On Pulau Bukom lies the largest wholly owned Shell refinery in the world. It is an integrated oil and petrochemicals site, with manufacturing facilities for fuels, lubricant base oils and speciality chemicals.

Dr Leong Yuan Wah, an oil movements and product technology manager, works in a team of six chemical engineers whose focus areas are in product quality for the site and oil movements facilities.

She plays an assurance role by working with her operations colleagues and maintenance engineers to ensure optimal oil movement in the facility which comprises pipelines, pumps, tanks and wharves.

“Together with my team, I have to ensure that oil movements facility of pipelines, pumps, tanks and wharves is operating optimally so our products can be delivered on-specification, and on time to our customers.

“In manufacturing, we may face different issues on a daily basis. One of the biggest challenges will be to ensure that varied internal stakeholders all understand the issues and have the same goal in mind.”

What keeps her going despite the challenges is the feeling of accomplishment and the knowledge that no matter how small an improvement is, it contributes to the company’s bottom line.

There are many opportunities for staff to develop and grow their knowledge through technical and soft skills courses, which could be online self-study, small team engagements via teleconferencing or traditional classroom setting.

“These classes can be local or overseas. Most importantly, there are ample coaching sessions with our seniors, managers and on-the-job training. People are willing to coach and teach — all we need to do is ask,” she adds.

Her colleagues in Bukom come from different backgrounds and experiences. “They are warm, always helpful, respectful and have a one-team spirit,” says Dr Leong, who has been in Shell for 13 years.

A typical day involves meetings, desk work and occasional walkabouts in the refinery areas.

“I start my day discussing current work and plans with my team. This is followed by focus engagements with our technologists, operation and engineering partners, providing assurance, participating or leading in trouble shooting,” says Dr Leong, who graduated from the National University of Singapore with a PhD in chemistry.

“All these are to ensure our specific area operations are in optimal condition. Afternoons include some desk work and varied engagements with other internal stakeholders in refineries. We also carve out time for reflections and updates with our managers.”

After graduation, she was open to taking on jobs that could be exciting and challenging, and Shell was an MNC that could offer such a career.

Another pull was its culture of staff rotation that ensures one can take on new assignments after a few years.

To excel, passion and love of the work is key, as well as perseverance to progress through challenges to deliver results and humility to listen to and learn from others, says Dr Leong.

She also enjoys working with young graduates and coaching them, and working with diverse colleagues and having them all in tune with a single goal.

“It is important to remain focused on results delivery, be inquisitive and seek knowledge from colleagues who are the subject matter experts as one does not know everything,” she adds.

“The company encourages us to speak our mind and is open to ideas on our personal career choices, combining personal strengths with business needs.

“Staff’s areas for development are addressed with scheduled courses, mini projects and on-the-job training and coaching.”

In the manufacturing sector, which can be predominantly male, Dr Leong has also observed an increase in female engineering graduates who are keen to develop their technical career with Shell.

To anyone contemplating a career like hers, Dr Leong’s advice is to “follow your interest and harness your strengths. Be willing to try for a job that is outside your skill set and you can be surprised by what you can achieve".