At an engagement session in conjunction with PETRONAS ICT Leadership Academy's LEAD 3 programme, PETRONAS Chief Digital Officer Wan Shamilah Wan Muhammad Saidi reflected on her leadership journey over the last 19 years.
Wan Shamilah started her career in PETRONAS as a Manager of Mergers and Acquisitions back in 1999, and over the years, she has held a number of senior leadership roles with a diverse portfolio within PETRONAS Businesses. At the leadership engagement session, she talked about the importance of being adaptable and what that meant to her:
1. Embrace Change
Wan Shamilah recollected how she took up the role as Malaysia LNG's General Manager of Finance at Bintulu, which turned out to be one of the most meaningful and humbling experiences for her at PETRONAS.
She learned that it does not take much to make things happen. She shared her experience being at a meeting where the lead negotiator at the time, Tuan Haji Zakaria bin Kasah, was very attentive to the details of the discussion; and it made her think more about the operations – how gas is made, profits, etc.
From MLNG, she was appointed Senior General Manager at the Crude Oil Group, a move which took her by surprise as she felt that she lacked the marketing skills required for the role – including having to familiarise herself with 'tweeting'. However, she adapted by learning quickly, and began to see everyone as a 'coach'.
Next, Wan Shamilah was appointed the PETRONAS Chemicals Group (PCG) Chief Financial Officer, where she changed from selling barrels of oil to selling equities for the company's listing in November 2010.
She recalls how in three weeks, they had 121 meetings with PETRONAS staff and investors to encourage them to invest in PCG. The experience was made even more memorable because PCG was formed just before the listing and she was involved in building it up by recruiting and transferring people over. She summed it in her words, "When you build something from nothing, you make it happen".
After three years, she moved again. She described her move to become the Senior General Manager at PETRONAS Corporate Strategy and Planning (CSP) as transitioning from a role that allowed her a great degree of authority and with clear objectives to one where she "had no authority and had to deal with a great deal of ambiguous topics".
During this time, she "learnt how to appreciate ambiguity and give it clarity." She gave the example of how CACTUS was her first large-scale experience, driving transformation and shaping culture and mindset towards a common goal.Had she stuck to her comfort zone, she would not be where and who she is today. She would have missed the opportunity to learn from these varied experiences.
"Even though you don't know where it's going, but in the future, the dots connect. At the time, if it does not make sense, just have faith that it will."
2. Have Passion
Wan Shamilah said that one's passion for something is sometimes not obvious from the get-go, and that you should be passionate in everything you do.
She shared an example of how at CSP, she worked hard on a report on energy but was upset when it was not well received. With practice and perseverance, she took the opportunity to polish her report writing skills.
Where passion may not be evident, Wan Shamilah suggested for one to:
"Find angles on what you do that will make you love it. That is the secret to having a fun and a rewarding career."
3. Be Resilient
Her leadership journey has been filled with ups and downs and during some of her struggles, she questioned herself: "Do people accept me? Do they understand me? Can I do justice to the job?"She found herself going through the hard knocks of working with various colleagues and learnt that in becoming resilient:
"The key to survival lies in rising above it. Really believe in the purpose of what you do and soldier on. Learn to pick yourself back up and be prepared to do that multiple times. To me, building the strength to pick yourself up is key."
"It is important to embrace change. If you do, it will take you to places that you have never thought of." – Wan Shamilah