Time for a Change

As of today I am effectively no longer working in the oil industry, although in the strictest sense I still am as I’m on gardening leave. That said, in an even stricter sense, I’ve not been working in the oil industry for quite some time. After something like fifteen years it’s time to call it quits, and for two reasons.

The first is that there is simply no work around. Back when I started out in 2003 there was a mountain of work and it picked up exponentially as the oil price rose. My biggest problem back then was a lack of experience, but once I’d got a few years under my belt I landed some half-decent positions with exposure to serious, major projects. But when the oil price crashed in 2015 the entire industry came to a screeching halt with projects being cancelled en masse and thousands of people fired. Since then, from what I can tell, the industry has adopted a holding pattern until the oil price picks up and things return to how they were in the boom years. This is a bit like the dinosaurs waiting for the meteor dust to settle down so the climate goes back to how it was.

From where I’m standing the oil price didn’t so much crash into a trough than return to normal from a ludicrous high; the lowest it got was around $36 per barrel, higher than it was when I joined the industry, and soon stabilised around $50. The problem was the oil industry had forgotten how to function at such prices, and if they’ve since remembered they’re keeping it secret. The other issue is that even when prices eventually rise the oil industry will look very different than in previous eras. National governments will enjoy the majority stake in any sizeable future development, with private oil companies being lucky to retain operatorship and not reduced to a partner in an operating consortium or simply paid a service fee much like any other contractor. in addition, the competency gaps between locals, low-cost engineering centres abroad, and western expats are closing rapidly, and even if they’re not the industry is happy to accept lower standards. Looking down the road, I simply don’t see much opportunity for well-paid western-expat positions on oil and gas projects. There will be some for sure, but nothing like how it was, and with nothing like the pay either.

The second reason is even if major projects were being sanctioned and positions created, I have reached the conclusion there’s no place for someone like me in the modern oil industry. This isn’t just my opinion: I’ve had various managers tell me they’d made a mistake in employing me, and they’d probably be surprised to hear I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked for several companies right through the oil and gas industry’s contracting chain and on many occasions I’ve wondered why they hired me. If I’d lied on my CV and claimed a competence I didn’t have, the fault would be mine. But it was more a case of the interview process selecting someone who is task-orientated, responsible, reliable, and can work independently then putting him in a role consisting of menial admin work micromanaged to a degree you’d not think possible. Like many industries with too much money, the oil business recruits for brains and character then put them in positions where the former is not required and the latter a severe handicap. I have no objection to the oil industry creating process-driven roles that serve little purpose other than to keep people employed, but they ought not to fill them with people who are manifestly unsuitable. I’ve been around long enough, and seen enough outfits big, small, and in between to know the part of the oil industry which employs western expats places a high value on keeping your mouth shut and showing blind obedience to the immediate hierarchy and not much on anything else. Why the hell anyone would think I’d fit in there I don’t know, myself included, and after 15 years of trying it’s time to chuck in the towel and do something else.

What that will be is a subject for another post; you’ll find out soon enough.

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48 thoughts on “Time for a Change

  1. Did you jump or were you pushed?

    Good luck in your new ventures, changing career can be stressful but rewarding.

  2. Did you jump or were you pushed?

    I jumped. I could have gone right through until retirement if I’d wanted to.

  3. Based on the skillset and the likes/dislikes I am thinking perhaps not the civil service.

    Good to move – eventually the environment corrupts the character of those who stay.

  4. Hope it all works out for you. On a selfish note, hope you keep the rest of us entertained with your posts. 🙂

  5. Sounds a sensible decision Tim, better than 20 years of unhappily clipping the coupon. All the best for your future endeavours.
    Mark

    PS will you stay in France?

  6. Good choice I often wondered if you were satisfied in your role and probably know a little more about you and your role than you think I do. With all due respect for someone that constantly criticised big company culture to the extent that you did, it didn’t seem right for you to be where were you were or at least to be in the role that you were in. I remember when we first corresponded and I mentioned that the big money and challenge in oil and gas was in construction contracting rather than working for an oil and gas owner and you dismissed that outright, which I thought was odd. Not that I am right about everything and far from it but I had an inkling from the start.

    Whatever you chose to do I am sure you wont regret it and I wish you all the best. The world is still definitely your oyster.

  7. Er, going to self-identify as a woman on Wednesdays, get a nose ring, dye your hair purple and work in HR for the CPGB?

  8. Congratulations on making such a bold decision. I’m sure you consulted Laurie and your other lovely wife before you made it.

  9. Set up a major bluegrass band and earn millions?

    Frack in your Dad’s back garden

    The royalties on the novel are such you are taking esrly retirement?

    The new James Bond?

  10. I guess engineering management skills should transfer ok, as long as the residual oil stains don’t put them off at interview:) Good luck with your future career.

  11. Whatever you do, wherever you go, I hope it all goes well for you.

    I look forward to many more interesting blogs on your new industry and occupation of choice. Good luck.

