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Stephane de Mahieu: "I leave Atyrau with warmth in my soul"

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Interviewed by Zeena Urynbassarova

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Recently the Managing Director of North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC) Stephane de Mahieu left the position that he was holding since May, 2014. Before his departure from Atyrau he agreed to give interview to “Ak Zhaik" newspaper.


- Stephane, in comments that people left under the news about you leaving the project, posted on our website, there were a few warm comments. Was it pleasant to know?

- Sure (Of course?). I believe that like all expatriates working in a host country, I had a certain task (mission?). To start, always remember you are a guest. It means respecting and honoring your host, particularly when it comes to local traditions and ways of functioning. Second, realize you are only here for a short time and concentrate your efforts on bringing as much as you can over that period. This does not only mean do the work, but also train and develop local staff to be ready to do the work in the future. Finally, it means try to understand the values and history of the host country, there is so much to learn in so little time, but it is extremely valuable to complete the mission.

As a leader, I always try to clearly articulate my vision of what it will look like when we have accomplished our mission. I try to find a good balance between respect and patience for our people and decisive energy to focus on the mission and the work at hand. As a person, I try to be accessible and open, and break down barriers inside the company, creating the most productive work environment possible.

About Environmental Code of Kazakhstan. You were blamed for the attempt to “push" changes to it, that could've optimized the activities on the project. Is it really so?

-I certainly did not attempt, by myself, to advocate changes in the Environmental Code of Kazakhstan. This is something for the Kazakhstani people to decide for themselves. I would however observe that one of the country's strategies is to improve Investment Climate to attract more foreign investors to Kazakhstan. Rules and regulations are significant factors when foreign investors have options to choose to invest in different countries. They compare. I personally believe that improving the Environmental Code and making it more comparable to internationally recognized codes would strongly improve the Investment Climate. This is not about allowing harmful impact on the environment; it is about providing operating flexibility that enables operations to be optimized while remaining well within permitted limits.


- How was your life and work in Kazakhstan?

- I enjoyed working in Atyrau and building the new NCOC, the single operating company in charge of North Caspian oil and gas developments. It was hard work with a lot of issues to address, but eventually we succeeded together in implementing this reorganization with relatively limited impact on local staff while progressing the pipeline rehabilitation and the facilities restart activities on schedule.

I enjoyed living in Atyrau and discovering parts of Kazakhstan and Central Asia that I did not know before. In particular, I admire Kazakhstani crafts like felt and silver as well as traditional music.

- I heard you singing Abai's song "Aittym salem, Kalamkas"… Why did you sing in Kazakh, all of sudden,?

- Music is such an extraordinary expression of people's values and feelings. Kazakh melodies in general are extremely romantic and have an identity of their own, they are unique. To us Europeans, they sound familiar, the melody feels familiar, but then a chord or an inflection in the melody or the rhythm will suddenly reveal that it is something special.

So, when I heard “Aittym salem, Kalamkas", even sang by Placido Domingo in Astana some time ago, I could not refrain from learning it.

- In what other countries you worked?

- I have worked in Belgium, France, the United States of America, Chad, Angola and Kazakhstan. I have also travelled to many countries in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia.


- You visited Kashagan's mausoleum located out in the wilderness, it is difficult to get there. I don't remember that a single expatriate manager visited that place. Why did you go? Maybe you thougth that Kashagan's spirit got angry, and you wanted to soften his spirit? Joke.

As you know, NCOC has a significant logistics base in Bautino and finances significant Social Infrastructure projects in Mangistau, just like in Atyrau oblast. So, I go there regularly.

Even before arriving here, I was curious where the name of the large offshore oil field was coming from. I learned Kashagan was a famous poet and read a few poems of his. I was intrigued. When I learned his mausoleum was in Mangistau, I wanted to go there and pay my respects. It was just a natural thing to do, I was not aware to be the first NCOC MD to do that. We were welcomed by one of his descendants, in a pure traditional Kazakh way.

You may joke, but I don't believe that Kashagan is angry, that is not the nature of the man that wrote this poetry, and I am not superstitious. I am just genuinely interested in learning and appreciating. I was very surprised when so many asked me about this visit and the reasons for it.

- What have you planned to do and didn't manage to implement in this project?

- The answer is of course the restart of Kashagan production. While we have made tremendous progress and the various work scopes are indeed slightly ahead of schedule, there is still a lot of work to be done, this winter on-shore and from the spring onwards both on- and off-shore. I send my best wishes for success in 2016, to all employees of North Caspian Operating Company and to the new Managing Director.

- What are the perspectives of you future job?

- I will return to ExxonMobil and continue to serve our global business to the best of my abilities.

January 8 2016, 10:36

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