When you work in an industry as dynamic as oil & gas, especially for a global organisation with a growing regional footprint, it is important for the organisation and its Human Resources (HR) component to be fluid in order to adapt to changing manpower needs and demographics.
Nathan Rowden, Senior Director Human Resources Asia Pacific, shares that this is one of the interesting aspects of his role at McDermott – a company that provides end-to-end offshore and onshore solutions in engineering, procurement, construction and installation (EPCI) for the oil & gas sector.
“With an area as large and as diverse as Asia Pacific, the opportunities to get involved in a different range of matters particularly in an industry like EPCI where you could be managing a RM 20 million project and a RM 3 billion project in two different countries – with some projects involving hundreds of people while others involving a couple of dozen – are really dynamic from a HR perspective,” says Rowden.
A graduate of Curtin University of Technology in Perth, WA, Rowden began his career in industrial and employee relations, which gave him a broad understanding of the field. Six years ago, he joined McDermott in Perth, after which he was assigned to Singapore for a year. He then followed the company when it moved its Asia Pacific headquarters to Kuala Lumpur in April 2016.
Describing his job as somewhat of a balancing act, one of Rowden’s responsibilities is to ensure that the company employs a good mix of local and global expertise across all its projects.
“We have a strategy in Asia Pacific of being ‘glocal’. We bring global technology, global organisation and capabilities into our region’s operations but we try to resource locally. That gives a couple of advantages, one of them being cost. Secondly, you create more sustainable operations – you’re able to ride out peaks and troughs a lot more when your operations are local than if you’re a high cost-based organisation,” he shares.
But in a region like Asia Pacific which is diverse culturally, geographically as well as in terms of socio-politics and education, balancing these factors while making sure the organisation can address its individual project needs takes on an entirely new meaning and makes his HR journey a rather atypical one.
After 21 years in the industry, what excites Rowden is the ability to shape and influence the organisation’s growth and direction.
“For me, the opportunity to work at a partnering level with the executive and leadership teams is the exciting part; to take the discipline and apply it in ways that add value to the organisation. I get a real thrill looking at the direction that the organisation is taking and how the HR component can assist and support that direction at a strategic level.
“The other piece is the talent piece; it’s a rewarding process. Setting up the system and structures is hard work but once you get the talent programme right not only does it benefit the organisation but there is also a direct windfall for individuals. It’s always good to see people getting opportunities borne out of a system or process you designed and put in place,” he adds.
One of his personal successes has been the introduction of the “People Day” Talent Programme, where he takes the executive team offsite twice a year to discuss the development plans and career directions of individuals within the company. While most companies rely on a purely systems-based assessment, McDermott incorporates a human element to map out its employees’ career development.
“Where the programme is unique is that we have a system that works and we use this system to assess employees but we add to it the most human of ways by discussing and reaching a collective decision rather than it just being a purely data-driven decision. This initiative has been recognised and is now being practised by the other McDermott offices globally,” says Rowden.
I get a real thrill looking at the direction that the organisation is taking and how the HR component can assist and support that direction at a strategic level
In the past three years, McDermott’s KL office has grown from 30 employees to over 600 at present. As the organisation looks to double its size in the coming year, one of Rowden’s most pressing concerns is talent recruitment. As far as he is concerned, when it comes to talent differentiation it all rests in the intangibles.
“One thing I think that co-relates every single time is the person’s energy level and their real excitement to learn. If you want to stand out, regardless of the industry or organisation, you want to be learning, you want to be asking questions, you want to be enthusiastic about what you do. Those traits are the differentiators,” says Rowden.