Growing up in Aberdeen, Scotland, Sheila had many friends whose parents worked in the oil industry. She was attracted to Shell from the very beginning and dreamed about having an international career with the company.

And that’s exactly what she got when she joined Shell in 1990 after obtaining her degree in Electronics and Electrical engineering. “Early on, I worked on both onshore and offshore rigs as a well site petroleum engineer, followed by various roles in Petrophysics in the NAM (Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij) and The Hague. My role in The Hague gave me the opportunity to go on mini short-term assignments to countries needing additional Petrophysical support, Gabon and the Philippines being highlights. I moved from technical roles into economics while on a posting to Australia, and from there I moved into commercial roles.”

"My part-time work has never stopped me from getting promotions"

At the moment, Sheila is on her second posting to Australia. “I spent four years here on my previous posting and this time around I’ve already been here for four and a half years. My husband works for Shell as well – we’re a dual career couple which is great as we get to work around the world together,” she shares.

Work is a big part of Sheila’s life and many of her friends are within the Shell network. “It might seem as if it is all-consuming but I don’t see it that way at all. The company is very important to me and even as a mother, I see it as being a part of my identity – hopefully I can show my daughters, Iona (13) and Ailsa (10), that it’s possible to have a rewarding career and a happy family,” she explains.

Sheila Graham at the Shell Australia office

Shell helps her achieve a good work-life balance, and the flexible working policy is just one incentive that makes things easier. “I have worked mostly part-time since my first child was born 12 years ago. I work four days a week and have Fridays off. This way, I can finish the housework and chores before the weekend starts, giving us enough quality time together as a family.

 “In my team I have three team members who work part-time and another who works flexibly on Wednesdays, enabling him to coach his kids’ football teams. I’ve learnt that flexibility can be built around your needs.”

For Sheila, the main challenges at work are around trying to find balance between spending time to develop her team while making business decisions. “Even though my role is focused on managing, I’ve previously been more attracted to roles that involved a lot of ‘doing’. I need to bring my team with me but still understand the business – if I get into too much detail, I won’t have enough time for my team. This is probably my biggest learning curve but it’s a very rewarding process.”

 Sheila has had many fantastic managers during her career. “When I was working part-time in Aberdeen, my manager at the time told me I would drop some balls but the trick is knowing which ones are OK to drop. I still live by this advice. He also encouraged me to apply for a full-time role even though I was only working part-time – he didn’t expect me to work more hours but instead he said it was all about prioritising. My part-time work has never stopped me from getting promotions,” she says.

“I’m always looking for explorers, perhaps because I’ve spent so much time working within exploration. Ultimately, I think within this industry it all starts with exploration – finding things and discovering things. And I like to think about things and work out a strategy to solve problems. I’m definitely a problem solver.

“I have a rewarding career and the combination of different roles and working in different countries has meant constant new opportunities and challenges. The variety of roles in Shell can give you a sense of working for a new company while keeping the familiarity.”

Quick quotes

  • “My best advice to experienced hires joining Shell would be to invest time in building a strong network.”
  • “As a child, I dreamed about becoming a ski instructor or chef. I worked at a ski resort in the French Alps for a season before joining Shell.”
  • “I love Skype and FaceTime – our kids can keep in touch with their grandparents and cousins in Scotland and still feel intimately connected to their family even though they are living in a fantastic new country.”

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