Exclusive Interview: SNEPCO’S Exceptional Leader Bayo Ojulari Bids Farewell

Bayo Ojulari talks to Oil and Gas Republic about his career journey at Shell Group and how he has been able to grow his managerial and technical capacity.

Interview by: Ndubuisi Micheal Obineme

Bayo Ojulari was appointed Managing Director of Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) in November 2015, to provide oversight and leadership to Shell’s offshore business in Nigeria. He is responsible for safeguarding Shell’s multi-billion-dollar investments in four deepwater blocks offshore Nigeria and managing more than 600 professional staff from several nationalities backed by the technical expertise of the Royal Dutch Shell Group.

His appointment is one of the highlights of a stellar career that began about 30 years ago.A graduate of Mechanical Engineering from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, after a stint in Elf Aquitaine as the first Nigerian Process Engineer, Bayo joined the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd in 1991 as an associate production technologist and has since served in diverse fields including Petroleum Engineering, Production Engineering, Strategy & Planning, Economics, Field Development and Asset management.

He is a thoroughbred professional having worked in Nigeria, Europe, the USA and the Middle East. His leadership of SNEPCo has seen the company achieve many Shell Group & Industry awards.

Bayo has also received a good number of personal awards for professional excellence. He is a COREN Registered Engineer, a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (FNSE), Society of Petroleum Engineers and The Nigerian Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

Bayo is a strategic thinker, result-oriented and a very good communicator. He is strong in driving business integration and stakeholder management with a bottom-line focus.

He actively seeks and enjoys adaptive learning and sharing of best practices.

As a highly motivated leader, he demonstrates courage, authenticity, capacity with mastery in building shared visions, and passion for future leaders.

Bayo is married and with children, enjoys beaches and music, and is now working hard to go back to golfing.

In this interview, Bayo Ojulari talks to Oil and Gas Republic’s Managing Editor, Ndubuisi Micheal Obineme, about his career journey at the Shell Group and how he has been able to grow his managerial and technical capacity. Excerpts:

OGR: As an exceptional leader with over 30 years of experience in the oil and gas industry and has also delivered great results for the Shell Group in Nigeria, Europe, and the Middle East covering many key areas including Technical, Commercial and Organisational. How would you describe your achievements based on your track records so far?

Bayo: I must thank you for your kind words. To be so described, as an exceptional leader, encourages me on the responsibility to continue holding onto the values and principles that help us succeed and continue to be value-adding in our defined areas. I am grateful for your kind description. Over the years, I have grown my technical and managerial capacity through the support of my colleagues and the opportunities that Shell Companies in Nigeria continue to provide. These opportunities, always delivered with robust collaboration, include;

• The privilege to lead transformation initiatives that have generated major impacts, in planning and strategy, in business level transformation. Leading the drive towards Well Reservoir and Facility Management (WRFM) between 2005 and 2006, in Nigeria, and the major transformation while on international assignment in PDO Oman, that generated a 50% reduction in life cycle cost, were key landmarks for my career.

Also, the 2005 SPDC-wide organisational review helped our beloved company to remain competitive.

• I hold the belief that it is better “baking the proverbial large pie for everybody to share rather than competing for the small pie”. So, I always work towards creating a portfolio of opportunities and projects that are both value-adding and economic-generating; these create avenues for Nigerians to express their talents and flourish.

• My passion has always been to contribute to the development of Nigeria; Nigerians are my passion. I am glad to be contributing my quota towards growing local content; supporting Nigerian Contractors to close capacity gaps while amplifying their strengths in other to showcase their capacities.

OGR: What has been your inspiration working with Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO)?

Bayo: Four key areas of our operations always inspire me. i. Operational Excellence: Bonga is the flagship floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) in Nigeria and, in 2016, Bonga won the Deepwater Asset of The Year Award.

I am always delighted that an asset operated in Nigeria by Nigerians competes favourably with global standards. It is a great pleasure that the world acknowledges Nigerians’ global competitiveness and operation as an asset to a world-class standard.

ii. Social Performance: The transformation of our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects from multiple projects with a lack of thematic focus to three priority areas of health, education and sports, and the impact that we have made over the short period is inspirational. Now, SNEPCo easily demonstrates its impact all over the country.

iii. Nigerian Content Achievement: Maximizing Nigerian Content achievements while initiating and maturing new projects is another key area of inspiration. At my resumption as Managing Director of SNEPCo, the company’s development funnel was virtually empty.

So, I concentrated my efforts on creating opportunities, motivating people to see how we can revive the Bonga South West Aparo (BSWA) project, working with people to ensure the project became cost-effective, building partnerships with Houston and Brazil and ensuring stakeholders alignment.

