The culture of the workplace has undergone many changes in various industries. From changes in business models to corporate values, the workforce has experienced cultural shifts, often resulting in more inclusive and diverse environments.
While other industries have quickly adopted new cultural environments over the years, the oil and gas industry has generally remained traditional – that is, until recently. Changes in the corporate culture of oil and gas companies are happening slowly but surely. Women and other diverse groups are increasingly occupying leadership positions in the oil and gas industry. For this reason, oil and gas companies that once operated on traditional methods are now being modernized or transformed.
An oil and gas CEO upholds her grandfather’s values while implementing her own innovative ideas. Kendra Lee, CEO of Merichem, an oil and gas solutions company that offers beneficial reuse options for refinery caustics, operates her grandfather’s more than 75-year-old business while fostering an inclusive and focused culture. the growth. Lee, who has worked in the industry for over 23 years, shares details about Merichem, the corporate culture she established and explains why diverse leadership and an inclusive workforce are important in the industry. oil and gas.
Merichem Company was founded by Lee’s grandfather, John T. Files, and two business partners over 75 years ago, with the vision to take a potential by-product or waste and create a useful product for the oil and gas industry. “The three bought M&M Chemical in Houston along Greens Bayou, an offshoot of the shipping channel. It was originally a soap and industrial cleaning company that they revived for the cresylic acid business, ”says Lee. After the relaunch, the Merichem company recovered cresylate, or cresylic acid containing caustic soda, from refineries, recovered natural cresylic acid, and refined and purified it for sale on the industrial chemicals market.
Fast forward to the present day, and Merichem now successfully provides impurity removal services and operates with his unique culture under the leadership of Lee. Although it is a private company owned by family, retirees and employees, Merichem has traditionally been run under the same systems and procedures as a public company.
“What sets culture apart are the advantages of private and public business styles. Merichem is very employee friendly and offers the best benefits in its class. It is also managed in a very financially prudent manner, ensuring the longevity of SOEs, ”said Lee.
Rather than operating under an authoritarian culture, which is most important in the oil and gas industry, Merichem maintains an innovative culture emphasizing trust between leaders and employees. “I have relentlessly focused on developing and sustaining an innovative culture where unorthodox thinking is encouraged, and there are tools and processes in place to capture and advance ideas,” Lee said. At Merichem, employees are encouraged to get involved, knowing that everyone in the company is doing the same. “We have eliminated dangerous phrases such as ‘We have always done this.’ On the contrary, every employee has a voice and is empowered to make decisions.
The oil and gas industry’s top-down leadership in command and control is beginning to change. “The industry as a whole is becoming increasingly inclusive from an employee perspective and in response to external demands. With a generational shift from Baby Boomers to Generation X at the helm of more and more companies, there is more diversity in leadership, which leads to a more diverse workforce, ”said Lee .
The old ways of leading a workforce are becoming obsolete. As Lee explains, “Generation X prefers leaders who are role models, who exemplify company values through action, and who are ready to step in to help solve problems and lead the company through life. transition and change. With women making up almost half of the workforce and people overseas making up a growing share of the talent pool in STEM careers, the workforce is becoming more diverse. These changes call for new ways of operating and a more modernized culture. “For the industry to survive, it will need to embrace these changes with leadership that reflects diversity,” says Lee.
Along with a shift in leadership styles, Lee says the oil and gas industry must also focus on environmental impact. “The industry needs to be more proactive in clearly communicating how it is improving to meet investor demands. As millennials become more active in investing, there is a greater emphasis on environment, social and governance (ESG) and investing with companies focused on the common good, in addition to profits ”, explains Lee.
Used to change, Lee made it her mission to cultivate a work culture that employees would appreciate. “When I first took on the role of CEO, Merichem had a dismal corporate culture. The employees felt no joy in their work, instead they viewed their positions as mere jobs and paychecks. I spent the first few years focusing on reducing financial risks and improving employee morale, ”says Lee. Under the leadership of his grandfather, Merichem was a workplace that functioned like family. Today, Lee has managed to rediscover that same family culture. “I’ve been consistent in communicating with employees – yesterday and today – that just because we’ve always done something in a way doesn’t mean we always have to do it that way in the future. This has helped the company and all employees move from stagnant innovation to researching and embracing change. With these ideals, Merichem has experienced great improvements and innovations. “The original slogan when Merichem was a chemical company was ‘Innovation through chemistry’. Although we are now a technology company providing solutions to the oil and gas industry for sulfur removal, my mission for Merichem is to pursue this core value. I want to challenge the company to see where we go next, ”said Lee.
Although Lee was successful in managing Merichem according to her core values and inclusive, change-oriented culture, she encountered a few challenges along the way, including impostor syndrome. “I was always hesitant to tell people that my grandfather started the business. Even when I was just a few years into my career at Merichem, a lot of people didn’t realize that I was related to the founder. As she grew older, Lee learned that what she went through was not just a problem faced by someone in a family business, but by many minorities or young people in leadership positions. To combat this sentiment, Lee explains, “I’ve come to understand that I know my business better than anyone and that I have more knowledge about the industry than I realize. However, it can still be a daily reminder.
As women take on more leadership roles in the traditionally male-dominated oil and gas industry, it can be intimidating to find yourself in the boardroom. However, Lee shares that she didn’t see her gender as a barrier to overcome in the industry. “I’ve always taken the next step in my career by being simple and asking what I want.” She advises women leaders, who seek to have their voices heard in the boardroom, to be their own spokesperson. “As a leader, you know what it takes to run a business. The challenges presented to the board are no different, except that they are more strategic. Trust your experience and stand up for yourself.
With increasingly diverse individuals becoming leaders in the oil and gas industry and making their voices heard, business decisions are bound to become more balanced. As Lee explains, “The best possible decisions are made by having access to more talent, rather than just any of them, which narrows the definition. It helps to better understand the needs and motivations of our employees and customers, rather than just a small part of them. The more diverse the team, the more thoughtful the response. On diversity, Lee shares his thoughts on creating and sustaining a diverse workforce. “The team must be evaluated with each hiring decision. Before making an offer, the hiring manager and management should consider which candidate will help diversify thinking within the organization.
Achieving an inclusive workforce and fostering a culture of belonging starts within an organization. Lee explains that in order for companies to achieve diversity and equity in their workforce, they must first look at the demographics of the workforce and see if there are any trends or potential issues. . “Equally important is educating hiring managers about the importance of diversity for informed decision making. This can be achieved with training, but the easiest way is to lead by example. “
Being a global industry, it is crucial that oil and gas companies embrace a diverse and inclusive culture. “The traditional rules and roles employed by regional or national industries do not apply on a global playing field. Decisions need to be made quickly, in real time, with an understanding of what changes may occur in the future, ”says Lee. An inclusive and diverse workforce would bring a range of benefits to oil and gas companies, such as a variety of perspectives and an improved work environment. Lee believes that “if the industry were to create a real collective impetus to recognize the need for diverse thinkers from diverse backgrounds, the entire industry would have the capacity to provide the best solutions for everyone involved in a global environment. . By generating the contribution of all those we seek to serve, the better the decisions. ”
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