Jozsef Marton from Preng & Associates highlights trends in Africa's oil and gas recruitment

jozsef Maton PrengSpeaking exclusively with Deblina Roy from Oil Review Afirca (ORA), Jozsef Marton, managing director, London, Preng & Associates, has highlighted the recruitment landscape in Africa’s oil and gas and energy sector and how identifying and attracting talent around the world will impact shareholder value

ORA: Please brief about Preng’s operations. What the company specialise in?

JM: Preng & Associates are the only specialist fully retained boutique international executive search firm working exclusively in the energy sector. We are headquartered in Houston with offices in Chicago and London. We work across three core areas; oil and gas, energy services and equipment and renewables, power and utilities. Founded in 1980 and partner-owned, we handle board level and senior appointments including technical, finance, commercial leadership roles. 

We are a specialist firm with a long track record of working with Africa focused energy companies with a proven track record of “appointing locals in senior in-country roles” where working with partners and managing operations are crucial to the growth and success of the company. 

We operate in West Africa predominantly, followed by East Africa and North Africa. We work with medium sized companies and not with the majors such as BP, ExxonMobil, Shell etc. In many of the “in-country” roles that we handle our aim is to persuade local candidates to move back to the country where they are from. Recently we worked with a US independent operating in Cote D’Ivoire to recruit a new country manager and we appointed, an Ivorian, Khady Dior Ndiaye. We have also recently worked with another US independent and persuaded a Ghanaian to relocate to Malabo to lead their country operations in Equatorial Guinea. Also we have persuaded a local Nigerian candidate relocate from Abu Dhabi back to Lagos for a West African focused, London-listed oil and gas company. 

Local content agenda is always our priority and we believe it is really important. Companies need to identify and attract locals to senior leadership roles. As the governments want to work more closely with companies and want indigenous companies to become more pervasive in the future, the only way to do that is to teach local candidates from operations and technical programmes. Then, in the future, they can go out and set up their own companies. Here, we are playing an important role in terms of the future development of local oil and gas companies in Africa. Not only this helps an individual’s career, but also helps the country build a better energy sector that serves the population and actually delivers value for people living there. 

ORA: In terms of talent pool, what is going on in the oil and gas sector? What kinds of talents are in?

JM: Companies are interested in candidates who can efficiently integrate upstream operation, asset management and business units. With the downward pressure of oil prices, the companies are focused on generating profit at even US$40 per barrel price. They have had to really look very closely at operations and reduce the barrel cost while generating profits. For this, there is a much greater push for integrated operations and need for people who can bring together multi-disciplinary teams and get them working together, collaborating well and bringing about efficiencies. It's not easy because there aren't many people out there that have that expertise. 

Finding people who is ready to get out into the field is another key area that the companies are looking for. With the strange consequences of COVID-19, people are mostly working from home. But in oil and gas, there has been a much greater push to getting people out in the field, working closely with the technical teams, getting to know their suppliers, government representatives and partners, rather than working from corporate headquarters. Our clients want more people to get out on the fields and perform on the ground. These are the two major areas where we have seen a much greater focus and desire from candidates and I think it will continue going forward. 

ORA: How do you think recruitment has been impacted due to COVID-19 crisis? 

JM: Well, some people thought recruitment will become more difficult, particularly in the virtual interviewing process and hiring. This is something the companies have never really entertained in the oil and gas industry. They always want to meet the candidates in person and get to know their personality. However, more and more companies are embracing the technology these days. We have recruited people virtually now for the first time ever. For the Marathon’s role, the candidate has never met anyone from Marathon in person and the recruitment has been done virtually. 

We have actually seen a slowdown in areas such as board level roles and CEOs. For this, companies still want to wait until they can meet the individuals before hiring. Now, of course, if the pandemic continues for another year or two, that attitude might change. However, the industry is expecting 2021 to be better than 2020.

ORA: How you are addressing the importance of diversity while recruiting senior roles?

JM: Diversity has always been important not just because companies need to do that, but actually, we like to challenge our clients and bring them a diverse range of options to choose from. About diversity, age is more important. The oil and gas is an industry that has people at the senior level mostly over 50 years of age. The average age in London is more than 60 years for a non-executive director. To bring a different perspective in this senior management segment, we encourage bringing in someone of about 40 years of age group. 

Another area where diversity really adds value is bringing people from outside the sector. Khady was a managing director at city bank in Senegal. She never worked in the oil and gas industry. But she has an outstanding ability to transition good relationship and leadership skills, banking to oil and gas. It was a diverse appointment because she brought that different perspective and skillset from another sector. 

ORA: What are the top five sectors in oil and gas which will see more recruitment drive in the coming days?

JM: In the upstream segment, production operations will be a top sector in driving recruitment. Every company needs to make their production as efficient as possible and as high as possible. Then comes financial skillsets. While doing deals or partnership agreements, ensuring that right commercial agreements put in place is going to be critical to make sure companies can make money. Third one is managing government relationships. This is going to be critical because due to COVID-19, a lot of governments, particularly in Africa and other emerging markets, are put under pressure. Companies need to find people who can manage that pressure and ensure relationships are strong and positive. The fourth segment is attracting the next generation leaders.  In the next five years, a lot of people are going to retire from the industry or can not be in the leadership roles. A big challenge is how to replace those individuals. Hence, the competition for talent is going to increase. The fifth call is around the ESG agenda. People are still working out what ESG means for a particular company and how it can help improve performance and attract new investment. Therefore, finding people who really understand those areas are going to be crucial. 

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