Skipping the States

An Arizona economics grad packs his bags and explores the Mideast energy sector

After graduating from the University of Arizona with degrees in both business economics and mechanical engineering, I knew I wanted to be in the energy sector and spend time working internationally. I spent my first year working at ExxonMobil (XOM) in Houston, and after continually talking to my supervisor, was able to move overseas to my current position with the liquefied natural gas (LNG) marketing group with ExxonMobil in Doha, Qatar. I realized that sometimes taking something as an interim step can get you places you could not reach directly out of school.

Right now, I’m an analyst in the business support group, mainly responsible for coordinating our planning efforts, and developing financial analyses that are used to support management decisions. Qatar, like Dubai and other areas of the Persian Gulf, is booming; it seems like every day another high-rise building is climbing toward the sky. ExxonMobil’s business here is growing as well. and is set to more than double in the next three years. After all current projects are completed, ExxonMobil will be a participant in producing more than 10 billion cubic feet a day of natural gas. To put that in perspective, that’s enough every day to power a normal barbecue grill for 20,000 years.

Let’s look at my typical day:

7 a.m.—The alarm goes off and I roll out of bed. A quick shower and breakfast and I am on the road.

7:45 a.m.—I begin sifting through the sea of red in my inbox. Working in a global business, the messages keep coming even after you leave the office. Right now I focus on anything from Asia so I can catch them before their day is over. The afternoon is reserved for Houston so I can catch them as they come into the office.

10 a.m.—I have just finished an update of some price information to one of our investment models. The total project is more than $10 billion in investment, so getting the numbers right is serious business. I get one of my peers to look over the changes before lunch to make sure no errors have slipped in.

11 a.m.—Time to head to a meeting with some of our project engineers. Sales strategies and agreements are closely linked with project timing, so making sure we have the latest data is critical.

Noon—Lunchtime. Most days I’ll pull together a group of co-workers and head to the nearby shopping center. With luck we’ll find an indoor parking space; by midday in the summer temperatures can climb to more than 120 degrees.

1:15 p.m.—Back in the office, I’m in the early stages of developing next year’s business plan, and I need to make sure I have alignment on key assumptions. I start updating a PowerPoint presentation that I am preparing for a review later this week with management. One of the most challenging aspects of my job is dealing with uncertainty—in school, when I was given a problem to solve, there were usually enough details included in the question to help get the answer.

2 p.m.—Time to switch gears again. Still in presentation mode, I grab some materials I prepared the day before and go to a meeting where I have to share my analysis results with a group of coworkers. Coming up with an answer does nothing if you can’t find a way to effectively communicate the results.

3 p.m.—The presentation went well; one of the follow-ups is to look in the sales contract at the pricing clause to see what rights the buyer has to renegotiate price during the contract. I call up someone from our law team to get an interpretation.

3:30 p.m.—I spend the remaining part of the afternoon working on another long-term project. The world liquefied natural gas market is in transition from one of long-term contracts to one where increasing volumes are sold on a short-term basis. I’m developing the analysis, looking at different sales strategy alternatives, and testing them under various price scenarios.

6 p.m.—An urgent request from Houston comes in by e-mail, and then a follow-up phone call almost immediately. After a short search, I find what I am looking for, check quickly to make sure the information is still current, and then send it off. Most of my responsibilities are eventually tied to some sort of cash-flow analysis.

7 p.m.—After sending off a few last e-mails to Houston, I am out of the office. Today, things are going well, so I make it out before 8 p.m.

7:30 p.m.—I go for a run along the Doha Corniche and then head to a friend’s house to work on plans for an upcoming vacation to Oman. Depending on the day and my motivation level, I usually head to the gym for a couple hours after work.

11 p.m.—Always up later than I should be, I send e-mails and talk on Skype in order to touch base with friends and family back home. When I do go to bed, I’m out like a light.

Like most new hires, I started in an industry in which I did not have any specific experience. It can be daunting, at first, when you start working on something you know nothing about, but by digging into industry publications and asking as many questions as you can, it is surprising how quickly you can learn. As you build that knowledge it allows you to better understand what drives the business. Being able to hear or read something, understand what could happen as a result, and then how that could impact your business only comes after you start to develop a base of industry knowledge. Business classes help to ground you in the fundamentals, but be ready to keep on learning long after you show up for the first day of your job.

In the mix of work on any given day are: long-term analysis projects, quick analyses to follow up on management questions, reading through terms of new contracts to update a model, and glancing over industry publications to gather market intelligence. The work is never the same, and rarely dull. If it ever is, I just have to look out my window and remember that I am living in the Middle East and getting to experience a whole different culture.

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