How did you become interested in the business of hiring people, since you are armed with an Master of Arts in Modern History?
If you studied history, the thing you learn is that the world has been shaped by human beings, by their behaviours, attitudes and ambitions. In a sense, many of the outcomes today are a consequence of talent.
For me, it was a relatively natural transition. Human resources (HR) has proved to be a fascinating area. Major companies come to universities to promote themselves to people who are about to graduate... Shell appealed to me, partly because it was a very large, respected company that was also very international.
What do you look out for when you hire?
Three things: Capacity, achievement and relationships.
Capacity - You need more innovation, creativity... so you need smart engineers, smart technical people, you need smart people to make that happen.
Achievement - We really want to recruit winners. We need people who are driven to be successful and to help the corporation be successful.
In team sports, there are rules to the game, it's very competitive, but you all shake hands at the end. I think that's the type of achievement that we seek in the company, because our business is so integrated.
Relationships - If we want to explore for oil and gas, then we need a strong relationship with the government of a country.
If you move into downstream or retail businesses and so on, we need good customer relationships because we need people to buy the products we produce... we have to have people who are very sensitive to those relationships, and develop the skill set to manage them.
How was HR different in the past?
Those days, HR was still a relatively developing profession, nowhere near as developed as it is today.
In Europe, in the late 1970s and 1980s, HR had more to do with industrial relations - unions, staff consultation - than it was about talent.
Today, the dominant part of the agenda for HR people is about recruitment, attraction, retention and development of talent, of which managing, employee engagement and relationships are part of that.
Do you hire differently now compared with when you first started?
As a company, more than 30 years ago, the norm would be recruiting talent locally in the different countries to support local businesses. So here in Singapore, we'd recruit local talent around the business footprint we have here.
And in those days, the international group of Shell or the people who were moving around the system - the bulk of those would have been recruited from heritage countries, which are Britain and the Netherlands.
Today, it's fundamentally different. We recruit globally, both to satisfy local needs but also to create an international group of people who look after our business globally.
We have about 1,600 Asian expatriates today, working outside their base country. That is very typical for Shell.
The leaders of our businesses anywhere in the world will all have international experience. We look for our talent to not only be relevant locally, but also to have this global mindset.
Do Asian leaders have certain qualities that others do not?
There's always been a myth that Asian leaders and talent are different than everywhere else.
My own view is that every country in the world is slightly different. To say Asian leaders are a certain type is a generalisation that doesn't help.
For me, the essence of leadership is the same everywhere. The issue is about having critical mass.
So if you have a company, and it's dominated by one region or one nationality, then that makes it difficult for the minority, other nationalities.
Increasingly in Shell, we've such a blend of nationalities at all levels. Those differences are a benefit, rather than something we see as a problem.
What career advice are you always giving people?
Take the opportunities that are given. If you're in a particular role, and somebody says, 'we've got this special project, we need some people to work on it for three months', you should always have your hand up.
Quite often, these things are fascinating, unusual types of projects. They are also where you learn the most.
What do people assume most about careers?
I get criticised often as a HR person for saying it, but people often assume that careers are designed like some engineering process by the HR department, and it's a set of sequential steps and the company will make it happen for you.
That is not real life. Real life is that there is an infrastructure of processes and systems, that careers are made by people taking opportunities, by leaders really believing, advocating and championing that talent.