  12. So now we know that at 11 embedded adverts per page, blogging becomes lucrative enough to give up the day job! Hope the next stage goes well Tim…

  13. First of all, good luck, of course.

    If you’re in London for ten days then my guess would be that you are over for discussions whose second round might well fall within the ten day period.

    If that guess is close to the mark, then beware the staff function and the HR professionals (as though you need telling).

  14. Best of luck Tim. Don’t do owt daft. You’ve got a good launching point for wherever you want to go next, hope you land where you want to and with feet/head the right way around!

  15. Tim,

    Your descriptions of your experiences in the oil industry remind me, to a surprising extent, of mine in information technology: the politics and shifting project requirements being just two examples.

    I really like reading your blog and hope you will continue to write it. I don’t respond very often, because you’re quite prolific in your output. By the time I’m ready to respond to an article, you’ve written one, sometimes two, more. Or are you OK with people responding a day or two after something was written?

    Anyway, good luck with whatever you decide to do next – and I look forward to hearing about it.

  16. anon101:“Based on the skillset and the likes/dislikes I am thinking perhaps not the civil service.”

    Based on what I hear from friends who work for HMRC and the Home Office, definitely not! They have gone the same way as the oil industry, but they don’t pay anything like as well.

    Good luck in whatever you choose to do.

  17. All the best Tim

    Kick ar*e and take names in your next endeavour.
    Wish I had the jacobs to do the same

  18. All the best. You’ll never look back. (Trite phrase I know)
    I’m on my third career.
    Circumstances have meant that twice I’ve had to change career, and there’s been very few transferrable skills I could take with me.
    You’ll certainly feel alive again, learning something new.

  19. I know, you could become a citizen journalist bravely reporting on cultural enrichment trials!

  20. Sheesh! aren’t i a mind reader,good luck on your new life and don’t forget as one door closes another one opens.

  21. Like many businesses that get fat in easy times, it’s the back office and board room that protect their patch and it’s the front line, can do, people who get crushed in the downsize. That is until the bankruptcies start, and the majors get headed up by someone rational. A friend of mine built a small oil company many years ago picking up assets being given away by bigger companies, ran then lean as possible, then sold out a decade later when the oil price had reversed.

    I can’t really see that this time around, governments and banks now control too many of the fields and they are simply going to go fallow like those in Venezuela.

  22. I survived five oil industry recessions. It was always either boom or bust; many gave up on the business and switched careers. The recent winning streak is unprecedented and colleagues in their 30-40s have only known an onwards and upwards trajectory. Interesting to hear your take on the industry’s future. Best of luck with yours.

  23. On a selfish note, hope you keep the rest of us entertained with your posts.

    I will: if anything, my writing output will increase.

  24. I’ve met you personally and have formed a reasonable idea (which may or may not be correct, obviously) about your skill set and characteristics. I also understand the circumstances from which you’ve chosen to make a change.

    I’m therefore very curious to see where you go next. You’ve got strengths (intelligence, integrity, tenacity) but also weaknesses (opinionated with the “wrong” opinions, on the wrong quadrant of the Myers-Briggs scale for a large HR department, a real name social media presence).

    Speaking from personal experience and similar circumstances, I’d suggest any organisation with more than 5,000 white collar employees is going to be uncomfortable for both you and your hiring manager.

    Saying that, I’ve spent the last 3 years back in organisations like that but they have suddenly realised they are now playing in a space where the small company mindset has suddenly made sense again.

    Cutting through the politics is a lucrative skill for someone with the “fuck off” money behind them to not care about the longevity of their career in the company they’re helping.

  25. I remember when we first corresponded and I mentioned that the big money and challenge in oil and gas was in construction contracting rather than working for an oil and gas owner and you dismissed that outright, which I thought was odd.

    I find it odd that I did that, tbh. Challenge-wise, the difference between working for the contractor and working for an oil company is the difference between the guy who carries a sedan-chair and the fat fuck who sits in it.

    As for the money, it depends on the position. Your average joe in an oil company earns more than the average joe in a contracting company, especially when perks like pension, medical cover, holidays, and schooling are considered. But a decent discipline lead in a contracting company could out-earn his counterpart in an oil company. The middle to upper management in oil companies do well, and probably out-earn the contractors in many cases, but there will also be cases where well-placed managers in the contracting companies do very well indeed (I suspect this is where you sit). At executive level I reckon it would be difficult to surpass what Rex Tillerson made, or any of the major CEOs with the exception of the late Christophe de Majorie who deliberately kept his salary low (around $3m per year IIRC).

    Whatever you chose to do I am sure you wont regret it and I wish you all the best. The world is still definitely your oyster.

    Thanks Bardon!

  26. So now we know that at 11 embedded adverts per page, blogging becomes lucrative enough to give up the day job!

    I’ve had a word and got it reduced to 9. I guess I don’t have to eat every day.

