Choosing Leadership in a Global World
Patricia A. Woertz, Executive Vice President, Global Downstream
Women in Leadership Conference
Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley
Thank you, Dean Campbell, for that very gracious introduction.
I appreciate your mentioning the global nature of my responsibilities at ChevronTexaco because if I do indeed have a "unique perspective" on women and leadership, it has come through those global responsibilities. In the past few years, I've had the opportunity to work with people all over the world, and this has not just changed but greatly expanded my appreciation of the opportunities that exist for women today.
And, since one of the purposes of this conference is to help women "excel personally and professionally by making choices," I would like first to talk to you this morning about the choices available to you and then about how those choices connect to leadership.
I know that some of you are students; some of you are at a stage in your careers where you are looking to advance; and some of you may be considering changing career paths. I also know there are quite a few employees from ChevronTexaco here, and I'm glad to join with you to offer our support for this conference. What all of us here might have in common is a deep curiosity about the "next step" — the next step for ourselves individually and for women in leadership. I'd like to offer you one idea — one choice — you might not have considered for that next step.
That choice is global business. I believe the global nature of business today offers women — and men — tremendous opportunities for:
- personal advancement,
- leadership, and
- something even larger — the chance to make a difference in the most critical issues confronting our world today.
If we think about the critical global issues any one of us might want to address, we might easily share a common list:
- We might want to address the economic disparity in the world and play a meaningful part in bringing prosperity and hope to those oppressed by poverty.
- We might wish to create a healthier world and contribute to the eradication of worldwide diseases.
- We might want to ensure the environment we all share is cared for and protected.
- We might want to see the self-determination we enjoy extended to all. We might hope, for instance, that any woman anywhere in the world would be able to attend a conference like this one where she can consider for herself all of the choices that can contribute to a meaningful and productive life.
In my work at ChevronTexaco, I have seen how all of these issues become the province of a global organization. When you work throughout the world, the problems of the world come home. And as I tell you about my experiences and the opportunities global business offer to address these issues, I want you to keep in mind that the same holds true for many other organizations today.
As you know from my introduction, prior to the ChevronTexaco merger, my career had been with Chevron, and a good deal of my experience was focused on business within the United States.
I was fortunate, however, to serve in an international treasury role and in international audit. I was also president of Chevron Canada, a refining and marketing company headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia. Following this, I was president of Chevron International Oil Co., where I had responsibility for supply, distribution and worldwide trading of oil.
These assignments exposed me to different cultures and provided experience in the quite different dynamics of running international operations. They prepared me, as much as anything could, for expanding my responsibilities in 2001 from refining and marketing operations in one country only — the United States — to the responsibility I have today for operations in over 180 countries throughout the world.
It might be helpful here if I gave you a thumbnail sketch of how the energy business works.
Working across time zones
As executive vice president with responsibility for what we call "downstream" — which is essentially almost everything that happens to oil once we get it out of the ground — my business operates on six continents and includes more than 20 refineries and over 25,000 retail outlets selling the Chevron, Texaco and Caltex brands to millions of customers. We also operate global businesses including aviation and marine marketing, lubricants, shipping and trading.
There are more than 26,000 employees in the downstream business — employees from all different parts of the world, with different cultures and different backgrounds. In fact, well over half of ChevronTexaco employees work outside of the United States.
So, how has the international scope of my responsibilities changed the way I think and work?
Well, first, I can have jet lag in several different time zones in one week. Last month, in just over a week, I visited our operations in Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and the Canary Islands. Was it tiring? Yes. Was it also fascinating, exhilarating and enormously educational? You bet!
Global responsibilities have also changed the nature of my days. A typical day on one of these trips might start with a town hall meeting with our employees. Then I'll review performance with the local management team. Next, I might visit with key government officials, meet with partners and suppliers, conduct interviews with local media and visit one of our community programs such as an adopt-a-school. And that's just the first six hours!
ChevronTexaco is often the largest employer or revenue producer in a country or an area. So part of my job is to enable the work of the local business and convey key corporate messages to government officials.
One day I might be talking to the ambassador from the Philippines about selling products in his country, and the next I could be talking to the president of Venezuela about crude production.
