Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

Adnoc CEO Dr Sultan Al Jaber on lessons learned amid the pandemic - full transcript

During the company's virtual majlis, its chief executive gave his insights on the UAE's response to the health crisis, the outlook for the energy markets, and the organisation's resilience

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and Adnoc Group chief executive, said it was important for business leaders to convey a positive, optimistic, and credible way forward, with humility and honesty, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is essential to communicate a message of unity, that we are in this together and will find our way through together," he said during the company's 'virtual majlis' discussion.

The crisis "has highlighted just how forward-thinking our leadership’s guidance has been in directing this transformation. As a result, Adnoc is now far stronger and better positioned to manage the current market dynamics", Dr Al Jaber said.

The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is running the virtual majlis initiative as part of its participation in the UAE Volunteers initiative, geared towards bringing together officials and experts to engage on the key issues facing the world today.

The full transcript of the conversation between Dr Al Jaber and Helima Croft, Managing Director and Global Head of Commodity Strategy at RBC Capital Markets is below.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber: Hi, Helima.

Helima Croft: Hello, your excellency.

SAJ: I hope you and your family are safe and well.

HC: We are very well, we just miss Abu Dhabi.

SAJ: How have you been spending your time?

HC: We’ve been spending our time in our house in Rhode Island. How have you been spending your time? How’s working from home?

SAJ: It has definitely been an adjustment working from home. In fact, for me… work-life balance has been more like work-life integration.

Trust me, for the last eight weeks I haven’t really left this desk… and I’ve been very much tied to technology.

HC: We are very much living in a changed world, Dr Sultan, what is your view of the global economic outlook, and in oil markets in particular?

SAJ: You know, Helima, we are in an uncharted territory. We have never before experienced a time when the level of economic activity has dropped off this far… and this fast.

I am, in fact, in constant contact with our international partners and friends to share views and best practices in response to what is a fast evolving situation.

The fact is… right now… no-one is in a position to predict exactly what a recovery could potentially look like.

And as you know, most economists agree that a recovery will be more of a U-shape rather than a V-shape.

Having said that…when it comes to oil, there are good signs that the market has tightened in recent weeks.

And the Opec plus plus agreement, voluntary cuts outside of Opec and the production shut ins are working together to start to rebalance the market.

This, in my view, will take time… as economies begin to open up, demand will follow… but the path to the next normal will not be a straight line.

HC: Dr Sultan, with all of this uncertainty, how is Adnoc remaining resilient?

SAJ: You know, Helima, today… to a certain extent… we are seeing the benefits and the results of the steps we have taken on over the last four years… and if there is anything this crisis has taught us… it is just how forward thinking our leadership’s guidance has been in directing this important transformation.

And as a result, Adnoc is now far stronger and better positioned to manage the current market dynamics.

Through our transformation… we have focused on what we can control… and that is our costs.

We’ve been, in fact, laser focused actually… on being one of the lowest cost producers in the world.

And this has given us the flexibility and the resilience that we need at times like these.

At the same time, we have also evolved our business model to enable us to generate and maximise value through partnerships and transactions that leverage our asset base and attract strategic foreign investments.

Of course, in this environment, we are continuing to work even harder to preserve our resources, drive more efficiency, optimise, and maximise our profitability.

HC: How are you dealing with the risks that Covid-19 presents to your business?

SAJ: Our number one focus has been the health and safety of all our employees and colleagues.

And this in fact is very much in line with the UAE’s overall response to Covid-19, which has prioritised clearly the health and safety of everyone living here in the UAE.

The UAE has so far conducted over 1.5 million tests... that is one of the highest, if not the highest per capita ratios in the world.

And, at Adnoc, we have taken additional precautions to enhance the safety of our employees, including comprehensive testing, minimising staff on site and ensuring all office-based employees can work effectively from home.

On top of that, transparent communication has been critical. We are using all our channels to keep everyone aware, informed and very updated on the latest guidelines.

HC: You mentioned the UAE’s approach. And the testing ratio is incredibly impressive. What other steps is the UAE taking?

SAJ: As I mentioned earlier… the foundation of the UAE’s response has been comprehensive testing.

At the same time, the UAE believes that international cooperation is key to managing the crisis.

So we are staying connected to the rest of the world through health diplomacy, delivering aid and personal protective equipment (PPE) to more than 47 countries so far, when they need it and where they need it most.

HC: It’s fascinating to see the different response strategies to Covid-19 crisis. What has this period taught you about leadership?

SAJ: You know, Helima… we are learning something new every day and learning in real time.

In our experience so far, Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of three key leadership qualities. Capability, crisis management and connectivity.

The first responsibility of any CEO is to protect the health and wellbeing of employees and to ensure business continuity at all times and under any circumstances.

Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Adnoc CEO

Fundamentally… the capability of every organisation in keeping their people safe and their operations running smoothly is in fact being tested.

At the same time, leaders are being measured against how well they manage a crisis… ensuring their organisations can run under stress.

And then there is connectivity… How clearly leaders communicate to their people what they need to do to stay safe.

HC: And how do those lessons apply at a business level?

SAJ: Leadership in business is very much similar. The first responsibility of any CEO is to protect the health and wellbeing of employees and to ensure business continuity at all times and under any circumstances.

Staying connected through digital technology has, in fact, been vital and extremely important. Our people have logged over 30 million minutes of video meetings over the last two months and I am personally very much in constant contact with my people and my colleagues and my managers across all operations in different sites and platforms.

Conveying a positive, optimistic and credible way forward… with humility and honesty… is, in fact, very essential. And it is okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers.

Finally, it is essential to communicate a message of unity, that we are in this together and we will find our way through this together.

Halima, before we finish, let me turn the tables and ask you a question. What’s your outlook for oil markets going forward?

HC: I mea,n our outlook is that essentially we are seeing a green shoots of recovery in places like China, in places like the US as global lockdown conditions ease, that the recovery in gasoline demand will be essential in balancing in the market, and the important steps that Opec+ has taken, should help us avoid as an inventory iceberg.

So while the recovery is not going to be short, its not going to be easy, we think the fundamental right steps have been taken to get this market on a sounder footing.

SAJ: I very much appreciate it.

HC: Thank you so much, Dr Sultan, for your time today.

SAJ: Thank you for the opportunity, speak to you soon.

HC: Thank you.

SAJ: Thank you, take care. Bye bye.

Updated: May 17, 2020 03:08 PM

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