Building a technical career
Teo Mui Poh is Senior Manager – Operations at the Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis plant in Bintulu, Sarawak, Malaysia. She explains why she’s been so happy to work for Shell through her 20-year career.
Growing up in Singapore, Teo Mui Poh was surrounded by a hub of Shell activity – the Shell brand was instantly recognisable to her. It seemed only natural for her to apply for a job at Shell upon graduation, she says. She joined the company as part of its graduate scheme in 1994 after obtaining her degree in Chemical Engineering from the National University of Singapore.
During her career, Mui Poh has worked both in the oil and gas sector, in a variety of roles across several countries. She began in Shell as a process engineer in the Base Oil Manufacturing Plant in Pulau Bukom Refinery in Singapore and subsequently took several positions in areas that spanned technology, Health, Safety, Security and the Environment (HSSE) and Change Management.
In 2004, Mui Poh took an assignment in Australia, working in operations management in the Shell Geelong refinery. She returned to Pulau Bukom Refinery as a Production Unit Manager in 2007 before moving to Bintulu, Sarawak in 2011. She is currently based there as Senior Manager – Operations at the Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis (SMDS) plant, which was the world’s first commercial Gas-to-Liquids plant.
“Shell has always lived up to my expectations – it is respected as a company that looks after its staff, not only in terms of salary packages but also in terms of development,” she says.
Mui Poh’s favourite thing about working at Shell is the opportunity to move around within the company. “It’s not a single job kind of company. It strives to meet the individual’s needs, and I can explore different parts of the business. Shell is willing to take chances on developing its people and offering them the opportunity to stretch.”
The fact that she works in a production environment means that she has to balance many different roles and priorities at the same time, always being aware of the wider implications of her actions, with safety being the top priority. “People can get hurt in our environment, so it’s imperative to ensure people’s safety.”
A career highlight for Mui Poh has been managing a project between 2009 and 2010 in which there was some construction work in a live plant environment. “We managed the whole project over 18 months without any significant safety incidents – a great achievement considering there were between 400 and 500 contractors on site. Safety is a real priority for Shell.”
As a young graduate, she felt that there was a stereotype about operations not being for women, but that has changed in the 20 years since she joined, Mui Poh says.
“There are more females in technical roles than there was at the start of my career – and we’re constantly looking out for new candidates. It’s not just about the company’s attitude though, it’s also about breaking down society’s stereotypes and convincing the candidate that this could be the right role for them.”
"Shell is willing to take chances on developing its people and offering them the opportunity to stretch."
Shell has a flexible working policy allowing women and men to develop their career while still enjoying personal interests and balancing their out-of-work commitments. Mui Poh believes it’s important to encourage a better work-life balance among employees. “Shell could have lost some great people had there not been a flexible working environment.”
Mui Poh likes to encourage other women to join Shell. “Women are often self-limiting about the type of role they could do. I think they should explore the possibilities – there are many options out there. There’s never been a dull moment for me at Shell. I can’t get bored because there is always another opportunity that comes along. Every job is different and I’ve been lucky enough to build on the strength of previous experience I’ve gained in each position.”
More about Mui Poh:
- She is a self-confessed couch potato and enjoys staying at home and relaxing with a nice cup of coffee.
- Mui Poh likes cooking and baking.
- She is a sponsor for the local Shell Women’s Network.
- “I’m mentoring two young chemical engineers. Mentoring sessions don’t just help the mentees – it’s great for us as more experienced people to be able to gain insight and understanding about how young people think. It’s good to see things from a young perspective – it might just help you figure out your blind spots.”
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