  27. Best of luck Tim. Don’t do owt daft.

    Now where was this advice for the past 25 years, eh?

  28. The royalties on the novel are such you are taking esrly retirement?

    If I increase sales tenfold I’ll have covered my costs. 🙂

  29. Speaking from personal experience and similar circumstances, I’d suggest any organisation with more than 5,000 white collar employees is going to be uncomfortable for both you and your hiring manager.

    I’d say you’re wrong by two orders of magnitude. More than 50 people and “doesn’t play well with others” starts appearing on my appraisals. 😀

  30. Great work Tim. Takes courage, and also a desire to “do more” to make this sort of decision. Large companies lack the former, and with the latter seem beholden to a small but noisy and intrusive cohort of moral persuaders with no actual skin in the game. A real name social media presence would see me dismissed if I displayed my own thoughts, unfiltered.

    Stay curious.

  31. “I’ve had a word and got it reduced to 9. I guess I don’t have to eat every day.”

    I was going to say this before when you advised that you were recouping $2 per day for prostituting your entire blog’s presentation and your personal moral high ground arse for such a paltry amount but thought it a little insensitive to your taffy tightness and middle class prudishness. But now that you are on the dole and feeling the pinch I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with a “donate now” button on this blog especially since it will prove if you have a client base or not, and by all accounts you do.

    There are four blogs that I drink at regularly, this being one of them, I donate to two of them and I am the tightest cunt under the sun. Just saying that a donate now button isn’t a begging cap and I suspect a few of the posters here could quite easily chuck in a years total blog cost at the click of the mouse and not even notice it.

    Just don’t ever tell TNA that, I rode him bareback for years for nuffin.

  32. >the part of the oil industry which employs western expats places a high value on keeping your mouth shut and showing blind obedience to the immediate hierarchy and not much on anything else.

    That’s like most of the bigger Western companies these days. And even academia. Good luck finding the exceptions.

  33. Wow, good luck Tim. I’ve done the same a few times and I always landed on my feet. You have to have something to be fired up about with people staying out of your way. I’m sure you’ll find it.

  34. “Just don’t ever tell TNA that, I rode him bareback for years for nuffin.”

    Not exactly. He used to enjoy your wife’s hospitality whenever you boasted on the internet about flying at the front of the plane to Qatar and Seth Effrika.

    You’re running low on Bombay Sapphire, by the way.

  35. You haven’t travelled until you have enjoyed caviar and cognac following you after take off shower.

  36. Well done on making the jump!

    Have read your blog for a number of years and always wondered why you were working for a corporate behemoth bearing in mind your views on large companies.

    I work in oil & gas construction in the Middle East but have found those of us that have survived are busier than ever.
    Having said that, I’ve somehow ended up working for the same company for 12 years. When I arrived it was a lean, low overhead organisation with everything geared towards delivering the projects. The senior management had built the company, knew it inside out and decisions could be made and implemented almost immediately. All the backup departments were set up support the projects.
    A string of management teams have been through the company over the last six years and it has now become a process / procedure driven organisation where the projects seem to mainly exist to service the overhead (& of course when the cuts come its the front line staff who are cut first).

    Pretty much agree with your comments re the future of expat positions so am also looking for a way out but just can’t figure out how else I can make a living & with a family to support making the jump ain’t easy.

    Look forward to hearing what the new venture will be & hope it all goes well.

  37. Or are you OK with people responding a day or two after something was written?

    Sorry for the late reply: I am absolutely fine with that, go right ahead! Thanks for reading, and your comment.

  38. I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with a “donate now” button on this blog especially since it will prove if you have a client base or not, and by all accounts you do.

    I really don’t want to do this. For some reason it wouldn’t sit well with me, it would make me feel obliged to write stuff, or write in a certain way. I know it doesn’t make me obliged, but it would make me feel I was. It’s a psychological thing.

  39. Having said that, I’ve somehow ended up working for the same company for 12 years.

    If we met for a beer I’d love to know who that is! Hopefully you’ll be able to hang in there, or find an alternative. Thanks for the comment.

  40. @TNA. Barron drinks Bombay Sapphire or keeps it for guests and drinks something nicer? I hope the later rather the former. Maybe he does something similar wife wise? Keeps one for guests…

  41. Bardon, bloody bardon and damn the autocorrect (and the edit function)

  42. Only just seen this, but best of luck with whatever it is you’re going to do next (and I hope we hear about it soon). 🙂

  43. All the best, and I hope you keep the blog going!
    If it’s any help, your description of large oil companies are similar to my experience of large telecomms and avionics businesses. In my experience, the only way to avoid it is to work for small outfits where competence is a benefit not a hindrance – or to have enough FO money that you can work on your terms.
    Nevil Shute Norway argued eloquently in ‘Slide Rule’ that the latter is almost essential for honest engineering. Went down with the politicians of the day like a lead ballon (previously called the R101!).
    I wish you well. In the end, only integrity matters.

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