Osagie Okunbor, Managing Director, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria

Osagie Okunbor, Managing Director, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria

Osagie Okunbor joined Shell over 34 years ago and has through his career worked mostly in HR roles spanning Organization & Job Evaluation, Compensation & Benefits, Industrial and Employee Relations, Policy Development and Performance Management. The last 9 years have been at Board level. His career in Shell has included two International working assignments, first with Shell International in London in 1996 as the Corporate Issues Adviser and from late 1997, with Brunei Shell Petroleum in South East Asia, where he was responsible for Compensation and Benefits as well as Industrial Relations for five years. He has held various other senior positions in Shell such as Africa Upstream Regional HR Policy Manager, and as HR Director for SPDC, based in Port Harcourt. He was appointed Vice President, Infrastructure & Logistics for the company in December 2007 and after a short stint returned as Vice President Human Resources for Sub-Saharan Africa. He was appointed Managing Director Shell Nigeria in 2015. Mr. Okunbor has been the Country Chairman of Shell Companies in Nigeria since his appointment.

His thoughts on HR and Shell some few years ago…


Looking at HR functions , where do you think we are lacking and need improvement  in Africa? The area I see HR going into is the area of Business intimacy and this is one area we are lacking and need a lot more improvement. HR People need to get closer to the business by understanding the core areas of the business, like its prospects, problems and future strategic plans. They need to avoid getting back to a corner where there role is to fix people routine issues. HR needs to sit at the business round table and discuss with other department the key business issues and strategies, speaking the language of the business rather than HR. So, the first line of my discussion with my HR people is the state of the business. I discuss the production level, costs and other relevant areas of the business. I encourage them to understand the department they are supporting, if you are supporting the supply chain you need to understand the business of supply chain.

Another area is the issue of data for decision making. We are still comfortable with too many stories rather than speaking in data. And it’s common in HR gathering that you hear discussions in HR around stories than data and figures. The business we are in today is highly competitive and people do not have time for expressions or discussions that is without data. It helps business make quick decisions. So use things like attrition data, unit of productivity data etc with your business.

Another area is the one I called real performance management. The reality of today’s business is that the heart of any company success is how you manage the performance of people. From when they come in, their competencies and experiences. If they do not perform what do you do about it? Do you dodge it? Bring in people to cover the gap or ask them to leave? HR is at the center of real performance, they need to support the line managers on how to support the performance of employees.

Shell success strategy in HR? We are a big global business and we pride ourselves in saying that we are the most innovative and competitive company in the world. At the heart of our business is innovation and competition. Let me use Nigeria for the basis of this discussion because Nigeria is one of our biggest businesses and in fact it’s top of our business. We have been here for over 50 years and we intend to stay much longer. In Nigeria, our business span a bit bigger, it spans into the deep water and that’s where you see the cutting edge innovation and technology from Shell. We pioneered deep water in Nigeria. We are the technology leaders. We are also a big player in Nigeria LNG, we are part of the Joint venture and the technology use is mainly shells technology.  Although, most people know us for onshore business, however, we are also investing in Gas, both domestic and export.  For us in Nigeria, we want to grow our business especially deep water and with the right environment, Nigeria is a place where we want to invest more. We have invested billions of dollars in our Nigeria business and we will continue to do so especially in the deep water.

And when you talk about the Billions of investment which runs over life cycles and to run this investment and business you need to class people. And that’s where my own part of the business comes to play. We need to find the right people, develop and retain them. As part of a global multinational, we want people who can act locally and think globally. We want Engineers, HR Professionals and accountants who can operate in any part of Shell anywhere in the world. We want people who are confident and capable. However, one of the biggest challenges when you have this pull of talent is to develop and retain them. We make sure that they are happy to work with shell and are developing in there various roles. Shell Nigeria as a matter of fact rank amongst the top 5 in the Shell pull of talent across Shell worldwide, and that’s not by accident; it is as a result of a deliberate action on people development agenda we have in Shell. We at shell are in the business of identifying talent early and nurturing the talent and retaining it. We do this by providing them with stretch assignments. Experience and research has proving that people develop and discover there talents when they are giving stretch assignments.

Apart from the remuneration and compensation, what motivates people to work for Shell? Shell as a company believes in innovation and technology, therefore we pride ourselves as world leaders in this areas. We make sure that considering the competition for talent out there we have to make sure we exceed our people’s expectations. But the most important of all is the motivation of a world class development and brand that shell can provide to the people. You will work for Shell because it will give you an environment that makes you feel as a part of a team. An opportunity to develop to be a world class brand where you can work in any part of the world.