Published on January 31, 2019
It’s a long way from commiserating around the coal tipple with the farmers of central Alberta to rubbing shoulders with the sultan of Brunei. But for Brian Straub, the value of both gatherings was the same: to establish relationships with people, and respect their point of view.
Straub grew up near Alix, Alta., where his father owned a strip coal mine. When farmers came to buy coal, they’d sit around the coal-burning stove, telling stories while the young Straub listened.
“It gave me the ability to understand people,” says Straub, and it was a skill he’d use time and again over the course of an international career in oil and gas.
After graduating from NAIT, Straub was hired by Shell, which in its various entities would employ him for the next 32 years. In 1993, he got his first overseas assignment in Oman, where he ran up to 28 drilling rigs and managed an annual budget over $400 million. He was posted in several more countries including Brunei, where he and his wife got to know the sultan and his two wives.
Companies that want to break into overseas markets need a thorough understanding of the region and the culture, says Straub. They also need to embrace the country’s workforce and steer clear of corruption.
Even in the age of videoconferencing, he says it’s still essential to occasionally meet people face-to-face – a lesson he learned at his father’s coal mine all those years ago.
Straub, who in his retirement sits on the boards of energy companies Molopo and Ridgeline , finished his career as president and Canada country chairman for Royal Dutch Shell. “I returned, in some ways, to being a miner.”
— Eliza Barlow