I can’t believe how quickly today arrived – my final day at Shell Malaysia.
What an amazing ride it’s been! When I joined, I was a newbie to the industry – nonetheless, I was warmly welcomed into being a part of Shell’s legacy. As a team, we faced challenges and capitalized opportunities together during such remarkable times for the industry. I have learned so much and – more importantly – gained many of wonderful, amazing folks as friends.
I will most certainly miss the team of smart, passionate and gracious people I work with. Shell has a lot of great things going for it – especially its people – and I can’t wait to hear what awesome things they’ll will all be achieving after this. Perhaps we will have a chance to work together again sometime in the future.
Take care and all the very best to every one of you.
Like a comet pulled from orbit As it passes a sun Like a stream that meets a boulder Halfway through the wood Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you I have been changed for good – For Good, Wicked
Global oil prices were in free-fall: on my first day of work, I learned that the price of oil had tumbled by 50% – from US$110 per barrel to about US$55 per barrel. Today, as I write this, it is hovering at about $30 per barrel – a dip of over 70%.
Imagine having your bank account shrink by more than two-thirds, without having any ability to mitigate or effect change. And now, “the experts” are talking about prices remaining “lower for longer”, with this potentially being the new normal. For the industry, this has been a seismic shift.
And yet, there has been no better time to be in the industry. Amidst every crisis, there’s an opportunity.
When I was in banking and finance – I led branding and communications amidst one of the longest-drawn, contentious mergers in corporate Malaysia’s history. When I was at Microsoft, the company was going through a transformation from its previous business model of selling enterprise licenses to selling devices and cloud services. Now at Shell, here I am again, finding a way forward to thrive amidst disruption yet again.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Be agile
This means being able to learn quickly, pivot strategically, and execute effectively amidst a constantly changing environment. It means being able to quickly identify and understand the industry, the forces of change, what’s happening, what makes your business viable, and more. Then taking all of that, to formulate a strategy that may involve dramatically and creatively pivoting from familiar terrain into a completely new scenario that becomes “the new normal”. Finally, mustering forward by executing against your strategy effectively (execution is everything, IMHO).
When things are being disrupted, you often don’t have the luxury of time or options – massive change is happening to you, whether you like it or not. Consequently, you need to prioritize ruthlessly – figure out what’s really important to propel things forward. This may mean taking a sober look and making hard choices regarding your budget, people, and even strategic priorities. It might even mean sacrificing your sacred cows.
At the same time, prioritizing ruthlessly means not getting distracted by the noise of everything that is happening. Think about it this way: during an earthquake, even if your valuables or sentimental possessions are crashing down around you, your priority is to ensure you and your loved ones remain safe.
For Shell, this has meant revisiting initial investment opportunities and even enacting divestments. I’ve even been challenged to consider, “What if we did nothing?” – which, admittedly, is an intriguing challenge for someone whose job function requires him to be proactive in “doing something”. And yet, that is the hallmark of prioritising ruthlessly: being laser-focused on what must be done and foregoing anything else that could distract and detract you from your objectives.
3) Stay Positive
When the world as you know it is tumbling down all around you, it can be difficult to remain positive. I hesitate to refer to pop psychology tropes, but I really do think that “tough times never last, but tough people do.” Having a positive outlook – call it hope or even being “cautiously optimistic” (as is the corporate-speak) – is strategically essential for survival.
Having a positive attitude can be underrated or overlooked, amidst all the other more business-like strategies. However, your “invisible” internal resources (whether it’s your own energy and state of mind or whether it’s the company’s morale) is often what fuels your “visible” external achievements.
If you’re going to navigate your way (your business, your organisation, your team, etc.) through disruptive times, you need to see be able to see the world that exists once you’ve been through the disruption and emerged successful at the other end of this journey. In doing so, you keep up the morale and energy to execute effectively.
