Saturday March 2, 2013
Up Close and Personal with Iain Lo
By WONG WEI-SHEN
Better known to close friends and family as a wine aficionado and connoisseur, Iain Lo enjoys any weekend that comes with sipping on exquisite wines and dining on home cooked roast meals.
“Apart from the fact that I like eating, cooking for me is quite relaxing,” he says.
The Shell Malaysia chairman and managing director of Sarawak Shell Bhd and Sabah Shell Petroleum Co Ltd, likes to cook simple meals, which tend to be Western in nature such as roasts and risottos, to show off the wine accompanied with it.
Lo usually thinks of the wine he wants to drink before deciding on the dish to cook. “It's a palette for the wine to shine as opposed to my food outshining the wine,” he explains.
Life is too short to eat bad food, he laughs.
Game of camaraderie
Besides relishing in good wine and delectable food, Lo enjoys a good game of golf.
“Yes, 18 isn't bad, but it's not brilliant either,” Lo says in reference to his golf handicap.
Although the games involves just a bit of physical activity, he says it is a life long project that warrants merit.
“It teaches you humility, helps you to understand your limitations, and it's also a social game,” he says.
The game allows for a relaxing and fun time with friends, colleagues, and partners. “You don't let your position get ahead of your limitations. The golf course always finds a way to expose one's limitations,” he laughs.
The push to adulthood
At a young and impressionable age of 14, Lo's parents sent him to boarding school in London, the United Kingdom.
“I was never terribly serious at sports, and neither was I a bookworm. I took it very easy,” he reminisces on his childhood in Kuching.
Life for him was easy and mundane up till he was put at boarding school. Going to London at that young an age gave Lo a culture shock.
It was at Mill Hill School that Lo had to learn how to fend for and manage himself.
“I had to learn how to manage money. It wasn't just managing daily pocket money. I was given money for the next three months and I had to manage that,” he says.
He was forced to grow up quickly, as all the small decisions usually made by his parents, were suddenly thrusted into his hands all at once.
“It taught me to be very independent and to live with the consequences from the choices you made. It's probably the best gift from my parents, to boot me from my comfortable life in Kuching, and learn how to fend for myself,” he says.
It took him three months to adjust to being in a new country, surrounded by new people and a new environment, but he never looked back since. “After the first year I went back for holiday, but after that all the other holidays I asked to stay on in London,” he says.
Over time he made many friends, which helped him understand a lot more of the British culture. “Most of my friends were British kids. That allowed me to really integrate with the society there,” he says.
Looking back on his childhood, Lo says a lot of life-forming experiences were from his time in the UK.
Keep cool and party on
Although Lo had done all right at boarding school, he did not manage to get into the university programmes he had applied for.
However, this did not bother him, probably because he was having a swell time partying then.
“It was a messy period of my life, I was just having too much fun. I had a great social life!” he laughs.
Being a concerned parent, his father asked him to return to Kuching to spend some time thinking about “Plan B”. But when he got home, he spent a lot of time catching up with his old schoolmates.
His time back in Kuching supposedly thinking of his next steps, however, was not all to be naught as he met his wife there.
Lo hung out quite a bit with one of his ex-classmates. “He was working for a liquor company, so there were lots of promotional events and more drinking,” he says. One day while they were out together, his friend's car broke down.
“He needed someone to bail us out so he called his sister. Soon after, she started joining us for drinks, and pretty soon I was seeing more of her than I was seeing my friend,” he says.
He admits that it must have been very challenging for his parents to have an only son like him. Lo had the impression that they were concerned about his education and career wellbeing.
“Our only son. Oh no, our only son has not gone to university. Oh no, he still isn't serious about going to university. Oh no, he has met a girl now; he's complicating his life. Is he even going to university?”
But Lo adds that no matter what, his parents were always supportive of whatever decisions he made.
After 18 months of thinking about his next step in life, he finally decided to get serious and went on to the United States to study civil engineering.
Life as a civil engineer
Lo started work in the US as an earthquake engineer after graduating with a civil engineering degree from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
As a foreigner to the US, he had the opportunity of working there for a year.
While he was there he enjoyed the technical challenges that came with his job as well as the vibrant and exciting city that is LA. When the one-year mark was approaching, Lo had to decide if he wanted to stay on in the US or make his way back home. He decided to come home mainly due to his father's desire for him to work at his architectural and engineering firm.
“I came home, maybe out of obligation, but I also liked the idea of building things,” he says.
When he was a young boy, his father would often bring him along to the construction sites. Lo's father had designed a few iconic buildings in their hometown, such as the state assembly buildings.
“I supposed growing up, I dreamed that I too would leave some of these landmarks behind. So coming home had this appeal,” he explains.
Venture into Shell
However, when he started working alongside his father's partners, he felt he was not learning enough, compared to his job as an earthquake engineer in LA that was quite exciting.
“I did the earthquake design for one of the museums in LA. But when I got home it was roads, bridges, and retaining walls,” he says.
Feeling uninspired and unmotivated, Lo decided to change his working environment. “At that time my wife asked me to join Shell in Sarawak, which she saw was the best company to work for there,” he says.
Although initially he did not see much potential there for him, after more research, he found Shell attractive because it builds many offshore structures, which is a challenging thing to do.
So in 1990, he joined Sarawak Shell Bhd as a field engineer building offshore platforms.
Going to the middle of the sea with lots of barges and big cranes, and then leaving about two weeks later with a platform there, is very satisfying for an engineer to see.
“You build something and it's there. Everything is fabricated there; it's like Lego,” Lo says.
He believes that as the current country chairman he has the opportunity to develop Malaysia's talent pool, besides making an impact on Shell's business and growth.
These days, business is not just about building its assets, but also the capabilities within the organisation. Competition for talent, particularly for technical talent is extremely intense, he says.
Shell has human resource development programmes to ensure that it has a sufficient supply of talent all the time, Lo explains.
Shell employees are exposed to different roles and given international exposure so that they will a thorough experience and understanding of the company.
The company has a policy of appointing locals in senior positions, which means grooming talent from early on.
His aspiration for the company is to ensure its continuity in Malaysia into the future.
Shell has been in Malaysia for more than 100 years, discovering oil in 1910 in Sarawak. Now, it is a production sharing contract operator to Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) and is the largest gas producer in Malaysia.
“We need to make sure we are very efficient in our production; efficient in terms of finding more oil and gas; and efficient in terms of developing the projects to bring those discoveries onstream. Only then, we will ensure that Petronas will continue to choose us as the operator in Malaysia,” Lo says.
BORN: Nov 7, 1961, Kuching, Sarawak
PERSONAL: Married to Josephine Kueh
HIGHEST QUALIFICATION: Master of Science in Civil Engineering from UCLA in 1988
CAREER: Shell Malaysia chairman and managing director of Sarawak Shell Bhd and Sabah Shell Petroleum Co Ltd
NOTEWORTHY: Chairman of the Royal Dutch Shell Plc's Asian Talent Council which focuses on the development of staff from the region
FAVOURITE FOOD: Steak because it goes well with a mature red Bordeaux
FAVOURITE PLACE: London, New York, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore
HOBBY: Cooking for entertainment, playing golf, and drinking good wine
VALUES: Honesty, integrity, respect for people, independence
INSPIRATION: Doing things with excellence