The Exploration Country Manager

Mfon Udofia, Shell’s Exploration Manager for Algeria, gives us a few insights into the role and the skills and experience it requires.
This article appeared in Vol. 12, No. 2 - 2015


Mfon Udofia.

“This is a really exciting job, and one that I feel uses the full suite of experience I have built up in my 14 years working for Shell,” says Mfon, who originates from Nigeria. 

Building Experience 

In both her degree and PhD Mfon combined geology and geophysics, so when she joined Shell, she was not sure which way her career was going to take her. Initially opting for geophysics, after a couple of years working as a processing geophysicist she realized her passion really lay in bringing both disciplines together to decipher the geology behind the seismic images. She therefore moved into exploration geology so she could interpret the lines she had previously been processing. 

“In Shell we cover the full range of geological studies, from large scale regional geology focused on play-based exploration, to detailed prospect maturation to define drillable prospects,” she explains. “I was back to looking at ‘real’ geology again, applying innovative play concepts to define new frontier success arenas, for example offshore Gabon. The experience I gained by working from regional to prospect scale and in real-time operations geology turned out to be invaluable in my present job, as it made me a well-rounded geologist who can look at a project through the full exploration life cycle.” 

Having gained the technical background, Mfon felt she needed a better understanding of how it all fits into the bigger picture of the oil and gas industry. In search of more business experience, she became a portfolio analyst and business advisor to Ceri Powell, Shell’s Executive Vice President Exploration International. “This gave me the opportunity to see how all the Royal Dutch Shell businesses collaborate and the unique leadership that brings it all together,” she says. “So essentially where the geology meets the money! 

“With this background, I had the right experience to take on my present role as Exploration Manager, Algeria, and to create a successful business. This is a frontier region for Shell – the onshore fold and thrust belt of the Atlas Mountains, a unique setting in a part of the country we’ve never had acreage in before.” 

Managing the Interfaces 

“As a country Exploration Manager, my prime responsibility is to lead my team to successfully execute the venture through the implementation of a technical work program that identifies and de-risks prospects to deliver value to Shell and our partners. In ventures like this, we also seek to offer expertise to our partners, such as through our technology and technical capabilities,” Mfon continues. “Exploration is a risky endeavor and timelines are crucial. An important part of my job is to identify risks and plan mitigations in the most efficient way to avoid schedule delays. 

Mfon Udofia enjoys visiting Algeria, where she is Exploration Country Manager for Shell. “Another vital part of the role is to uphold Shell’s HSE standards,” she adds. “All aspects of the project must be managed safely, deploying the best standards and procedures. The manager must show leadership in this area, ensuring everyone is committed to their safety and that of their colleagues, as well as the care of the environment. In Shell we call this ‘Goal Zero’, which aims to ensure everyone goes home safely to their families.” 

Mfon has a small team of a geologist and a geophysicist working directly with her, but she also calls on the wide range of expertise within Shell to complement their work whenever needed: not only technical expertise, but also people experienced in government liaison, stakeholder communication and HSE, all aspects which are vital to the effective execution of the venture. As she says: “A big part of the job is managing the interfaces between people, ensuring that critical information is fed through to the right people at the right time to enable collective delivery of the project.” 

The majority of exploration projects are joint ventures, and Mfon’s work in Algeria is no exception, so a key aspect of her work is developing good relationships with partners in order to arrive at mutually beneficial decisions. “We all look at the same data, so to work effectively together we must have a trust-based relationship from the beginning, with respect for each other’s opinions and judgement,” she says. “It is also important to be transparent about what works for each company; strong interpersonal skills are important and the ability to be a clear, factual communicator is a key ability.” 

Fascinating Job 

“What I love about this job is that it is a new venture in a technically complex arena, so the opportunity to innovate and steer it in the right direction is very exciting. I can use my geological knowledge in technical government meetings and workshops, in collaboration with our partners to lay the technical foundation for a successful venture. 

“It is indeed a very fascinating and satisfying job,” concludes Mfon. “Given the frontier setting, success will mean a lot to Shell and the industry and I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to play a part in this.”


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