So, as you can see, working for a company with international operations thrusts you smack into the geopolitical activities of countries and regions that are quite fascinating. You become not just conversant with and involved in these issues but responsible for their successful outcome.
Far from creating license to abandon ethical practices, global operations increase your opportunity to be a good corporate citizen. For instance, at ChevronTexaco, we have long had benchmarks for our performance that include both financial measures and measures for how we serve our people, our communities and our environment. We are also proud to have been among the early endorsers of the Global Sullivan Principles, a code of corporate conduct formulated by the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan in 1999. These principles set high standards that are well aligned with the values shared by all ChevronTexaco employees.
Cacophony or harmony?
Global operations also challenge you to become a force for tolerance, understanding and inclusion. Our world is struggling to become one world not homogenized and indistinct but vibrantly alive with diversity. And as those of us involved in global business move into greater and greater contact and cooperation with each other, the number and variety of voices that we want to hear and need to hear just become greater.
If you think again about all those countries and areas I visited last month — Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and the Canary Islands — you can see that my personal challenge mirrors our world challenge: Will we hear in all those different languages and voices cacophony — or harmony?
I find working on these global challenges inspiring.
I am humbled to think that my decisions will affect the lives of many people throughout the world, and I am very excited to know that through jobs, investments and support of local education, my company can help improve those lives.
An economic multiplier
I said earlier that there might be several global issues that any of us might choose to address through the work we do in the world: poverty, disease, the environment, self-determination. I'd like to share with you just a few examples of how you can address these issues through a global organization.
It has been long established that business operations have an economic multiplier effect in a community. For instance, every one job in the oil industry creates seven other jobs in the economy. But that statistic isn't as inspiring as when you see this impact in action.
For instance, in Angola, we needed someone to supply baked goods for company meetings and breakfasts with local officials. We found a woman who made pastries out of her kitchen and sold them in a couple of local restaurants. We built an ongoing relationship with her that allowed her to first rent a commercial kitchen and take on a few helpers and eventually, through loans and partnership agreements with ChevronTexaco, to run her own successful catering business. We helped launch a woman entrepreneur in Angola!
As another example of the impact we can have, in Haiti, the power system is so unreliable that almost every night the lights go out. When they do, school children go to our gas station convenience store to do their homework, because we have a generator to keep the lights on. Every night there are 20 to 30 school kids sprawled out in the aisles of our Star Mart because we provide light!
In the most disadvantaged communities where we do business, over and over again, the path toward local prosperity and hope goes like this: If we're going to do business we need clean water. So, you drill a well. Once there is clean water, you can start a health clinic. And once there is clean water and a health clinic, people are no longer sick all the time. When you have health, you have the beginnings of hope, and the first thing people hope for is education for their children. So you help build a school. Once you have health and hope the hope for a better future that education brings, people will no longer tolerate not having freedom. So the path to self-determination — to a day like today — is begun.
A definition of values
I was in Costa Rica recently, where ChevronTexaco is the sponsor of many of the state schools, and when I visited one of the schools and the kids found out who I was, they came running toward me, hugging my knees, and thanking me for their books. Their books. That makes me grateful.
I would make the argument — and I do within my company — that all of these actions we take in the world — these choices to improve life — are not ancillary or offshoots to our mission of being a world-class energy company. They are the way we build the partnerships that allow us to do our work. They are how we create markets and how we create growth. They are — to bring us back to the questions of choice and leadership — how we choose to define ourselves in the world and what we want our leadership to stand for.
So, as we think about the "choices we make that help us satisfy our individual goals," I would say that it is critically important to work for a company whose values are congruent with yours. Where, when you ask the questions: What do I stand for, and what does this company stand for in the world? The answers are the same; they are a well-defined set of core values on which there is no compromise. Those values in the companies you choose should be apparent in all of their actions everywhere in the world. I think that one way to spot such companies is to look closely at the people who choose to work there, and ask yourself, "Are these people I admire?" If you've been working a while you already know that working for a company you respect and with people you admire has as much if not more of an impact on your career satisfaction than compensation and benefits.
