Pilipinas Shell’s Lorelie Quiambao Osial: ‘I don’t believe that leadership has a gender’

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Pilipinas Shell�s Lorelie Quiambao Osial: �I don�t believe that leadership has a gender�
Pilipinas Shell president and CEO Lorelie Quiambao Osial.

The helm of Pilipinas Shell, which has been in the country since 1914, is now powered by a woman a size-XS Iraq veteran who bakes, bikes and boxes when not in the high-fueled corridors of power.

Lorelie Quiambao Osial, 46, the first Filipina to be appointed president and CEO of Pilipinas Shell and country chair of Shell companies in the Philippines, was once stationed to Iraq as finance manager for Basrah Gas Company (BGC), one of the toughest external environments within the Shell portfolio with a $17-billion capital investment. Along with her “toolkit” of talents and street smarts, she brought along with her a hair dryer, which fazed her male colleagues as they were stumped as to where to plug the contraption in an offshore site.

“Apparently I was the first woman to bring a hair dryer to the offshore gas platform. They didn’t really know if I could plug it in or not. We have come a long way,” smiles this Accounting graduate, cum laude, from the Silliman University in Dumaguete. A certified public accountant, Lorelie also holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Western Australia.

Over a Zoom interview, the pixie beauty, a locally-woven Zarah Juan scarf draped around her black turtleneck, and dainty pearls on her earlobes her only accessory, tells us how she crossed the border into what is traditionally a man’s world without losing her femininity.

“When you go through a journey, one does not really know at the onset, to be honest, what awaits you. What you can do is really to just have courage and determination, as you take the first step. And then be ready and open to the possibilities or what could be the twists and turns that may come your way.”

In her case, she let her road map have these prominent guideposts:

“Curiosity; realistic optimism; finding purpose and passion; continuing to challenge myself to grow and develop; and finding the courage to be able to do things I have never done before.”

And aside from all the above, she credits her strong support system for fueling her journey. Raised by hardworking parents (her mom was also a career woman when Lorelie and her siblings were growing up), “Lori” is the youngest child.

“I had really good role models, both men and women,” says this happily married wife of Arvie Osial and mother of a 10-year-old son. “Growing up, I was sheltered but what they ingrained in me is I can be whoever I want to be. And the first barrier for me is actually myself, that it is in me to try new things and to not be afraid to do something different.”

Making history

That she made history, not only in Pilipinas Shell but in the local petroleum industry by being the first woman at the helm of a leading oil refining and marketing business, is attributed by Lori to the person that she is — not only the woman that she is.

“To be honest with you, I don’t really believe that leadership has a gender,” stresses Lori, who rides the bike and boxes to de-stress.  “I think traditionally, there have been, you could say, coined masculine leadership styles and feminine leadership styles. But if you look at the last few years, there has really been less focus on those, and more on gender-neutral leadership styles. What is important is that as a leader, you continue to develop yourself in different leadership styles, and being able to expand your toolkit. It is also important that you recognize your own strengths. And that you are really aware of your organization and the environment around you, and how you come across.”

Looking back, she shares, “If I go through my leadership journey or even my journey in Shell, and in what colleagues have come to accept, is that I am a unique individual and I am multi-dimensional. One dimension is my gender, but I am a leader, I am an innovator. I am also a daughter, I am a mother, I am a sibling, I am a wife, and that makes me a whole person. All of those make me the unique whole person that I am.”

She refuses to typecast anyone based on gender, and does not immediately agree that women are more empathetic as leaders.

“I see men leaders who also demonstrate empathy. I think as a woman leader, you can be empathetic, and you can also be task-oriented.”

Being the youngest child, and being a woman, has she ever had to fight for a seat at the table in her rise to the top, or shall I say, her rise to the kabisera?

“I think everyone has to fight for a seat at the table, regardless if you’re male or female. To be honest, it is a question also of which table. Because as a finance person, then it could be that you are fighting for that seat as a finance person. It could be that you are fighting for that seat as an Asian. It could be that you’re fighting for that seat as a female, or in some cases where it is now, as a male. So I think we all do that, to be honest, depending on what table it is, and who else is at the table. It’s your skills, your capabilities, competencies, and the values that you bring,” says Lori.

Did she break any glass ceilings or she simply didn’t see the ceilings for the sky?

“I think I have been in different situations, different teams where I was, or am, a minority in different aspects. I guess I’ve worked in several teams, numerous teams, where I was the only Asian and the only female in that space. I think in Iraq at the time, we were three percent female.”

So, yes, there were glass ceilings, and many have punched through them.

“Now in Pilipinas Shell, from all our businesses, we’re actually more than 50 percent female. If I look at leadership positions, then we are actually almost at 50-50. In the most senior levels, then we are not yet 50-50, so it’s still majority males in the top level.”

So how does it feel to have travelled the world, crossed many borders and conquered many worlds?

“I am terribly honored in that sense. I think for me, women are as capable as men. As I mentioned, leadership does not have gender. It is an honor for me to be the first (female Pilipinas Shell president) but I think, as US Vice President Kamala Harris has said, ‘I hope I won’t be the last.’  And for me, I do hope that I will also pave the way for more women to really embrace that possibility and that future as well.”

As captain of the ship, her coordinates are clear. “We have been in the Philippines for 107 years, and we aim to continue powering progress, continuing to grow, continuing to innovate and evolve our business for our customers, investors, society, our planet, and to partner with the country in nation-building."

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez @yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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