Amalia Olivera-Riley, Executive Business Advisor, Subsurface Consultants & Associates, LLC (SCA)

Amalia Olivera-Riley is an energy leader with 30+ years of experience. She has held executive positions with ExxonMobil, Repsol, and Tullow Oil, generating impact in areas of business performance, energy strategy, leadership, and transformation. She has global experience, working on projects in 40+ countries. She is Executive Business Advisor with SCA and advisor to Bain & Company. She serves on the board of Lean In Equity and Sustainability, supporting women in the Energy Industry. She holds a Geology degree from the University of Buenos Aires and a Ph.D. from Purdue University (USA). She was distinguished as Top 275 Global Female Influencers (Energy Council, 2020). Amalia is an active member of the energy community.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Amalia shared her insights on the role of the energy industry today, her career trajectory, current roles and responsibilities as the Executive Business Advisor at SCA, secret productivity tips, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

What is the role of the energy industry today? How has that changed in recent years?

The energy industry has become of critical importance today. As COP 26 brought intense focus and commitment to lower emissions and Net Zero aspirations, the geopolitical events that followed have put major strains on those aspirations.  The global community is looking to shift the energy supply methods very quickly, creating tension for energy security, affordability and sustainability (energy trilemma). The push for a fast energy transition is starting to meet the reality of the social impact and the threat this poses to the sustainable goals desired. As the world is rethinking how to best meet the growing demand of energy to support economic and social welfare, the energy industry is at the center stage, unfolding all of its potential to face the challenge.

According to you, what advances in technology do you see stepping up to play a bigger role in the energy industry?

Technology development has always played a big role in the energy industry. From my perspective, new technology applications of existing technologies, or a new combination or adaptation of existing technologies, is one of the most effective ways to generate fast impact.  As some say, these are not “revolutions” but rather a series of “evolutions”. I expect that advances in decarbonization of hydrocarbon operations will take the spotlight in technology developments for the energy industry.  In my opinion, optimizing what we know how to do can happen faster and easier than coming up with whole new ways of doing things. One area that is developing rapidly, leveraging previous expertise, is carbon capture and storage. I believe this technology will grow and play an important role in the energy industry.

What risks to innovation do you see in the energy industry?

That’s a very relevant question! While new technologies are exciting, large-scale adoption before full test and the “test of time” can be risky. Also, mass production of innovations takes time to set up.  Finally, affordability is key for the successful adoption of the new technologies.

Amalia, are there any meaningful events in your backstory that helped shape your career path?

Absolutely – no doubt.  To begin with my childhood, growing up as one of 11 siblings in Argentina has made me a very adaptable and resilient person.  The stability of a loving family gave me a strong platform to launch from, as a young adult, when I had the opportunity to participate in an Antarctic field campaign, and later moved to the US for my Ph.D. During my professional career, I can think of 2 defining moments: the first one was receiving constructive performance feedback, delivered with the greatest empathy.  That feedback session allowed me to address the issue, but more importantly, it taught me how to better deliver constructive feedback with positive impact. The second event was going into a new position as Head of Exploration right before the pandemic in 2020, and immediately having to navigate our internal crisis and lay-offs in multiple countries though virtual tools, before I had a chance to meet many of my colleagues in person. That was a huge growth process where I learned a lot about effective transformation and human leadership.

Tell us about your current roles and responsibilities as the executive business advisor at Subsurface Consultants & Associates, LLC (SCA).

I am leading a new line of business within SCA, to provide Business Advisory Services to the oil and gas industry.  Our business model is to leverage former industry leaders with hands-on experience in teams tailored to the needs of the client.  We believe in diversity and breadth of experience, as well as multidisciplinary collaboration, to come up with fit for purpose solutions.  Our focus areas are asset optimization, partner influencing, organizational efficiency, strategy, and change management. We believe that, in the current uncertain environment for the energy industry, an external view of experts that have been “in the same shoes” can be very helpful to provide practical advice. Our tailored approach and fit for purpose focus targets effective solutions with short interventions from experts.  I would define our services as “boutique management consulting with hands-on, diverse, and global experience”.

Crises can arise in many ways and often strike without warning. During such unprecedented times, what can leaders do differently to provide more effective leadership to the team?

I agree with you that crises often come up without warning. In my opinion, crises can provide huge opportunities, and seeing them through this lens can be a powerful tool to navigate them successfully. In my experience, open communication and recognition of the difficulties create an environment where the team can turn from feeling like a victim of the crises to stepping up and looking for ways to be part of the solution. Engaging the teams in solving the crises brings out more resources and channels people’s energy in a productive way.  It also strengthens the interpersonal relationships, and therefore the team spirit.

In your opinion, what is the secret recipe (practices) to building high-performing teams in today’s fast-evolving business environment?

I have led several high performing teams throughout my career, and you are right, teams require “building”.  I believe two things are essential in building high performing teams.  The first one is to know the team members, providing an environment of trust where they can share what “makes them tick”. The second one is to continuously appeal to their motivation articulating a higher inspirational purpose for the team. If we limit motivation to the task at hand, and that evolves, it makes things confusing.  Having a higher purpose that is well articulated, makes it easier to accept the shifts within a framework of stability.

What is the importance of cultural understanding? How can leaders promote it within their teams?

Cultural understanding is essential in today’s global business environments. I think it starts with self-awareness and sharing these cultural preferences openly. This little step can open the door for others to share their cultural preferences and enriches the work environment. In my opinion, diversity provides huge advantages for teams to develop creative solutions. Promoting cultural understanding and appreciating diversity are not a matter of courtesy, but rather are an engine for good business results.

Are there any instances or experiences which drove you to work harder, faster, and better in life?

There are, indeed. Driven by deep conviction, I find strong motivation in difficulties. I many times find myself fighting fiercely for the “underdog”, if integrity tells me that is the right thing to do. I worked on a project many years ago, which was openly disliked by a senior executive in the company. The project had all the right elements, and it competed well technically and commercially against other projects in the portfolio. It was the right thing to do! I worked with a team and a supportive manager through a steady strategy to deliver comparisons with other projects, and through a series of well thought out interactions with senior management as a team, we were able to get approval. It’s great to see that the project has been developed and is still part of the company’s portfolio, and our integrity and tenacity have paid off.

What’s a productivity tip you swear by?

Stick to your diary as much as possible, when it involves others. This is a major challenge, especially in a constantly changing environment. However, shuffling of items at the last minute contributes to constant change and kills productivity. Keeping items in the diary and making them happen allows for progress and enables your collaborators to keep moving as well.

What advice do you have for professionals who are just starting out?

Looking back at my professional path, I’d say two things:  1) A professional life can be very rewarding if you understand the meaning of work in your life – working is not a necessary evil so you can live your life outside of work.  Working is a big part of your growth opportunity as a person, and of your journey to fulfilment. 2) The energy industry will continue to be a key industry to make people’s lives better. We should be proud to play a role in this industry.

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