The US oil company ExxonMobil is the world's largest oil producer with over 82.000 people worldwide. Among them is our colleague Ms. Azra Bračković, who graduated from VERN’ study program of Tourism and she leads ExxonMobil Catalysts & Chemicals acquisition team.
1. You graduated from VERN’s undergraduate study program of Tourism and today you manage business processes within the world’s largest oil company. How did this transition from tourism to energy sector happen?
During my studies at VERN’ I was offered an opportunity to go to Prague for internship where I spent the last semester of my education working at Marriott International Hotels. At that time I sent my resume to an international employment agency, at first just to check how competitive I was at the international market.
Shortly after that I received a call from a headhunter who suggested I should apply for a position at ExxonMobil, which was opening a new European business center in Prague. After five selection circles I was offered a job but I went back to Croatia to graduate. Just a few days after receiving my diploma, I started to work as a financial analyst on a project for the relocation of activities from the Italian business branches to the regional center in Prague. When my scope of work became exclusively connected with the energy industry and especially refineries, chemical industry and plants I moved to the Acquisitions Department.
Although tourism and energy are very diverse sectors, there are many tools that can be applied in both industries. For example, yield management, which I studied about during my studies at VERN’ and I am applying it in my job today.
2. Since ExxonMobile operates on six different continents and almost in every country, in how many countries have you worked so far, for a short period and for a longer engagement?
Over the past seven years I have worked on many projects, of varying scope and capacity, across Europe (Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, France and England) and the United States (Washington and Houston, where the company's main headquarters are).
Projects can last from one month to a year and a half, and larger projects often involve a lot of travelling. If a project involves negotiations and visits to facilities, I usually visit three to four different countries a week.
3. You are currently running a team in charge of acquisitions, you also manage business activities in six different countries, you manage a 1.5 billion dollar annual budget, etc. What do your business tasks involve and in what kind of business processes have you been engaged so far?
In ExxonMobile I have advanced from the position of analyst, to the position of supervisor and finally manager. So far I have worked in finance departments and mostly in acquisitions, in corporate, manufacturing and catalysts & chemicals area. At the moment I am in charge of the Catalysts & Chemicals acquisitions team for the region, for the portfolio of refinery and chemical industries. My main goal as well as my team's goal is to establish a regional strategy for eight refineries and 14 chemical business lines in Europe. Our activities include process improvement management, change management, contracting, tendering, negotiation and project implementation. Personally, I am involved in global and regional planning, stewardship and enforcement projects. Every year, we analyze existing contracts, about 200 of them, and we set the strategy for a 18-month, 3-year or 5- year period, depending on the previous analysis. My team consists of experts in the field of chemical and metallurgical industries, economics, supply chains and law.
Also, I am a member of the Technical Leadership Team (TLT) headquartered in Brussels, where I participate in strategy development, international workshops, discussions and market analysis.
In addition to these acquisition activities, I dedicate a lot of my time to coaching and mentoring other supervisors and team leaders as well as improving the human resources development process.
4. What aspect of your job would you consider to be the most demanding, and what aspect the most challenging?
The most demanding but also the most challenging aspects of my job would be, let me put it this way, the ability to cope with responsibilities due to a large number of complex business requirements and dynamics in establishing the best strategies for our refineries and chemical plants in Europe. Our day-to-day business is a very complex and extensive process, which is why I face very complex situations almost every day. For example, we are often faced with a limited supply of certain commodities and raw materials indispensable for oil processing within the region, mainly because of economic or political reasons. It is important to know that operational or legislation changes or economic trends in one country can affect the entire international supply chain and these can be significant challenges in my everyday work. Frequent business trips are also challenging but they are also a privilege to work with some of the most important and influential people in this industry.
5. Based on personal experience, what do you see as the biggest challenges in managing multicultural teams?
In our center in Prague, which is also the European center for several business activities, a total of 1,200 people from more than 65 different countries work together. This is a really interesting and sometimes a challenging work environment. My colleagues from the management team come from the Netherlands, France, Germany and the Czech Republic, and other employees in my team come from eight different countries. When I work on a project, especially if it is a global one, I have the opportunity to work with people from literally all over the world, from America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Multiculturalism is very important in our company so we approach it very seriously and there are often organized workshops for raising awareness of different habits and cultures of the countries our employees come from. For me, a multicultural environment is very important, especially giving equal opportunities to every individual, based on his or her abilities and capabilities.
For many years I have been representing ExxonMobil for Supply Diversity at an UK organization called Minority Supplier Development UK (MSDUK), whose aim is to involve companies and firms owned by national minorities in the "ExxonMobil supply chain".
I am also very active in the European ExxonMobil WIN (Women Interest Network) organization, which strives for better quality of women's development and education, removing career barriers and emphasizing a greater role of women in society.
6. Trends in energy industry are constantly changing, so is business dynamics as well as market demands. Lifelong education is an indispensable part of a career in this sector?
Yes, exactly. In March this year I graduated from the Executive Leadership Program at the INSEAD Campus, at CEDEP Department (Centre Europeen D'Education Permanente) on a theme Management of Change. In addition, as Exxon employees, we have permanent access to Harvard University trainings, which is one of my favorite sources of information in the area of communication, budgeting, finance, markets, etc.
Apart from this, I attend various professional conferences and symposia about the market and industry in general about three times a year, as well as the lectures at the Petroleum Institute in London and the ICIS Association in Houston, which specializes in energy and chemical industry developments.
* We bring you photographs of several locations in the world where our colleague has been engaged in projects.