The adventures of a Qatari abroad

An increasing number of Qataris are working for Maersk Oil, in more senior and technical roles. Saleem Al-Yafei, who has taken a full-time role in Denmark, explains why he made the move and how others can benefit from following the same route.

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Working at global headquarters is giving Saleem Al-Yafei a better understanding of the business. Photo: Peter Elmholt

Maersk Oil in Qatar

  • Production from the Al Shaheen field started in 1994 and it currently accounts for about 40% of Qatar’s oil output.
  • The discovery was made in the 1970s and well known to oil majors, but thought to be impossible to develop commercially. The application of drilling, stimulation and completion techniques developed in the tight chalk reservoirs of the Danish North Sea were crucial to unlocking the field’s complexity. 
  • Maersk Oil is supporting Qatar’s development plans in terms of both natural and human resources. Qatarization is an integral part of that vision and 24% of the workforce is composed of Qatari nationals, half of whom work in technical fields.

Saleem Al-Yafei smiles as he looks out over a rare spot of early spring Copenhagen sunshine, and considers when he might best ­introduce his family to the city he is starting to call home.

Saleem is the first Qatari to take a full-time role at Maersk Oil’s headquarters, and he arrived for the two-year contract as global head of maintenance discipline in November 2014, just as the nights and temperatures were drawing in.

“Adjusting to the new surroundings hasn’t been too difficult, but being away from family is not easy. Nevertheless, when you look at the career development and the advantages, you tend to make some compromises,” Saleem says, thinking of his wife Jawaher – or ­“jewels” in English – and four children back in Doha. “The plan is to bring them here in the summertime.”

Maersk Oil’s employees come from around the world and its Qatari workforce reflects an aim to help build global experience and international learning by offering opportunities in different locations, encouraging diversity.

New skills

Saleem was already an experien­ced mechanical engineer when he joined Maersk Oil Qatar (MOQ) in August 2012, having previously worked for ORYX GTL, a joint venture between Qatar Petroleum and Sasol South Africa. His initial role was in maintenance as senior integrity & reliability engineer, and he quickly progressed to become the deputy director of the integrity and reliability department before seizing the opportunity to move to Maersk Oil headquarters.

Copenhagen was important for Saleem because it is the global headquarters, and his new role encompasses Maersk Oil’s business units around the world. This gives a different global perspective than that he would see from Doha, or any other Maersk Oil office.

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“I will definitely return to Qatar with a better understanding of how operations and maintenance works across Maersk Oil. I would then ­utilise this knowledge to position Maersk Oil Qatar for the future. I’m sure that I will be ­better qualified when I go back.”

Qatar’s government encourages companies to identify and develop competent Qatari nationals so that they can assume leading positions in the public and private sector, a programme known as Qatarisation, which has a target of 50% local employees. There is a small local population of less than 300,000, or about 12% of total residents, and a high demand for talent from companies.

It needs the support and ­commitment of experienced Qatari and expatriate staff at all levels to develop and train nationals. ­“Employees like Saleem, who have been on assignment outside the country, offer a good example of the opportunities and add more expertise and perspective when they return,” says Sheikh Jassim bin Saud al-Thani, Maersk Oil’s Head of Qatarization.

More to follow

The number of Qatari employees has doubled in the last five years as Maersk Oil has implemented a comprehensive Qatarisation plan, and those with a bachelor’s degree have increased.

“Maersk Oil aims to develop Qataris into the leaders of tomorrow by offering real jobs with real responsibility,” says Sheikh Jassim. About a quarter of Maersk Oil’s employees in the country are Qatari nationals, half of whom work in technical fields.

“We are constantly looking for new ways to develop our people and provide opportunities for them to gain new skills to allow them to take on more responsibility, either as managers or specialists,” says Sheikh Jassim.

The benefits are already clear for Saleem, who is looking forward to introducing his family to the adventure of new experiences in Denmark.

 “I am the first Qatari to come to Copenhagen on a full-time basis, but there are a few who would like to follow.

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