LINKAGE Q1 (2021) - Choose To Challenge
by The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago
According to the International Energy Agency, the energy sector is one of the least gender-diverse economic sectors, with marginally over 1 in 5 jobs carried out by women. This statistic reinforces the commonly-held perception of energy as a male-dominated industry.
In Trinidad and Tobago, female participation in the energy sector largely follows this trend. However, there are exceptional women proving that even as a minority group, women can have a big impact in the industry.
Verlier Quan-Vie is one of those women. As Vice President of the Commercial Group at The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (NGC), Verlier oversees one of the biggest portfolios in the state energy sector.
“I manage NGC’s Commercial and Business Development portfolios across the gas value chain, which involves the identification and conversion of business development opportunities into commercial agreements consistent with NGC’s strategic objectives,” says Verlier.
Given NGC’s broad-based and expanding operations and investments, Verlier’s remit is extensive. In the upstream segment of the gas value chain, her duties include the commercial management of NGC’s gas supply from all upstream operators and NGC’s five (5) upstream Non-Operated Joint Ventures (NOJVs). In the midstream, she oversees NGC’s Atlantic LNG shareholding and NGC’s 56” Cross Island Pipeline (CIP) Gas Transportation Agreements. In the downstream, her responsibilities include management of gas sales to petrochemical, non-petrochemical and Light Industrial and Commercial (LIC) customers, as well as NGC’s non-operated shareholding in CGCL. In addition to these areas, Verlier handles NGC’s Energy Marketing and Trading portfolio which includes crude oil, LNG and methanol/dimethyl ether (DME).
Verlier’s role is central to NGC’s vision of becoming an integrated international energy player. Much of the organisation’s outreach into both the local, regional and international markets, including exploration of commercial, investment and partnership opportunities beyond Trinidad and Tobago is led by Verlier and her team - nearly half of whom are women themselves. She also plays a pivotal role in the expansion of the business along the local value chain.
Over Verlier’s tenure at NGC, she has led the Company through many significant milestones, such as the renewal/execution of over 150 contracts with upstream and downstream partners (short and long term agreements), acquisition of oil and gas producing assets in offshore blocks, the deepening of NGC’s business relationships in West Africa collaboratively with NGC Projects team, initiation of a commercial partnership with China and several milestone cargo sales through NGC’s commodity trading desk.
These achievements notwithstanding, Verlier considers her greatest success to be the development of staff in her care.
“I have worked in the energy sector in Trinidad, Nigeria, the UK and Tanzania for over twenty years, and I have been part of many commercial deals. However, I consider my greatest success to be seeing several of my direct reports who came in as graduates with not a shred of energy sector knowledge learn the business from the ground up. It was gratifying to help equip them with the proper technical and commercial acumen to allow them to move into senior and managerial positions. I am thrilled to see them now as competent and well-respected up-and-coming leaders in the energy sector both locally and globally.”
As a leader herself, particularly in a gender-imbalanced industry, Verlier has no doubt encountered her share of challenges. However, she admits that achieving work-life balance remains one of the most difficult tasks.
“My greatest challenge as a female leader is getting the work-life balance right to meet my work and personal goals. Work tends to absorb a lot of my time and I have to literally challenge myself to take breaks to exercise, relax, do personal errands, and so on.”
This challenge is certainly not unique to energy sector professionals, and was made more acute by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when work and home life were forced to share the same space due to lockdowns and telecommuting. For her part, Verlier has strived to help her team through this uniquely trying period.
“NGC moved to a Work-From-Home arrangement in March 2020 and is still operating in this mode. I am truly grateful that my team handled the transition seamlessly given the particularly high workload and sensitive negotiations ongoing during this period. We were able to create fixed check-in routines, employee recognition programs, and online social activities, such as the continuation of birthday club via the virtual forum, to keep team spirit alive.”
She has also leveraged the new virtual meeting format to create development opportunities for her staff: “As most meetings are now online with no meeting size restrictions, I seek to ensure that the Commercial Analysts and Advisors are involved as much as possible in meetings, and allow them to present their work to the President or participate in external negotiations so that they get commercial exposure for their growth and development.”
Of course, COVID-19 was not just a spanner in the works for employees and work-life balance, but it introduced new and exacerbated existing challenges on the business front as well. High on Verlier’s priority list over the past year was helping steer NGC and its customers through turbulent energy market developments.
“COVID-19 severely impacted global commodity prices for methanol, ammonia and LNG, resulting in significant declines in prices - in many cases below production costs. We, therefore, had to look for innovative commercial solutions including price renegotiations and short-term contracts to help our customers, as much as possible, ride through this difficult period. Internally our focus was on value optimisation initiatives and addressing areas of value leakage to minimise losses for the Company.”
Verlier’s focus on innovation within her portfolio anticipates a need within the broader energy sector, as the world transitions to cleaner and more renewable fuel sources. According to the IEA, innovation will be a key requirement if the world is to successfully phase out hydrocarbon-based fuels over the coming decades. To achieve the required level of innovation, broad-based participation will be a necessity. This means bringing more women into the sector and giving women more seats at the table.
Asked about the role that women can play in NGC’s future, as the Company evolves in tandem with global energy, Verlier shares that she sees equal room for men and women to make a difference.
“Skills, competence and leadership qualities have no gender. I do recognise that there are still some stereotypes pervading the local energy sector which can put women at a disadvantage in securing opportunities, but I hope that my example of leading my team in a critical aspect of NGC’s business will give other females in NGC, and beyond, the confidence to aspire to become leaders themselves.”
For those women who would wish to follow her example, Verlier had these words of advice:
“Take the time to learn the business, see challenges as opportunities and grow and learn from them. It will not always be smooth sailing and it will be hard work, but learn to graciously seek and take feedback and see how you can improve on future occasions. Do what you can to the best of your ability, and never compare yourself to others but take personal ownership for driving your growth.”
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