IN TOUCH: Managers Abroad

Michael Bennetts: CEO integrated supply and trading, eastern hemisphere, BP Singapore

What prompted you to seek work out of New Zealand?

I was fortunate enough to work for company like BP which has operations in 100 countries. This enabled me to develop my career with scope and scale and personal development that New Zealand was not able to provide. My first overseas assignment was in 1992 and I’ve worked in South Africa (twice), China, the United Kingdom and Singapore. Extended periods in different parts of the world have allowed me to take more time than the traditional OE to experience different cultures and business practices.

Can you provide sketch of your current role?

I am the CEO of BP’s supply and trading business for Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia. I lead the team responsible for BP’s physical supply and trading of crude and oil products to the various countries. The scale of this physical activity requires my team to risk manage the associated financial flows through activities like hedging and trading energy commodity derivatives. Given the importance of energy to the economy I also spend time representing BP with various government and regulatory bodies.

How does it fit into your career path?

I had been on formal career development programme designed to prepare leaders in BP for variety of senior executive positions. These could be in corporate or staff role, or leading business like I am doing now. I feel more comfortable working closer to the market than in corporate role and I had always wanted to spend more time working in Asia. I have always tried to match my career goals with my family’s preferences for location.

What are its main challenges?

As business that is based on intellectual property, the recruitment and retention of talent coupled with developing capabilities in emerging markets receives lot of my attention. The quality and cultural diversity of senior and mid-level leadership is also strategic issue. From financial perspective, energy markets have become more volatile in recent years and that requires increasing sophistication in risk management and the supporting control environment.

What are the learnings you will take from it?

Internal and external relationships really matter in business. These relationships require time and commitment and do not always provide hard business results in the short term. business needs clear purpose or vision which excites your people in way that goes beyond simply making profits. As experienced as I may be, there is always more to learn and keeping open to that notion is sometimes challenging, especially when you have been in the same job or market for few years.

How do you view New Zealand both as country and economic/business entity from where you stand now?

My view has evolved the longer I have been away. Both locally and internationally, Kiwis currently perform well above their weight which says lot about our ability to get things done in variety of different operating contexts. I’d like to see companies being bolder and longer term in their international outlook and pushing harder in areas where New Zealand can develop sustainable competitive advantage, especially beyond the primary sector. We could better leverage the value that comes from the ‘NZ brand’ and what that stands for in international markets. I’m also pleased to see an increasing cultural diversity in the population. I look forward to seeing that manifest itself in how New Zealand competes in global markets in the future.

What sort of ongoing contribution can you /would you like to make to New Zealand’s economic/social welfare?

After 15 years out of New Zealand I am planning to return in the near future – drawn both by family ties and lifestyle. It also will allow me to use my international skills and experience to support the development of local businesses (especially their leaders) through mixture of consulting and executive coaching. I’m very keen to give something back to the business community given so many people have helped me over the years. An example of the pay it forward concept, I guess.

•Michael Bennetts is member of KEA, New Zealand’s global talent community.

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