I also focused attention on Bonga North which had been sub-economic. We worked to reduce the development cost to make it economically right through the tie back to the Bonga Main, while leveraging global expertise to prove that we can extend the life of the asset for another 10 years in situ, without dry-docking, converting the sleeping asset to a great giant. Today, the story of BSWA and Bonga North has changed, with prospects for generating value for Shell, Nigeria and co-ventures with a lot of Nigerian Content opportunities.

iv. Talent of SNEPCo: I quickly recognised that the opportunity I had to be the MD was a singular one to unleash the talent of SNEPCo and to inspire the younger people to move forward. They have contributed to operational excellence and it is everybody in the team. So, creating a platform that allows my staff, colleagues, and contractors to express their full capacity, and seeing future leaders grow within and outside the industry, excite and inspire me.

OGR: Please feel free to share with us some of your fascinating journey in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.

Bayo: My response will be in three segments: early career, mid-career and late-career. Early Career: The privilege to have had a solid and broad foundation in the fundamentals of upstream Exploration & Production (E&P) cannot be overemphasised. My first 5 years, working briefly for Elf as commissioning, process engineer; then I got into Petroleum engineering, geosciences, logistics and

HSSE accountability as a project engineer. These ensured that I was well-grounded early on in my career as I actively participated in the complete span of the upstream business.

Mid-Career: The privilege to get three international assignments was such an impactful period and fit for purpose. I was opportune to lead integrated technical teams, deepened my know-how of E&P economics, and worked in technical planning, financial planning and budget.

I had in my team finance staff and team members from other disciplines. Along the line, I was able to build Technical Authorities and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) that are Nigerians, dedicated 16 positions to technical consultants, exposed got them to training, conferences both within and outside Nigeria. This is something I am quite proud to mention.

Late Career: I consider the last 7-8 years as my late-career period. I was Asset Manager, Development Director for SPDC and, for six years, General Manager Development for Shell Companies in Nigeria. I also acted as the Technical Vice President.

At the same time, I was a Director on the Board of SPDC and, later, SNEPCo. Over this period, I deepened my corporate governance understanding and got into the management of shareholders’ interest, as SNEPCO MD. I entered the frontline of external stakeholders’ management. Managing a Business Unit, including performance and budget, has been a great experience.

I also had opportunities to drive Nigerian Content in projects and opportunities, focusing on how to leverage Social Performance to the benefit of the company and country, and building Nigerians into integrated Leaders BOM, Business integrators. Two of the Asset Managers in the new organization were talents that I helped to channel their career through coaching and experience.

OGR: The COVID-19 has made an impact on major E&P projects, what has been SNEPCO’s positive response to navigating through the pandemic?

Bayo: I will say our response show three things: 1) Care 2) Business Continuity 3) Cash.

  1. Care: People remain the most important asset. So, we put in place a combination of controls, necessary protocols, to ensure that we respond adequately to any outbreak. The success of this is that we have operated our assets and rigs for several months now COVID-19 free, learning from the early stages experience we had with COVID-19.

This strategy also involves collaborating with other companies, ensuring that their staff gets all that they require to comply with the combination of controls.

  1. Business continuity: To ensure our compliance with the new protocols, we updated our work protocol. We also re-prioritized work, so that we have manageable work at sites. For example, maintenance activities that had been scheduled for last year (2020) we moved to this year (2021), pacing the work to ensure we continued to have a healthy and safe workforce.
  2. Cash: We ensured reduction of our operational expenditure using technology, big data, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, building a digital twin of the FPSO, to do all pre-engineering, reducing logistics costs. We continue to build on CAPEX efficiency, actual cost of projects review, new methodology and technology all to reduced cost. We are also increasing recovery to ensure lower cost, giving us a low UTC.

5: What are the latest updates on Shell’s Pre-FID Bonga Southwest/Aparo project?

Bayo: Unfortunately, we do not yet have the good news. Shell, NNPC and NCDMB completed the TBE in March 2020, and we are still waiting for NNPC’s approval of the TBE outcome. This approval will enable us to commence the commercial Evaluations.

We have secured the 1st Bid Extension from the bidders and we may have to ask for a second extension.

On a positive note, though, we have concluded the OML 118 PSC conflict resolution and we expect final approval in May 2021. This has been a protracted negotiation that started in 2007.

It has been tough, but we are at the end of it. This would help unblock other PSCs that have been encumbered by these disputes and we know that new developments like BSWA, BN and BMLe would benefit from this resolution.

OGR: A lot of conversation is going on about growing Nigeria’s gas reserves, production, and distribution network. What has been SNEPCO’s cardinal focus areas to bridge the gap?

Bayo: Our focus has, specifically, been to ensure Operational Excellence on Bonga FPSo to deliver 150mscf a day to the gas network; develop the other deep-water projects to sustain and expand on the 150mscf.

We also focus on SNEPCO’s contribution to OPTS to ensure that the new PiB contributes to unlocking the best terms of our huge gas reserves.

A few things to tidy up to ensure Nigeria remains an attractive investment. Deepwater NAG e.g. OML135 is challenging and requires targeted incentives to get the gas out of the ground. So, a low royalty for the first 5 years would encourage that. As of today, there is no Deep-Water gas project.

OGR: Having said that, Technology, Local Content, and Collaboration will play key roles in the growth and development of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. What has SNEPCO been able to achieve on that aspect over the years? What strong policies will accelerate the country’s hydrocarbon resources beyond oil?