A willingness to take the challenge
Now, if the opportunity to engage in the most critical issues of the day and to make a difference in the world outside our borders inspires some of you as much as it inspires me, I have some advice about how to make the most of this opportunity.
Step up and grab at the risky, the challenging, the unexpected opportunities. Be the one who says "I'll try that!" when new opportunities appear. As you heard, my career path took some twists and turns. Be prepared — be eager — for yours to do likewise. It will lead you into areas you might never have imagined working in, and it will give you the breadth of experience that positions you for leadership.
The willingness to take risks is a positive attribute that cuts across all industries and sectors. In global businesses, there is another attribute that can greatly contribute to your success. That attribute is the desire and the flexibility to take international assignments.
Although international experience is becoming increasingly valuable, few employees in the market today bring such experience. So, if you are the person who steps forward to take an international opportunity, you will be arming yourself with an incredible advantage.
And I would say this may be particularly true for women. Forget about the glass ceiling, and step through the door to the world. You will greatly expand both your personal and your professional horizons.
It gives you tremendous confidence when you work in another country and, even with language and cultural differences, you are still able to get your business done. It is particularly thrilling to work through issues and achieve success in another country, particularly when you know that the barriers may have proved too great for others. The challenge is greater, and so, too, is the satisfaction when you break through to success.
An assignment at the right time
So, as you evaluate your choices, keep in mind that companies with international operations offer broader positions of leadership and more avenues to grow. Then be the person who says, "I'll take that assignment in Brazil" or "I'm ready for that opportunity in China."
Now, if you choose to pursue a career with global responsibilities, you are going to come up against the question of who is going to mind the hearth while you are out improving the world? I find it somewhat amusing and somewhat annoying that this question, and the assumptions underlying it, is still applied to women and rarely applied to men. But, you're going to hear it — maybe from your mother, maybe from your friends, maybe from complete strangers. And maybe also from yourself. You may wonder not just "Do I want to do this?" but "Can I possibly do this, and how?" So, for that reason, it's a question worth answering.
Women, including women with families and women with small children, are taking international assignments, and not surprisingly, they are taking them in ways and at times in their lives that make sense for themselves and their families. This is increasingly possible today because companies also have more flexible attitudes and policies towards relocation.
It used to be that a person had one opportunity to answer the question "Will you relocate?" And if the answer was "No," you were never asked again.
That's changed. There is a better understanding that employees may be available for international assignments at different points over the course of their careers.
Let me give you a few examples of how some women have undertaken international opportunities.
We have a woman at ChevronTexaco who accepted an assignment in Kazakhstan, which put her on a rotational schedule of 28 days in Kazakhstan, then 28 days at home, for three years. Now, the living conditions in Kazakhstan are difficult; and the schedule required her family to make some adjustments at home. But they all adjusted to the challenge — perhaps more easily because they knew it wouldn't last indefinitely. The best part is that, because of the experience this employee gained overseas, she returned from her rotational assignment qualified for a leadership position, and today, she is the vice president of one of our North American business units.
I have another female colleague who was considered for a promotion in Singapore, but she turned it down because her daughter was in the middle of grappling with some special education needs. Her daughter is over that hurdle now, and my colleague has notified the company that she and her family are now ready for an international assignment.
The point is to see yourself, your circumstances and your career path with as much flexibility as possible.
Situations change, people change, children grow up, and along the way you and your family, if you have one, will be much more open to opportunities for growth if you learn to see them in unlikely places and unexpected ways.
Finding the right balance
Listen, we are all still engaged in answering the question of how you pursue career success and build a successful and satisfying personal life as well. Why would we expect it to be otherwise when essentially that is the universal and probably eternal quest of adult life. How you put the pieces together and where you find the balance is probably different for every individual — women and men. But it's important that none of us becomes distracted by those who say you can't do it. You can, you absolutely can.
I found it interesting that the issue of Fortune magazine that Dean Campbell referred to — the one which identified the top 50 women executives — devoted a much larger amount of space to discussing the fact that many of these women have "househusbands." I guess the good news about the "househusband" article is that it convincingly dispelled the previous "big news" about career women, which was that we were all supposed to end up childless! Did you see that study? It was published in the Harvard Business Review and was all over the covers of Time and other publications. That one particularly amused me, since I have three children.
