When researching Ami Arief’s 18-year career in upstream oil and gas, an outsider might look at project metrics, but Arief, senior vice president at Tellurian Production LLC, focuses elsewhere. “You can quote production numbers, but those are really the team’s accomplishments. But I do have a story, looking back upon it, that I would say is my proudest moment,” she says.
“When I first started out in the industry, I was having a difficult time connecting with my coworkers, because I was not only a woman but also a woman of color,” Arief says. But over a decade later, while leading production operations for Southwestern Energy Co. in Arkansas and staying overnight in a Wichita Falls, Texas, motel, Arief perceived a threshold moment.
“[While browsing TV channels in the motel lobby,] the guys started complaining, and that’s when I decided—this is my moment. I stood up with the remote, and I told them, ‘For years I have had to read ESPN summaries on Sunday afternoons for things I don’t actually care about. Today, I am your boss, and I say we watch Project Runway.’”
Arief’s ability to get a half dozen male field engineers to enjoy a fashion design TV series vividly captures her powerful combination of interpersonal skills and leadership drive. This combination has helped Arief throughout her career, which started on Exxon Mobil Corp.’s reservoir engineering team and includes tenure at Goldman Sachs on “one of the first technical teams employed by a financial institution to evaluate energy investments.”
After Arief left Southwestern in 2016, that combination led to another transformative encounter, this time with Charif Souki, chairman of the board for global natural gas company Tellurian Inc.
Arief met Souki in 2017 when fundraising for Impact Natural Resources, an E&P she had co-founded with Goldman Sachs colleague John Howie. However, Arief says, “We wanted [Souki] to invest in our small company, but he turned the table around and said ‘I really like your team, instead of investing in you guys, I want you to come be Tellurian upstream.’
“I have been with Tellurian since,” Arief says. “I lead the geoscience, engineering and operations teams. We have built our small eight-member team to over 30 people, we’ve done a drilling program and now we’re rocking and rolling.” Her team is critical to Tellurian’s planned Driftwood LNG facility, as “the low-cost natural gas that we produce is a hedge to the prices for supply to the plant.”
Tellurian’s global scope is important to Arief because oil and gas’ capacity to transform “not just production or prices or access to energy, but the geopolitics of the world” motivates her.
“I traveled to Beijing in the middle of winter, and it was gray,” she says. “I felt like I could feel myself breathing coal particulates. Clean air is a luxury, and what we are trying to do in the industry, like replacing coal with natural gas, is truly transformative.”
But Arief’s global awareness begins even earlier. Her late father sent Arief and her two sisters from Indonesia to the U.S. in the ’90s for higher education, and he told her, “Money is a depleting asset and can be gone easily, but knowledge is an enriching asset. You will never run out, and you will get more out of it.”
To younger professionals, Arief says that “it’s not so much advice that I want to impart but really more of a plea. There are so many resources here, especially in this country, you can accomplish anything, so my plea is, don’t waste your talents. Don’t waste the resources that you have; there are plenty in the world who are without.”
Arief implements this message in her own team. “I try to hire people who are smarter than me, who I can learn a lot from. I tell them, ‘Hey, one day I hope I can work for you,’ because I feel that’s a true sense of accomplishment.
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