DS – Did the experience in Kuwait result in additional foreign business travel?
JS – Kuwait was more towards the end. When I worked at Chevron I had projects in seventeen different countries. My travels took me to twelve of them including the US, Canada, Venezuela, Indonesia, UK, Scotland, Norway, France, Australia, Nigeria, Angola and Kuwait. My job was basically a consulting engineer for the company in the world-wide upstream area. So gas and well production units were what I dealt with.
DS – Do you have any particularly interesting stories or encounters with local authorities?
JS - I flew into Lagos, Nigeria, which I think is a little town of about 9 million people. Nigeria is a big country with a population of one hundred fifty million. After you land you watch the Sears catalog get off the plane with you, because everybody is bringing back everything that they can get from anywhere else; kitchen sinks, tires; everything was coming out before my bag. Finally I get my bag and I find a guy with a sign with my name on it. We get in the car with the guy in the front seat-riding shotgun. He really doesn't have a shotgun he has an M16 and we buzz through town. If you're going down the highway and they did have a highway through town, people were on their bicycles; pulling carts, ox carts and the little buses you see on the travel program with people hanging out the windows and hanging on outside the bus God knows how.
I was there before they built a compound outside of Lagos, so everybody was scattered through these little compounds within Lagos. We went through big metal gates, which slammed shut behind us. There was a guard at the gate and you go to the building and they open up to the big iron bars that looks like you're going to penitentiary and that slams behind you. All concrete, you get to the rooms and you start to notice that there are red buttons in every room on the walls. It's like, “what the hell is that red button for?” I was told, “if you have any difficulty just press one of those red buttons and somebody will come.” I said, “Well where they're coming from?” They said “from across town where our security forces are located.” I replied “If I'm having trouble here in this building, which means somebody is trying to break in, or firing into the building (there were a few bullet holes in the building) you are going to send somebody from across town to rescue us?” Fortunately we didn’t have any trouble. The next morning in the middle of the breakfast table was this big bottle of pills. It turned out they were for malaria. Everyone reached in and took take out a pill each morning because you will get malaria if you're there for any length of time and the pill should allow you to survive that eventuality.
DS – How long were you in Lagos?
JS - Fortunately I only had to stay in Lagos for that one night. The next morning I went back to the airport and caught a small plane that took me out to the production facility, which was in Escravos down along the coast. Escravos is kind of neat because it's something that's really out of history. The slave traders use to pull in there. The tribe that is based in Escravos use to raid inland tribes, capture them and sell them to the Brits for gin. So you can find these old square glass gin bottles. I brought a couple of bottles home.
As you could imagine the tribe there was not very well liked by other tribes in the area, which then made it a personnel issue for management. Talking with the fire department manager he said he had two different tribes that worked for the fire department, and he had to keep them separate. In fact there was a time of day when there was no fire department because one tribe left before the other one arrived. They would fight and actually try to kill each other if they crossed paths.
DS – Where did you stay in Escravos?
JS - I got sent to a little port-a-cabin that was about a quarter mile away from the main camp. It didn't bother me too much, except that when I started to look around I noticed all the fence was torn down and they said “oh yeah that happened in the last riot”. So the fence was down. I’m a quarter of a mile away and I was right next to the village.
The cause of the riot was a unfortunate accident when the villagers were going home. A crew boat pulled in as the villagers were crossing the river in their dugout and swamped and sank the dugout drowning thirteen people. They don't know how to swim although they live on the water. I never asked but maybe that's because there's something dangerous in the water that you don’t want to swim with. As a result, the company built a swimming pool and now teaches the employees how to swim.
Anyway, back to my visit, so I'm in a place where the fence has been torn down. There are hatchet marks on the doors where they tried to go to through the metal doors during the riot in the barracks. I have no radio and no phone and I’m isolated, so I locked myself in. Everything is going great until about 10:00 or 11:00 PM when the drums start. It is just like one of those movies in the Congo. I’m down by myself and the drums are playing. I finally got to sleep around 1:00 AM when there was this WHUMP! I just about fly out of bed and thought what blew up or happened. I sit there and I'm in this little ten foot by twelve-foot cabin and all of a sudden somebody is beating the hell out of the side of the port-a-cabin with an iron pipe.
