From Aberdeen to a World of Opportunity - Ivo VerstalenIvo Verstralen

PhD Petroleum Geology, 1998
From Aberdeen to a World of Opportunity

Your Time at Aberdeen

Why did you choose to study at Aberdeen?
Through my industry connections, a great opportunity came up to do a PhD at the University of Aberdeen. I was working on a short-term contract with Shell at their E&P Lab in the Netherlands at the time. Shell had just sponsored a professorship at Aberdeen University and through these connections I learned about the opportunity. The department had a great reputation and strong connection with the oil and gas industry which I saw as attractive.

Why did you choose your particular course?
I very much liked the applied nature of the PhD subject with strong links to the O&G industry, while maintaining a good dose of more ‘pure’ academic research.

What did you most enjoy about your time at Aberdeen? Did you have any particularly memorable student experiences?
Having lived in many different countries and beautiful places over the last three decades, I have learned that it’s not the place or location but the people that ultimately make the difference. This was not any different in Aberdeen. I have made long-lasting friendships and truly treasure many 'joined experiences'. For that reason, Aberdeen will always be a special place to me...

If you were involved in any clubs and societies as a student, what did you enjoy most about them and what benefit do you think they have for students?
I played Field Hockey for the Gordonians Hockey Club for almost my entire time in Aberdeen. This gave me an opportunity to meet new and interesting people from outside the department and university, a different social circuit to give me a sometimes much needed break from the tight-knit PhD community. I would really encourage every student to look for social activities outside of their studies - it doesn't matter whether it's sport, art, music, charity... it gives you an opportunity to meet different people and allows you to broaden your horizons.

If talking to a group of prospective students, what advice would you give them to help them make the most of their time at the University of Aberdeen?
Embrace student life! Make sure you don't only study - get involved in other activities. It can be anything! You will meet some great people and will establish life-long friendships... Also embrace the city and its beautiful surroundings. On a sunny day, you won't wish to be anywhere else!

Did you undertake any co-curricular activities while at Aberdeen, e.g. Aberdeen Internships, Career Mentoring, STAR Award?
As part of my PhD, I studied geological settings and outcrops deemed analogous to the Offshore West of Shetland area. My PhD was sponsored by industry (Amerada Hess), which meant my grant was generous and there was significant budget for travelling and fieldwork. I spend most summer months in beautiful parts of the French Alps, Northern Italy and California. Challenging logistics (some areas required helicopter access), living conditions and the physicality of the daily job made these trips very memorable experiences! I also organised two separate week-long field trips for oil and gas company staff in the French Alps.

Your Time After Aberdeen

What was the title of your first job after graduating from Aberdeen?
Well Site Drilling Engineer, Petroleum Development Oman (Shell Secondee).

What did your first role involve?
Spending lots of time on drilling rigs in remote desert locations to gain operational experience in O&G well drilling operations. Within a few years I was working in the office as a geologist, responsible for planning and drilling development wells. This first posting in Oman was an amazing experience, both professionally but also culturally.

What is your current job title?
Managing Director of Shell Deepwater Borneo (SDB), General Manager of Shell Exploration and Production Brunei (SEPB) and Senior Shell Shareholder in Brunei.

What is your current role?
As MD of SDB, I am managing Shell’s non-operated interest in two joint ventures in Brunei. As GM of SEPB, I am operator of another venture in Brunei. In addition, as Senior Shell Shareholder in Brunei, I am representing Shell’s interests, as non-executive director and board member, of Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) and Brunei Shell Marketing (BSM), both joint ventures between Shell and the Government of Brunei.

Please briefly describe the journey from your first job after graduating to where you are now.
I started with Shell a few days after submitting my PhD at the end of January 1996. Following a few months of Shell introduction courses, I was posted to Oman for my first secondment. I came back to Aberdeen later that year for my viva. Working in Oman for Petroleum Development Oman was an amazing experience. I was thrown into the deep end and gained lots of operational experience. Life in Oman was amazing and as a family we thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors, from snorkeling, sailing, water skiing to wild camping in wadis and remote beaches. After five years in Oman, we moved to Perth, Western Australia for a Shell secondment with Woodside. As a company, Woodside was very different from PDO and it provided me with a whole new set of opportunities. We had five wonderful years, quickly adapting to the Aussie lifestyle. From Australia, the next stop was Sakhalin Island, Russia to work for Sakhalin Energy. This former Gulag provided a very different set of challenges in terms of language, climate and its remoteness. Some amazing memories and stories, which at the time may have tested our resilience! After Russia, we moved back to Aberdeen where we spent the next seven years. It gave the children an opportunity to settle and finally put down some Scottish roots.

Was your degree at Aberdeen essential for getting to where you are now? If so, in what way?
It certainly has been. I worked with amazing people and was given unique opportunities and experiences, interacting throughout my PhD with various companies in the O&G industry. Those experiences and interactions gave me confidence but also an edge.

One Top Tip

Never stop learning! If your job stops providing that, ask your employer for new/additional challenges. Always show curiosity - if you don’t understand something, have the courage to ask! You’ll be amazed how many people don’t. Trust your intuition; if something doesn’t feel right it generally isn’t. In that case speak up and don’t remain silent. Embrace ‘change’. Any successful company will have to constantly change and adapt to new realities in order to survive and stay relevant.