Bayo: The question is a cocktail of pie and apple because of the “beyond oil” component. Permit me to focus on the technology and local content component.

SNEPCo has been at the forefront of efforts to localise its business, people, processes, and supply chain. We were adjudged as the IOC with the Most Impactful Local Content Initiatives in the upstream category at the 2019 edition of the NCDMB’s Nigerian Oil and Gas Opportunity Fair.

This is a recognition of SNEPCo’s deliberate strategy to grow sustainable Nigerian companies. The Bonga North-West tie-in is a good example where technology, local content and collaboration were instrumental to achieve the first brownfield daisy-chained subsea tie-in in Nigeria for the Bonga North-West project.

We proactively identified and aligned with a local contractor that had no prior deep-water experience. However, with effective stakeholder management and the necessary support and engagements, the contractor successfully delivered the topsides scope.

In another example, there was a clear need to shorten the time taken to acquire subsea trees, to enhance new oil production, and we saw an opportunity to reduce lead-time for subsea tree availability from 36 months to 12 months and, recently, to 10 months, by ‘harvesting” and re-using the trees on abandoned wells.

I am proud to say that we pioneered subsea tree refurbishments in sub-Saharan Africa – we identified local contractors and regulatory body (DPR) to partner with us as we implemented dedicated procedures for the tree refurbishment in strict adherence to statutory regulations, codes and standards. The work was carried out at the OEM/SNEPCo logistics base at Onne in Rivers State, with Nigerian engineers and technicians playing key roles.

Another more recent example of technology is the development of, what is known as, a ‘digital twin’ of our 300,000 tonnes, 225,000 barrels-per-day capacity Bonga FPSO. The Digital Twin is a physics-based model of the asset, which represents its entire physical counterpart in detail and accuracy and can be used to virtually identify critical areas for prioritised inspection, maintenance and repair, reducing the need and frequency and potential safety exposures associated with physical inspections.

Dependent on a favourable investment climate, our major growth projects can create over 2,000 direct employment for Nigerians and over 7,000 indirect employment during the project execution phase. Hundreds of Nigerian Engineers trained in offshore Deepwater Engineering and Construction and major opportunities for local engineering & project management companies as well.

Continuing partnership with NCDMB, NAPIMS, PETAN, Contractors, Host communities and other stakeholders to seek innovative ways to reduce development cost and unit operating cost has been a huge enabler.

Also, if we do not get security right, and we have to spend so much on it, our overall costs would remain very high. Continuous synthesis is required, and a sense of a win-win for all the critical stakeholders.

OGR: Analyzing the Decade of Gas initiative, is there a strong connection between SNEPCO and the industry players on innovative frameworks to harnessing the entire value chain of the Nigerian gas sector?

Bayo: Yes, there is, through joint advocacy with OPTS to ensure the new PIB captures the response of operators. Investors in Nigeria and all over the world are waiting to see how competitive the Nigerian gas industry would be in comparison to similar investments across the world.

OGR: As a member of the executive committees of the Sub-Saharan Africa International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference (SAIPEC), what has been your major talking point?

Bayo: I have been part of SAIPEC since inception with the NC team and you would see my contribution through the years. I was also among the team that inspired PETAN to start this event. At the first SAIPEC, SNEPCo was the only IOC to sponsor it. We believed in its impact. So, glad to see that our foresight is confirmed.

We require a competitive fiscal framework that can attract investment into Nigeria. Funds from all over the world are looking for the most competitive fiscal regime and regulatory regimes to invest in.

We need to influence the executive and legislature to ensure that they understand what this means since we have a better understanding of this expectation.

We also require the transparency of all parties concerning contributions and performance.

Currently, it takes an average of 5-7 years to deliver the project to FID across the world but, in Nigeria, this takes 7-12 years. The execution and implementation of those projects here are longer than in competing countries because the performance is not as transparent.

As they say, we are as weak as our weakest link. If all the key contributors’ reports were transparent and a national dashboard could be seen, that would create a simple transparent platform that would drive the delivery. We owe it to this country as this is the mainstay of Nigeria.

Another talking point would be consolidation and collaboration, combining jobs of people who have similar capabilities.

Improving collaboration focused on end-to-end value creation for all players. There is still a lot of value to be derived from collaboration.

People waste a lot of time arguing on how the pie would be shared, not focusing on the opportunity to compete with EPC contractors, lowers costs and attract more opportunities for end-to-end delivery and not just components.

OGR: What is your farewell message to your colleagues at Shell; and what would you like SNEPCO to achieve in the nearest future?

Bayo: I am thanking all my colleagues in Shell for their support all through my years in Shell and for inspiring me to be at my best for most of my time in Shell.

SNEPCo should sustain the One integrated team mindset effort, the One family mindset, care for people, pride in professional excellence, empowerment of leaders at all levels, giving them a voice so that they feel proud of all that they do.

Bonga FPSO to be the best FPSO run globally. We did it in 2016 and we can do it again. The talent and structure are all there. FID for BSWa, BMLE and BN.

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