleges of further education were awarded according to the needs of the country at the time, rather than the ambition of the student. So although she liked the idea of becoming a doctor, the science-oriented student was instead offered a PDO-sponsored chance to study geology in the United States.

“I went to Tulsa University in Oklahoma and found I loved the subject, so it was a decision I never regretted,” she says. “In addition, I spent a year staying with an American family and working on my English before I started studying.”

Her English is excellent, but with a noticeably English rather than American accent. “That’s down to Bob Stoneley and Dick Selley,” she laughs. “After my first degree I did an MSc in Petroleum Geology at Imperial College in London, where they were professors – and they made sure that we all both wrote and spoke English properly! I enjoyed the course and I love London; there are so many cultures there, it gives me a great feeling of liberation.”

After graduating from Imperial Collage, Intisaar joined PDO, which at the time was operated by Shell, as a trainee in the Exploration Department. She went on to develop her exploration skills both in Oman and through two postings abroad, spending several years with Shell in Aberdeen and London. “That is the PDO way; we send Omanis out of the country to build not just their technical knowledge but also relationship skills, so they have all-round talents to offer the company on their return. In the same way, we bring foreign experts into PDO in Oman to give us the benefit of their wide knowledge. When I first joined PDO there were not many Omanis in the company. I was given the opportunity to learn and develop my skills rapidly. PDO is a company that recognizes talent very early on and it has provided me with more development opportunities than I could ever have imagined.”

In 2001 Intisaar returned to PDO in Oman, working first as an Exploration Portfolio Analyst and then with the Exploration ‘Government’ Gas Team for two years, before becoming the Exploration Manager of the North Oman Oil Team in 2005.

Meteoric Rise

“I get bored easily, so I like to be kept on my toes and I thrive on change and challenges,” Intisaar admits. And just two years later she was given quite a challenge when she was appointed by Shell, which has a 34% stake in PDO, to manage its major Oil Shales Project in Jordan.

“This was a completely new project, and I had to set up the company and resource it from scratch, so it was very exciting, particularly for a country like Jordan, where the oil industry is not really firmly established. From having no employees in Jordan five years ago, Shell now has 300, almost all Jordanians, because many professional Jordanians and expatriates jumped at the opportunity to return home and help build a new industry; I was very proud of that fact. The project developed well, and it is now at the exploration phase.” In 2009 she was also appointed Shell Country Chair for Jordan, one of only a handful of women to hold such a position with the company anywhere in the world.

Intisaar’s stay in Jordan came to an end after four years, as her rapid rise within the ranks of PDO continued. In July 2011 she returned to Muscat as PDO Exploration Director. She is the first Omani to hold that post for over forty years, and also one of only four women to have a seat on the MDC, the main Managing Committee of Petroleum Development Oman.

“It was a proud moment when I was made Exploration Director and I received many congratulations from my colleagues and countrymen – but now I will have to live up to their expectations! Following in the footsteps of such great geologists as Pieter de Ruiter is such an honour.” Intisaar’s promotion also means that the MDC is now fully ‘Omanized’.

“There is never a dull moment in this job. PDO is a huge organization, very different from my relatively small Jordanian group, with diverse issues and dilemmas, but I am getting a lot of support and enjoy it very much,” she adds. “Sometimes I miss the technical side of things, which I really loved when I was younger, but now I enjoy motivating my staff to discover new things instead.”

Unconventional Challenges

“Exploration for oil has been the growth engine of my country, but there are many challenges ahead,” the PDO Exploration Director continues. “The conventional plays are seen to be slowing down, so we need to find something new. I believe that the future for the industry lies in cracking the code of our unconventional resources such as tight gas and the light, tight oil plays from our known source rocks.

“I want to set up a centre of excellence to study unconventional resources, with Omanis in Oman. In my experience a critical success factor to exploiting a potential boom is local talent, so it is important to start looking at it now and to reduce the training time. The industry still has a lot to learn about these important plays, so I want to see Oman and PDO as pioneers in the field of unconventional resources, particularly in the Middle East; then I really will be proud! We have already built up teams which are tackling the issues surrounding the identification and exploitation of unconventional resources in the country, but I believe it will be a long journey, and may not happen in my time as Exploration Director. It will also require some risk taking and some ‘thinking outside the box’, as I recognize from my experiences in the oil shale group in Jordan. This is something that we need to encourage the new young generation of geoscientists to do.”

A Professional and a Leader

Source: Petroleum Development Oman Although Intisaar feels that being a woman has been a slight advantage in her career, she thinks that it is not what people should be noticing – even though “it keeps being pointed out to me. I don’t really think of being a woman as an important feature of myself – I would rather I was acknowledged as a professional and a leader.” She is also obviously much prouder of being the first Omani Exploration Director of PDO for many years than she is of being the first woman in the role. “However, I am pleased to see that there are now many young women in PDO, and I want them to stand with me, and not to be afraid of taking on new roles. I tell them ‘Don’t think about being a woman – just be yourselves. And don’t be scared of being scared by new challenges and roles; it’s all part of the process’.

“I also believe that networking and building up relationships at all levels is a vital aspect of business; this has helped me manage business, especially at difficult times or during a crisis. And I also believe that if you don’t know how to do something, then you pick up the phone and ask someone who does.”

Earlier this year Intisaar accepted yet another challenge, when she took on the role of Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the biennial GEO 2012 conference in Bahrain, as well as leading a 60-strong delegation of geologists, geophysicists and petroleum engineers from PDO at the conference.

Dedicated to Delivering

With such a busy and high-powered job Intisaar needs to find time to de-stress sometimes – which she does with the help of the sea. “Much as I Iike travelling and enjoyed my posts abroad, the sea is what I missed most about Oman. I love to find a quiet spot on our beautiful coast and just sit still and watch the sea and switch off.” She also enjoys spending time with her family, including her two sons, who are studying medicine in Oman, and her daughter, who studies in the US.

“My career path shows that the opportunities in this company are endless,” Intisaar continues. “At PDO, if you work hard and are dedicated to delivering, the rest comes naturally. I was brought up in the company by leaders who went on to create the next generation of leaders like me by getting us to love what we do, and I want to do the same and give back to PDO something of what it has given me.

“My ambition is to get the best potential out of people. Nobody comes to work aiming not to succeed; I want to see the company and new initiatives like unconventional resource exploration succeed – and people are always the key to success.”

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