Ali Chareuf is currently amongthe longest serving employees at one of the major oil and gas operating companies in Abu Dhabi. He has been in the oil and gas industry for over 40 years, 35 of which have been spent in Abu Dhabi. In our exclusive interview, Ali tells us a bit about his experiences and the journey that brought him to where he is today.
“I was born and raised in Oran, the second largest city in Algeria. I come from quite a large family that was supported primarily by my mother, bless her soul, after the death of my father in the Algerian revolution. Needless to say, we had to bear a lot of responsibilities starting at an early age, one of the most important of which was helping out at home by getting decent jobs to support the family.”
Ali’s career in the oil and gas industry started in Algeria where he took up employment at the first LNG plant in the country. “This was the starting point of my education. I was curious about everything. My first project was working as a cost controller on the construction phase of the LNG plant which strictly involved civil engineering work. However, I was still able to learn a lot about the basics of oil and gas operations through this project and found myself drawn to what I believed to be the next big thing.”
After a stint of two years and a change in management, Ali switched to a different company. This one specialized in seismic research and took him into the desert on his first typical oil and gas work rotation cycle. “I learned so much everyday,and life in the desert was most exciting and enriching. This was a different discipline but still within the oil and gas industry. I spent two years working in the Algerian desert and this is where I was first introduced to the United Arab Emirates and the opportunities that existed in the oil and gas industry there.” Ali explains.
“My move to the UAE was pure coincidence. I was young and looking for adventure when a friend introduced me to a UAE based company that supplied chemical products to the oil and gas industry and who were interested in my services. Since I was curious about the fast-growing UAE, which at that time was just starting to make noise in the world scene, I signed a one-year contract and I have been in the UAE since. That was in 1976.”
Ali spent his first year in Abu Dhabi working for the chemical products provider and learning more about the local oil and gas market and the work opportunities that were available in the field. He later discovered that the creation of a new oil and gas operating company was in the pipelinein Abu Dhabi and began to investigate how he could become a part of this new development. “I thought this was just the opportunity for me to develop my career and join a young company on a long journey. In retrospect, this was the best decision I ever made and I feel very fortunate to have joined this company at the very initial stage to grow with it and see it prosper through all the new technologies and challenges over the decades.”
Ali started his new career in the drilling department of the company at a very entry level position. “Since the field was new when I joined the present company, I was tasked with gathering data from a sister company working on the same field but on a different level reservoir. Thedata I collected was vital to creating drilling programs suitable and optimum for the drilling operations. Based on the data gathered, I started working with other engineers in the preparation of drilling programs.” This first glimpse into the oil and gas sector was enough to convince Ali that he would make a long term career in the field and learn to be among the best.
After a year of working the“desk job,” as Ali refers to it,it was time for a new challenge. He wanted to learn and experience more of what the oil industry had to offer. Ali went to his manager and told him he was keen to learn more and wanted a bigger challenge. At that time, the company was just starting up a training program. “Lucky for me, I spoke French fluently and was able to get along with the predominantly French management team at the time,” he says with a smile. “The management was willingto invest in sending me on a pilot training course that took me to France, the UK, and Algeria for a year of theoretical and practical training which lasted a lifetime.” Ali counts himself lucky to have received this opportunity and continues by saying, “It was perfect timing. The company was new and investing heavily in all areas of development including training. Just a year after my training course, the program was scaled down as many new trainees had now joined the company and the costs had become too high. In-house and local training programs would replace the training experience that I was lucky to have!”
Once Ali completed his year-long course, he joined the oil rig’s offshore team as a trainee, where the time came to get his hands dirty. Ali looks back fondly at these days where the dress code wasa pair of orange overalls, safety boots, anda hard hat and where work involved hard work and sweat all day, especially in the summer time. This is in sharp contrast to the air conditioned office he sits in today where he manages well service operations from the comfort of the desk. Soon after his trainee experience, Ali took on the responsibility as the company representative overseeing the full drilling operation on the rig, a quick promotion he attributes to hard work and his inquisitive and knowledge-seeking nature which helped him learn the ropes fast. Ali spent five years as a supervisor on the rigs.Reminiscing about this time, Ali says, “The rig operation was always very exciting and there was something new every day for me. There were challenges, excitement,and above all, achievements and progress.”
After five years on the oil rigs, Ali decided to switch from drilling to production. He remembers clearly when he decided it was time to move back to land. “Five years in, I remember coming home one day and was taken by surprise to notice how much my son had grown. I realized that I had missed out on watching my child grow up and wanted to be closer to home. I did my research and tried my luck again with the management for a position at the corporate office. Thankfully, timing was right once again and a suitable position was available.”Alihascovered several positions with the various production sections, mainly well servicing,with a particular focus on well integrity.
We asked Ali where he gained the most important experience of his career and howthe experience helpedhim reach his current position. Ali’s answer was simple: “I gained experience everywhere I worked. It is very important to cover multidisciplinary tasks in order to excel in your job and though there are many disciplines, they are all related and it is good to have a thorough knowledge of the wells from the start of the drilling to the production lifecycle. But having said that, I would say the drilling phase was remarkably rewarding in terms of learning and the knowledge gained is an asset to your career in any oil and gas position.”
Ali is currentlyone ofthe longest serving employees at theoil and gas field development company he is working for. We asked Ali to identify some of the most remarkable changes and improvements that hehaswitnessed during his tenure and how the company has transformed over the decades. He replies, “As I explained earlier, I was blessed to join this company 38 years ago; I saw it from a very young company of about 100 employees to about 5000 now.I have witnessed amazing advancements in the oil and gas sector technology and we were blessed with possibilities to attend oil shows and conferences around the world to learn and share the best global practices and latest technologies.I have co-written a paper on a project experience carried out for the first time in the Middle East and I am very proud of that. This project is a chain of new successful technologies and operating optimization.”
Ali remarks how the equipment used 30 years ago to drill wells is obsolete now and has been completely replaced bynew technologies. He is still amazed at the pace of development and technological advancement that his company and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi as a whole are experiencing. “Every year we are introduced to new technologies. From drilling and production techniques and equipment, to process automation and HRMS (human resource management systems), we are always learning and improving here. As an example, earlier we could drill a deviated well up a certain inclination of about 70 degrees. Now we are able to drill at any depth horizontally for over 10,000 feet. This is something that was not achievablejust a short time ago, at least not to my knowledge. Such a long horizontal hole would provide for maximum production from the reservoir penetrated. This was the biggest challenge and one of the biggest achievements I have witnessed in my field of expertise.”
“At the earlier stages, there were no computersin the company. Then, the secretaries were issued one each, and now every employee has a computer and most of our work is done through them, using so many applications that make communication and life much easier.”
We went on to ask Ali what the best or most influential projects have been that hehas managed or has been a part of during his career. He replied, “In my career I have worked on so many projects and on various project elements, but the most challenging project, which I oversaw from initial study to actual implementation and eventual success, and which I have co-written a paper on,was a project to run a tool that would reach and enter any chosen lateral hole in a multi-lateral well.”
Finally, Ali shares his views on the future of oil and gas in the UAE: “The UAE’soil and gas industry has a lot of potential and vast oil and gas reserves to last for a long time to come.With the implementation of the new technologies and drilling and production techniques, the UAE will have good control of the oil and gas market for the foreseeable future.” He further describes some of the more interesting projects that are taking place in the field.“Personally, one of the most fascinating new techniques that has been deployed to increase efficiency in the long run is the building of man-made islands off the coast of the capital to reduce the high costs of offshore drilling versus onshore drilling techniques.This technique is now being applied by most offshore operating companies.”
When asked what projects and contributions Ali would like to see completed before the end of his career, he replies by saying,“I look forward to materializing all the projects I am involved in and basically phasing out all old generation services and replacing them with the new, up to date technologies.”
When asked what the key drivers of success in any organization are, Ali responds, “The most important company assetsare theemployees and therefore, full-fledged training matrices should be implemented and invested in to enhance employees’ skills.They, in turn, will apply these skills in their daily tasksfor the profit and eventual prosperity of the company.”
Ali says that coaching, mentoring, and knowledge-sharing programs are also among the key training and development methods that all organizations should deploy. He gives us a real time example: “Furthermore, I have been, for so many years now, sharing my experience and knowledge with my colleagues. As part of company training strategies, I have been, among other experienced colleagues, officially assigned to coach, guide, and assess newly recruited locals on training involved in my disciplines. My pleasure and pride is to impart my experience and knowledge to others.”
In Ali’s concluding statement of the interview, he responds to the question of how to attain or maximize one’s personal and professional development by saying,“One should be ambitious and there should be love in whatever you are doing. In this manner, you are focused and taking in very easily all that is happening around you and whatever is thrown at you with a positive attitude. Success will simply follow.”by