Pierre Breber, Executive Vice President of Downstream and Chemicals, Chevron
You've spent your entire professional career – nearly 30 years – at Chevron. How has the company changed since you joined as a financial analyst in 1989?
So much has changed. The company is bigger and our workforce is more global and diverse. Our operations are safer, more reliable, and have a smaller impact on the environment. Due to innovative new technologies, we find and produce oil and natural gas in places unimaginable back when I started. And how we work has changed dramatically. The pace is so much faster and we collaborate across the company much more efficiently and effectively. At the same time, a lot is the same. The values of the company are largely unchanged. Demand for our products continues to grow as more and more people around the globe improve their quality of life.
What are some of the specific leadership lessons that you learned early on in your career that you still use today?
My biggest learnings came from 360 degree feedback processes and the resulting coaching. My leadership style was fast paced, clear, and decisive. This style connected with many of my direct reports and peers – but not all. That's not good enough if I want to get the best out of everyone. So I learned to slow down, ask a lot of questions, and listen with an open mind before stating my views or making a decision. This helped with those with whom I was not connecting. But everyone else also appreciated the change. Who doesn't want to be asked for their views and feel that their opinion is valued and respected?
Chevron has been very public about their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. How have you personally experienced the benefits of a diverse workforce?
I've seen the benefits in better decision making, a more engaged workforce, and a closer connection to the communities in which we operate. So the business imperative to me has never been in doubt. But I've learned that the journey is challenging. I've worked hard to overcome my unconscious biases and appreciate our differences. I've challenged myself to adapt to the next generation of Chevron employees whose expectations are different from mine. The world is more competitive and disruptive than ever before. To continue as a leading company, Chevron needs each of its employees to bring their whole self to work, to be authentic and true to who they are, and to add to the mix rather than fit in to the cultural norm.
You've spent most of your life in the United States, but spent time earlier in your career as the managing director of Chevron's Asia South Business Unit. What impact did that international experience have on how you view the company or your work?
My expat assignments in Scotland and Thailand were incredibly developmental for me both professionally and personally. Working in another culture is humbling and stretches us in ways that can't be replicated in our home country. And we got closer as a family from the shared experiences. But one of my biggest takeaways from my time in Asia is the importance of Chevron's work. In Bangladesh as an example, Chevron produces more than half of the country's natural gas. If the company is not reliable, then power is not available, factories are shut down, people's livelihoods are impacted, and on and on. In the developed world, we take for granted that the energy that is essential to our way of life is always available. My time in Asia reminded me that's not the case for hundreds of millions of people – and that inspires me at work.
What role have mentors or sponsors played in your career? Who do you turn to for advice today?
Like so many, I've benefited from mentors throughout my career. But after almost 30 years, they've retired from Chevron. So now, I tell each of my direct reports that they're my advisors. I have a team with vast and diverse experiences. If I help to create the right environment, I have easy access to the best advice available.
You serve as a board member of the United Way of the Bay Area. People often focus on the professional skills that they can apply as a volunteer, but what have you learned from your volunteer experiences that you bring back to Chevron?
The non-profit sector is also prone to disruption. The United Way of Bay Area has been leading change and adapting its business model to an evolving donor landscape. Just like donors have choices, so do investors. Chevron must continue to adapt its value proposition to be competitively advantaged. The company has succeeded for over 135 years – and I expect that success to continue long after I retire.