Petronas' Raiha Azni:  50 Thousand Livelihoods in Her Hands, Setting the Oil and Gas Giant HR Tempo

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Petronas' Raiha Azni: 50 Thousand Livelihoods in Her Hands, Setting the Oil and Gas Giant HR Tempo

While Petronas has emerged a global success story, a world fast being disrupted by technology will likely turn any industry - even a national oil company - on its head. HR chief Datuk Raiha Azni Abd Rahman tells how she plans to prepare its workforce and secure the talent pipeline.

Datuk Raiha Azni Abd Rahman would describe herself as ‘media-shy’ but that hardly comes across when the only female on Petronas’ executive leadership team takes the stage to speak to an audience of hundreds.

Poised, articulate and passionate, she appeared at the ROSE KL stage - a gathering of inspiring women leaders that was held in Kuala Lumpur back in February – to dispel the notion that the oil and gas industry is a man’s world.

“It used to be,” Raiha says cheekily. ‘“I came in at 1984 - half my size, still in my skirts (then),” she jokes, “Probably less than one percent (of our employees were women). And today we are about thirty percent.”

“Now, one out of four are already managers and above,” Raiha drives the point home.

Raiha is Petronas’ senior vice president of group human resource management. That means, overlooking a global workforce of some 50 thousand - no easy feat in terms of sheer size, what more with volatility that has shaken the oil and gas sector to the core.

The next five years is really crucial, because we got to make decisions whether we want to go into renewable energy, we do not know what will be the price of oil. Whatever it is, we want to be ready

“For the last three years, I was not sleeping that well,” she reflects  the difficult period of ‘job cuts’ and ‘fat trimming’ as Petronas reorganised its business to counter a slump in the price of crude oil.

“But what is comforting is that we have a group of very highly talented individuals in Petronas. If you cut their hand, their blood is green,” she says, underscoring the pride she holds for the organization she’s been part of for 33 years. “I have been abroad seeing some of our talents working; and you feel so proud.”

While Petronas has emerged a global success story, a world fast being disrupted by technology will likely turn any industry - even a national oil company - on its head.

And do capable millenials want to join the fossil fuels business - as it faces competition from solar power and electric vehicles -which is widely seen as contributing to climate change?

“The next five years is really crucial, because we got to make decisions whether we want to go into renewable energy, we do not know what will be the price of oil. Whatever it is, we want to be ready.”

“In future, we may be talking about not having anyone work offshore anymore. Robots could do the work, you probably need ten people onshore to monitor the artificial intelligence, predictive maintenance and so forth.”

No doubt, capabilities and skills of the future will be vastly different from what is needed today. So, how does Petronas intend to secure its pipeline of talent? Raiha breaks it down into three areas, starting from the very basics.

“One particular area that I think we need to really work as a team, together with others in the industry, is the interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), (to get) boys and girls to be interested in STEM. So, that is what we trying to do for now.”

The top 120 in Petronas, I would say so is crucial because they are the one who will be moving the entire fifty thousand

“We also have sponsored students.” To date, over 19,000 students have benefited from Petronas'  tertiary education sponsorship programmes while more than 11,000 secondary school students have received sponsorships.

“Once they are in Petronas, we have a very structured program on capability building. And we also have leadership capabilities program that will help you, enable you to become a leader.”

The final part would be identifying the top talents preparing them for leadership roles.

“We are fifty thousand strong. At the highest level, there are about 120. The top 120 in Petronas, I would say so is crucial because they are the one who will be moving the entire fifty thousand.”

Raiha’s aim? “To get at least three successors ready for one critical position.”

And what kind of qualities that Raiha keeps a lookout for in potential candidates? “We have created an environment where trust is very important, and the reward will come later,” she emphasises.

“Reward is not just about the money - it is about satisfaction, working in the team. You will be given very interesting assignments. If you have passion and is looking for a meaningful (career) that matches with what you want, then Petronas is for you.”

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