This was where I was truly grateful for the leaders at Shell. Folks like my immediate supervisor, the Country Chairman, as well as other leaders throughout the organisation (locally, regionally and even globally) were great examples of how to remain positive during tough times. For some of them, they were the final decision maker when it came to making tough calls for the business – which included impacting thousands of jobs. It was tough and sobering, and I was humbled to see that they were indeed affected by the choices they had to make. Even so, they could still see the end-game and kept us all inspired for a world when all of this had passed and we emerged as a stronger organisation that was fit for the future.
I just came back from my favorite initiatives Shell has when it comes to engaging young people for the future of energy: The Shell Eco-Marathon. This is my second tour of duty for the Eco-Marathon – a unique race about going farther, not the fastest; using the least amount of fuel.
Held in Manila from 3-6 March 2016, over 100 student teams from 16 countries across Asia, Middle East and Africa, in the Philippines, from 3-6 March 2016, at a specially designed street circuit on the city streets of Manila.
It’s a truly unique and inspiring event – I’ve met some of the most passionate and intelligent young people Asia has to offer when it comes to science, engineering, innovation and technology as they stretch the boundaries of fuel efficiency in a real world urban environment.
I was especially impressed by Team UiTM Eco-Planet, who emerged as champions of the UrbanConcept Hydrogen Fuel Cell category for the third time in a row. This year, they debuted a 3-D printed car that was assembled from 120 individually-printed parts, with each part taking approximately 10 hours to complete. They told me they only had a small, office-sized 3-D printer, which meant that they spent over 1,200 hours printing the individual parts which was later assembled together when they arrived in Manila!
The other fun bit about the Shell Eco-marathon is the Energy Zone, which allows visitors to experience activities and games that explore the future of energy, cities and sustainability.
I often say, when it comes to marketing and communications, it’s better to do “more showing, less telling.” Hence, I really think this initiative showcases Shell at its very best – especially when it comes to inspiring hope and challenging minds about the future of energy and mobility. I look forward to the next iteration of the Eco-Marathon in the next year!
I was invited to give this presentation to a student class at IACT College, which was founded by the advertising industry to become Malaysia’s premier college specialising in creative communication.
I enjoyed my time with the students as well as the insightful questions they asked.
I spoke on “The Future of Marketing & Communications”, exploring the disruptions impacting marketing and communications today as well as what capabilities practitioners need to develop for the future. In a world where the scarcest resources are attention and engagement, marketers and communicators need to:
Have a conversation – Marketing and communications today is essentially a dialogue with the marketplace. We need to design organisations and capabilities that set us on a virtuous circle where we sense/listen, integrate, and communicate again and again to remain relevant and engaged with our audiences.
Embrace and co-create with your community – From the conversations we have with the marketplace, we are able to take in input and perspectives that result in truly engaging initiatives that already have buy-in from our audiences and customers.
Tell authentic stories – In a world saturated with banal noise, authentic storytelling helps cut through the clutter; engaging both the heart and the mind.
Integrate across media – Marketing and communication channels can no longer operate in silos. The sum of parts are often stronger than the individual parts.
Build your own media platforms – As the media and channel landscape becomes even more fragmented, a brand’s own media platforms often become an authoritative source of information.
I spoke on the topic, “Looking to what’s next: The Future Of Communications.” In my presentation, I made the case that the marketing and communications landscape is being completely disrupted by many forces, including: the globalized & hyper-connected world we live in today; Big Data and the Internet of Everything; Social media; an ever-changing and ever-fragmenting media landscape; ubiquitous connectivity, and changing interfaces.
Drawing on case studies and examples from both Microsoft and Shell, I then outlined four capabilies marketers and communicators could build on to prepare themselves for the future of communications:
Embracing & co-creating with your community
Telling authentic stories
Integrating across media
Building on our owned media platforms
Here are the slides from my presentation. I hope you enjoy them and look forward to engaging with you on it.
There were two videos embedded in my presentation, which can be viewed via YouTube here: