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[Editor's note: Influential Women In Energy 2021 is a supplement to the May 2021 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.]

Sheila O. Al-Rowaily wasn’t always sure she wanted to have a career in the energy industry, or even in finance and investments.

“I wanted to get practical experience in a large corporation before moving on and opening my own design office,” she said. “Needless to say, here I am with the most exciting job, working alongside some of the most knowledgeable and inspiring leaders and professionals with Aramco, without a dull moment on any given day.”

Once she did decide on the energy industry, she set her sights specifically on working with Aramco, the largest energy company in the world and one of the most sought-after employers in Saudi Arabia, particularly for women.

Today she runs one of Aramco’s subsidiaries that is responsible for investing Saudi Aramco Group Companies’ pension funds and defines contribution portfolios in addition to other long-term investment portfolios. Such investments are either done through mandating some of the leading investment firms or directly investing in debt, equity and real assets.

“I believe the oil and gas industry is vital for the development and sustainability of any country or society where affordable energy is conducive to a better living standard, improved mobility and is an enabler to countless industries that contribute to the productivity and growth of all economies.”

Overcoming challenges 

“Like most women who find themselves in a male-dominated industry, I realized I needed to put in greater effort and show that I could deliver similar results, or better, than my male colleagues to be noticed. Additionally, I focused on building my self-confidence and assertiveness, while at the same time making sure I was a committed and resilient team player, so as to encourage others to be more accepting of me and therefore cooperative. I believe that both perseverance and trust in my capabilities were the drivers for overcoming all the challenges, which I viewed to be more of opportunities to learn and grow.”

Major milestones 

Al-Rowaily said becoming treasurer of Aramco Services Co., the U.S. subsidiary of Aramco, is among her top milestones. 

“The Aramco Group treasurer at the time nominated me and encouraged me to assume this challenging role in 2006. It was my first leadership experience, which helped prepare me for bigger and more complex responsibilities later in Aramco.”

That role, of course, is her current one as CEO of Wisayah Global Investment Management Co.

“Aramco CEO Amin Al-Nassir was behind my appointment, which represents a vote of confidence that is of great value to me.”

Memorable moments 

“I led one of the most complex and innovative projects for the finance organization in Aramco. The saving scheme was the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia and the region, applying the most complex bespoke systems and processes. Basically, it transformed the company’s previous saving plan into a best-in-class saving scheme called “Idikhar” offered to more than 50,000 company employees. The Idikhar program won the Award of Excellence & Innovation in 2016, sponsored by Pensions & Investments and the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association. 

“For Wisayah, one of my major accomplishments was the creation of the investment management function in Treasury. The favorable financial performance of the defined benefit plans over the past 10 years has yielded significant savings to the company in the form of a sizable offset to the long-term pension liabilities. The journey continued as I aspired to further optimize the investment function, which is why I advocated for the spinoff of the function into a standalone subsidiary with the objective of enhancing the governance structure and attracting and retaining top talent from all over the world. Not many people have 

the fortune to see the outcome of their effort while still on the job; today, I am proud to serve as the CEO of the new company, Wisayah, which evolved from a small startup into a highly reputable investment firm that employs an exceptional team, delivers stellar financial performance and is governed by a strong board having some renowned names from the financial community.”

Industry transformations 

“I believe that the industry has already started transforming on many fronts. The challenges, stemming from fluctuating global demand, environmental and sustainability concerns, and technological advancement in renewables, stipulated a change in the business model for most oil and gas companies. So I think we will see ongoing adoption of new technologies, not only renewables but others across the board—from hydrogen to cleaner transport fuels to advanced 4IR technologies that improve operating efficiencies.

“Resilience and adaptation have proven key to survival, not only in oil and gas companies, but in companies from all sectors, which continued to evolve and operate across the value chain. Oil companies need to similarly assess opportunities for both generic and non-generic growth, with technology being the main catalyst for optimization initiatives and clean energy solutions. We may also see more diversification of portfolios, as companies seek to protect themselves against market disruption.

“Lastly, one must recognize the COVID-19 impact on the business environment. Companies have adopted new ways of doing business by applying technology to support working remotely, which has changed the conventional approach to hiring and managing the workforce altogether.”

Diversity and inclusion 

“Sitting on the Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee was one of the most exciting and meaningful roles I had in Aramco recently. Among nine members, I was one of two women who had the opportunity to influence policies, advocate for more ambitious targets, and address subconscious biases and other barriers, and finally devise remedy and measurement plans. I am very optimistic and eager to see more women in leadership roles in various areas of the company as a result of this committee’s efforts and recommendations.”

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