Have you ever wondered what it's like to work in a specific job or field? We're interviewing women about their professional life—from what she studied, to what she does in her day-to-day, and even her own personal #DailyDose mantra. Join us as we take a walk In Her Shoes.
Name: Pamela Skaufel
Born in Ireland
Educational Background: Geology and Petroleum Geology, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, 1992–1996
Current Position: Director of Aviation and Marine Lubricants for Exxon Mobil
Professional Background: Right after graduation, Pamela worked as a financial analyst for British Airways. She moved to Mobil in 1998 and has worked for them for almost 22 years.
Interviewer: Margaret Handel
Verily: What is your role within your company?
Pamela Skaufel: I’m part of what’s called the Fuels and Lubricants Company, and I’m one of six people on the board of directors for the vice president for that division.
In blending plants, which are usually near our oil refineries, we mix specialty ingredients with a base oil that comes from the refinery to form lubricants with different properties for different industrial, or in our case, aviation and marine applications. My job is to make sure that we create a product that our customers need, and to do that I need to understand what the shipping industry is doing, what the aviation industry is doing, what types of aircraft they’re building, what sort of engines they’re using, are they going to become more efficient, and what the properties of those engines are. Once I’ve done that, we have a great team of engineers and scientists who formulate these products that the market needs, and we blend them at the plants. I have a team of a hundred people around the world who sell these products to the customers.
Verily: What is your favorite part of the job?
PS: My favorite part of the job is dealing with our customers. I love hearing stories about how they use our products or how they need them, how it makes them successful. It’s really heartening to know you can’t move a ship or an aircraft unless it has lubricant oils, right? I mean, these products are necessary, and I love hearing that our customers are really surprised at how well our new oils are performing for them, or how long they’re able to use them in a new engine type. I really get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that people and goods are moved around the world every day with our product in their vessels or their aircraft.
Verily: Your job seems to be very international. What are some of the challenges that you’ve encountered with a job that requires you to be all over the world?
PS: I think the most challenging part is making sure you have a team that’s representative of the global business that you’re in—so we don’t just have 100 Americans, sitting here in Houston, Texas. We have a team of 100 people based in 22 countries around the world, anywhere from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, and all throughout Europe and the Middle East. The challenge with all of that is, people do business differently and you have to be able to connect to the communities that you live in and the people you do business with. You have to have people who understand that.
As the manager of a global team, I also have to be very cognizant of the fact that not everyone does things the same way. You have to develop some skill sets, like knowing how different people work, how what is culturally acceptable in one country may be different in another. You have to have emotional and empathy skills beyond just dealing with people in the United States every day. I’m not American, I’m from Ireland, and we do business differently from the way that someone in the United States would. You have to become a diplomat; you have to be skilled at international relations. The hardest part of my job is making sure that I am culturally sensitive to every single type of situation. There’s always something new that comes up. I said “sensitive,” but perhaps the better word is “professional”; it’s about being professional in those situations. I don’t want to be the person causing an international incident because of how I do business!
Verily: After 22 years of experience, do you have any advice to give to a woman who is looking ahead at a demanding career such as yours which requires varied skills she doesn't yet have?
PS: Always seize an opportunity if you get it. There will always be opportunities you’re presented, whether it’s an internship or a chance to vacation in another country, or to move to a different location with a company you haven’t worked with before. I think you’ve got to take those opportunities when you see them because you never, ever know if you’re going to get them again. You’ve got to be brave and take them, and take them early.
I would also say that you’ve got to use every opportunity as a moment for learning, even if it’s just learning a little bit of the language of the country you’re going to. Spend your plane ride learning the basic greetings for the country you’re going to visit—it has a huge impact on the people that you’re with! Once you get back from those countries, spend time keeping your connections strong. That helps you build relationships going forward, and again, it may open opportunities for things you want to do.
Be brave, take the opportunities, immerse yourself when you can in that culture, and take those lessons back with you. If you keep repeating that, you’ve suddenly built up a lot of experience. When I look back, there’s hardly a country I haven’t been to or a situation I haven’t encountered or a business scenario I can’t manage—and I now have this repertoire of experience that you can’t easily replicate.
Verily: What is your favorite country you’ve visited so far?
PS: I love Australia. I think it’s a unique country in that it’s so far away, and it has a melting pot of Asian and European cultures, and so it’s created its own “island-type” mentality, even though it’s a continent!
I also love Japan. It’s the only country in the world that speaks Japanese. How cool is that? They have a very unique culture which I find fascinating. I love the simplicity of how they live, the attention to detail they give to things, and how gracious Japanese people are.
Verily: Do you have a quote or mantra you turn to often in your work?
PS: I run, that’s the way I energize every day—I’m a marathon runner. I started using my mantra because I wanted to build my strength in marathons and to remind myself that I can do this. So on every difficult running day, I think, “Someday I won't be able to do this. Today is not that day.”