A place for mentors
Although Fortune seemed to find it fascinating that some executive women have husbands who help at home, it really shouldn't come as a huge surprise. No one makes it to the upper levels of corporate leadership without a very strong support system at home.
If we don't do it without support at home, we also don't do it without support in the workplace. And, particularly for women, one of the most important ingredients of that support is mentors. Catalyst, the organization that tracks women's progress in the workplace, has found that four factors enhance the success rate of young women in corporations: participating early on a high-visibility assignment; behaving entrepreneurially within a company, displaying a range of skills; and the involvement of a mentor. Mentors help you build confidence in yourself, and we all need individuals and assignments that are confidence builders.
Particularly when we are young, we may be filled with dreams and ambitions, but most of us also wonder if we really have what it takes to achieve those dreams. We need people who tell us "Yes!" and then help us learn all we need to learn to turn that potential into reality.
Incidentally, my mentors have all been men. That's just the way it's been in corporate America. But that's changing. Twenty-five years ago when I took my first position in the oil industry, there were no women on the company's Management Committee. Today, 12 percent of the members are women. And in the ranks coming up, the numbers get bigger and bigger. So, increasingly, women should look for and expect to find mentors of both sexes, of many different nationalities and ethnic origins and indeed in many different places around the world.
A level of comfort
That said, there are still certain industries, including the energy industry, where a woman may well find herself in situations where she is one of the few — if not the only — woman in the room.
One of my colleagues is the only woman in a management-level position within the Nigerian oil industry.
Another, who served as a production engineer on an exploration and drilling platform, was the only woman on a core team of 145 people.
Yet another is the manager of a refinery in Batangas, Philippines, where the employees, as you might guess, are predominantly male.
One of the traits that all these women have in common — and that I share — is that they are very comfortable in these positions and very comfortable around men. (One is the eldest in a family of seven brothers — that helps!)
You might also, as has happened to me, still be called "dearie" a time or two! Self confidence and a sense of humor also help.
But, again, I think it's very important not to distract yourself with the relative numbers of men and women in an industry — and not to let others distract you. In any industry, the important question to ask is "Do opportunities exist?"
They do. Let me tell you about one more woman, not too much older than some of you. When she joined ChevronTexaco in Pakistan, she had just graduated with an M.B.A. She wore traditional garments and came from a culture that was unaccustomed to women working. She had never been on a plane, let alone traveled by herself throughout the world. She quickly found herself on assignments in the United States, Thailand and South Africa and, as her borders expanded, so, too, did her responsibilities. In a few years, she has progressed from novice to accountant, to a member of the finance team, to manager of business and strategic planning for Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan.
Those are the kind of opportunities you want to look for and the kind of success stories you want to see.
A personal definition of success
If there is one overriding message I'd like to give you today, it is that you have the opportunity to build a life that is right for you and to define and create your own version of success. The possibilities are yours.
And, truly, the possibilities are myriad! If there was ever a time we believed "one size had to fit all," those days are over. I think that's one of the best lessons diversity has taught us all. Many of you have already had the opportunity to get to know people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. You've already worked with and learned from individuals who are from other countries. You can carry these experiences out into a world that is hungry for them.
And I hope some of you have been inspired to continue discovering and celebrating the diversity of our world. I've talked with you today about some of the opportunities global businesses create because I see in them something new and exciting and something I wouldn't want women to overlook. And international company or international assignments won't be right for everyone.
But, for some of you, choosing to work in Singapore or Brazil would be truly exciting. Some of you may feel deeply inspired by the opportunity to immerse yourself in an entirely different culture and mastering challenges where others have failed. And, for some of you, choosing to be a leader on the global stage, and knowing that your decisions help address the critical issues facing our world, is a calling well worth striving for. For those of you, I encourage you to open that door to the world and step through it to possibilities greater than you can imagine.
Thank you so much for allowing me to be with you today.
Updated: October 2002