Jeyanthi Ramasamy : Youngest Director Stays Calm When The Stakes are High
Recently appointed to the Board of Directors at Rohas Tecnic, the engineering professional breaks stereotypes and talks about her involvement in deepwater projects, what it takes to lead and tips on negotiating successfully.
As a professional and leader, Dr Ir Jeyanthi Ramasamy comes across confident, knowledgeable and brimming with energy. She happens to be one of the few Malaysians who has specialised in deepwater subsea engineering. She has spent a lot of time honing her skills in this area and to her credit, delivered on the first Shell Malaysia deepwater project, the Gumusut-Kakap (GK) project.
Managing large projects
The GK field is Malaysia’s second deepwater development after the Kikeh oil field, also offshore Sabah. Their full development system comprises 19 subsea wells which are linked to a permanent structure of the semi-FPS (floating production system) and an oil export pipeline that will bring crude oil to the Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal in Kimanis, Sabah. This project has allowed Shell to share deepwater expertise with Malaysian energy companies and assist in the Malaysian government’s goal to create an offshore industry hub.
In 2008, Jeyanthi joined Shell Malaysia as a subsea engineer. At that time, all the experienced subsea engineers were expatriates and Jeyanthi was hired as part of the expatriate-to-local knowledge transfer model. Jeyanthi shared, “The first year was tough because I had to learn everything from scratch. It was a steep learning curve. But within a year I was able to run subsea engineering and the project detail. In mid 2011, my team lead decided to return to his home country and he made a recommendation to senior management that I should be his replacement.”
Initially, they were reluctant to do so but with his promise to provide remote guidance to Jeyanthi until she could take off smoothly, they agreed. Six months later, Jeyanthi was managing it with minimal supervision.
The project was massive on many levels.
When asked what she considered the three primary factors that contributed to her success in the project, Jeyanthi raised the following. First, trust was key. The GK project was really a testing ground for her capabilities. She found herself facing many others who were either nervous or unsure about whether she could deliver on such an immense scope. She focused on the few who trusted and supported her throughout the entire project delivery, commenting that it was their trust and confidence which allowed her to push ahead and go the distance. In her mind, she couldn’t afford to let them down and with that, she succeeded.
Second, her determination was critical. In her words, “I was hungry for an opportunity and GK came at the right time. I grabbed it. I was so determined to deliver it, on time and on budget. In many ways, the GK umbilical project was my first baby before my daughter was born.”
Third, confidence made the difference. Jeyanthi was told many, many times that she was too young but it only served to strengthen her resolve.”There is always a first time for anything you do. When people said I was too young, that only made me more determined to succeed. I believe in hard work and being confident in my abilities,” she explained. And this has made the difference regardless of the size of teams she has managed, from as small as 20 to as large as 100.
What leadership style did she find works best across rank, culture, language and personality?
Jeyanthi talked firstly about open and honest conversations. “This is about discussion without a hidden agenda and about walking the talk. You’ve got to say what you do and do what you say. I can’t stress enough the importance of communicating well. For the first few years in this role, I spent most of my time on the shop floor – the manufacturing plants. I was side by side with the workers during morning meetings, at lunch breaks, during the discussions in the evenings and even during the night shifts, all the while monitoring progress. I find that when I take charge of a project, I need to connect to everyone across all levels.When things are not moving according to the plan, I find that people are willing to share their ideas to bring the project back on track when they see a leader who they can trust. So, for this reason, I find that an open and honest leadership works best for me, regardless of rank, culture, language or even personality.”
We touched on negotiation skills, something Jeyanthi articulated as one of her strengths. In her opinion, the majority of oil and gas projects are high risk, high-value investments. In the course of managing a few large contracts, it began to dawn upon her that people have a tendency not to read and understand all the details associated with a given project. Consequently, they may arrive at the negotiation table less prepared.
