Life Lessons: A risky business

O&G ME speaks to Alexander Larsen, a fellow of the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) and strategic/enterprise & project risk manager for Lukoil in Iraq, about the challenges and highlights of life as an energy sector professional in the country

Alexander Larsen, a fellow of the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) and strategic/enterprise & project risk manager for Lukoil in Iraq
Alexander Larsen, a fellow of the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) and strategic/enterprise & project risk manager for Lukoil in Iraq

How did you get your job?

The first half of my career was as a risk consultant for Marsh, Zurich and DNV. It involved setting up enterprise risk management (ERM) and business continuity management (BCM) frameworks, and running workshops to identify risks within a wide variety of organisations from different industries. The consulting job also took me abroad to Malaysia, which really defined the second half of my career.

I am fortunate to be in a profession that allows extensive travel. I realised pretty quickly that working outside of the UK and Europe was something I wanted to keep doing. As a result, I have spent the last eight years working in the Middle East with Qatar Foundation and Saudi Aramco, before joining Lukoil, which was looking for someone with oil and gas and extensive risk experience for its mega-project in Iraq.

I was made aware of the opportunity through other risk professionals, who I had met at conferences, informal meetings, and through the IRM Qatar and Middle East groups. In fact, all of my jobs since leaving the UK have come out of having a strong network.

What's a typical day like as a risk manager in Iraq?

Working in Iraq is both unique and challenging. I work onsite in shifts (a month on, and a month off). To get to the site, when i first arrive for my shift, we are greeted by several heavily armoured vehicles, six to 10 armoured security guards, and are each provided with a bullet-proof vest. The site is about a two and a half hour drive from the airport.

Once onsite, you are confined to the security perimeter, which is home to an oil treatment facility, well-pads, pipelines, gas power plant and a few other treatment facilities.

We work 12-hour days, which involves a lot of site visits, meetings with managers, superintendents and engineers, to fully understand the risks associated with running the site. Then a lot of quantitative analysis work is undertaken and reports are published for the stakeholders.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Risk management is still a very new concept, with very few people understanding it or even being aware of it. This means you always need to sell the concept in different ways, depending on the person you are dealing with. I enjoy finding innovative solutions to build up support for risk management, whether it’s through presentations, workshops, providing value to a department, or using risk management inputs to support better decision-making.

Following on from this, assuming you are successful, it becomes very clear how the risk culture within the organisation as a whole improves. It gives you a great sense of satisfaction when you get a call from a department, or facility manager requesting a risk workshop. That’s when you know you have been successful in your job.

In terms of working on a major project in Iraq, the most enjoyable aspect of my work is being exposed to extremely unique risks that I would otherwise never get the chance to experience. It will certainly help me in future roles, especially with companies that are considering expansion into new territories.

What are the challenges?

The major challenges of my job are working in shifts. As I work on a month-on/ month-off basis, it means that, for a full month, someone else is responsible for risk management. This can lead to inconsistencies in risks or risk approaches, missed communications, and a lack of continuity. Upon returning to site, it can be quite difficult to catch up with what has been going on for a full month.

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