“The devil’s in the details. Before I get into any negotiation, I gather and read through all relevant information. This could include past meeting notes, specifications, the contract itself and any correspondence. I believe that the secret to a successful negotiation is to walk into your meeting with a win-win plan. This means that I prepare a list of ‘gives and takes’ which I can present during the negotiation. Sometimes, I even run a mock practice session with my senior management team so that I can explore various strategies that may work,” Jeyanthi elaborated.
What I found particularly interesting is when Jeyanthi referred to the use of threats. By this, I mean the fact that some people may use seniority or something else as a threatening strategy as part of the negotiation process. When this happens, she stays resolute. This can be pretty nerve-wracking. On one occasion, Jeyanthi was asked, by a contractor, to sign an indemnity waiver form for a vessel load activity. This took place 12 hours before the said activity was to take place. She declined to sign and went home, with rising anxiety that the contractor might go as far as put the job on hold. This was sure to cause project delays. But she stayed firm, returning the next morning to find the load out completed successfully. In her words, “it is absolutely essential to stay calm and composed when the stakes are high”.
Is there any advice Jeyanthi would share with those who are starting out in their career? Are there particular things they should focus their energies on?
“Understand one thing. Generally, an engineering degree is like a passport – it allows you to travel but it does not guarantee a fabulous holiday,” she commented. “There is a vast amount of knowledge to learn and apply after graduation. In addition to the technical knowledge you’ve acquired during your studies, you also need to master soft skills. You need to learn about stakeholder management, logistics, finance, auditing and supply chain management. The list goes on and on. What you want to do is take any assignment that’s given to you and deliver it to the best of your ability. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Be curious and always ask questions.”
In terms of the early stages of a new project or initiative, Jeyanthi shared three tips. First, focus on all the project details down to the smallest level. When in doubt, ask questions. Do not assume or take things for granted. Second, study and monitor the project budget and lastly, identify the major risks to the project and develop a mitigation plan to deal with potential setbacks.
The youngest board director at Rohas Tecnic Berhad, an appointment that was recently made in August this year, Jeyanthi is buzzing with energy and excitement at this new turn of events.
At 35, many consider her young for such a role. But in her mind, there are many stereotypes out there about taking on directorships and being of the right age, having a particular social status or your network etc. But merit stands out the most and it is this she accords her success to.
“I am a typical working woman, like many of you out there. Reading my story should, hopefully, motivate other young driven women who want to get out of their comfort zone and truly excel. I came from humble beginnings. I grew up in a tea plantation as both my parents were tea plantation workers. Was it a tough life? Yes, it was. But I had a vision of what I wanted for myself and with the support of my family and those around me, I am finding that these dreams are possible with enough time, energy and dedication,” Jeyanthi explained.
“I never separated my family life from my career or studies. I know people often say you need to sacrifice one to achieve success in the other areas but I do believe that your family, career and educational journey can be balanced with discipline and the support from those around you. I’ve been lucky to have the support of my husband, Raj, who has continually pushed and encouraged me to pursue professional development. This makes all the difference when not everyone around you is supportive. My parents have also been there for me. I choose to limit my social life, being very selective of any activities that need to fit around my schedule because when it comes to my work, nothing holds me back. My proudest moment was when I was 20 weeks pregnant and I went offshore for an installation campaign for four weeks. I felt my baby’s first movement on the construction vessel.”
Dr Ir Jeyanthi Ramasamy is Technical Solutions Manager at Oceaneering which specialises in deepwater oilfield services, subsea products, well intervention and intervention vessels among other things. An engineer (petroleum) by profession, she has worked on various oil and gas projects, delivering a few projects with massive capital. She commenced her career, upon graduation, as a Drilling Engineer at Talisman Malaysia Limited in 2006. Armed with a PhD in Subsea Asset Integrity from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia and a Master of Technology (Petroleum) from Curtin University of Technology, Australia, Jeyanthi has recently been appointed as an independent Non-Executive Director at Rohas Tecnic Berhad in August this year.