DS – Your cabin?
JS - My cabin. I am the only one there. The drums are playing; someone is beating the side of the cabin. It's dark out. Where I am at there are no outside lights. I have no way to contact people. That continues on for an hour or so and finally stops. Eventually I get to sleep.
DS - Did you find out what the thump was?
JS – O yea. When I finally got enough courage to open the door, I peeked and looked outside. I have a window that is 8x10 inches. I can't see more than just out one side of the cabin from this little tiny window. So I open the door and I'm looking around and there's this guy in a folding chair sitting in front of the port-a-cabin. I say, “Who are you” and he said, “I’m the guard” I asked, “Where the hell were you last night when someone was beating the hell out of this trailer?” He said, “You were in there all night?” Yeah. He said, “That was me I was just trying to keep myself awake”? So the Escravos stay was quite stressful in a lot of ways. I guess for the first three or four days I couldn’t even contact home.
Robin (Jim's wife) had no clue where I was at the time.
DS – When did this occur?
JS – This was early with Chevron, probably in 1992.
DS – Where did you hire people?
JS - We did a lot of hiring from around the world. Lately, we hired a lot of people from China but also had several Aussies, Brits and Indians. Our group was spread around the world with offices in Aberdeen Scotland, Perth, Australia, Houston and here in California. We had a lot of growing pains when you go from a small organization to a large organization. How do you manage it? How do you treat people fairly? How do you promote and give them the job experience and exposure that they need. How do yo maintain quality and establish risk standards. All that comes down to the capability area which was my last assignment.
I am more of an engineer I like numbers. You know people are messy (laughs). I was like a square peg in a round hole. I think I did adequately in my job and I grew our group. We had a lot of capabilities that the company needed and we were successful. By successful I mean we met our budgets and brought enough in to cover our expenses and we supported the world operations of Chevron and did it safely. We were designated by the overseas Chevron petroleum (COPIA at the time) to be the group from which they would hire their future process engineers. So we brought people in, trained them and then lent or transferred them out to the overseas companies. We were quite successful, but I always missed engineering. I could have gone back into engineering, however, that would have meant that I’d continued my travels.
DS – After all these years working in the oil industry what led you to retire?
JS - I never looked at work as being what was defining my life. I looked at work as something I had to do to survive. I had it in my mind from the moment I started work was that I wanted to retire when I hit fifty-five. So way back when I started with Phillips I began saving. People always say, “Start early and save as much as you can”. I followed that religiously for all the companies I worked for with the goal of probably retiring when I was fifty-five.
DS – What were your advancements like at Chevron?
JS - This probably happens to a lot of people. You start to move around in a company and you may move up. You go from being an engineer, to a process engineer, to a senior engineer or staff engineer or whatever, you are moving up the ladder and then all of a sudden someone says, “Hey we want you to be a capability manager for our process group”.
It sounded like a good idea at the time which meant I could stop traveling. When I joined our group it had about 16 people in it. When I left our group we were up to 230 people. When I took over as capability manager we were sitting I think on the order of 36. My job was to grow us from 36 to 230. We needed to pull in a lot of experience. We needed to do a lot of interviewing. We needed to do a lot of capability build. Engineers do not all have the same strengths, interests or experiences. Do you want somebody who is working in LNG (liquefied natural gas)? Do you want somebody who has a lot of experience in oil? Do you want somebody who has actual operating experience or design experience? People, who run or have project experience and can deal with contractors. Process engineering has a lot of different sub specialties but we primarily hired BS or PhD chemical engineers.
DS – What are the responsibilities of a capability manager?
JS - As the capability manager my job entailed trying to grow the unit, bring in the specialties that we needed. Bring in a cross-section of age and experience levels. You need the age/experience cross-section in order to provide mentoring for new graduates. You hired some youth because you don't want to hire everybody to retire in five years.
DS – So you finally decided to retire?
JS – Yes, but every once in a while I still get a call from Chevron. The last was to say, “Hey do you want handle the rehab of twenty-eight platform compressors systems offshore Angola?” I have been to Angola twice, once would have been enough (laughs). I don't need to go to back to Angola. I don't need to go to Nigeria. I don't need to go back to some of the places that oil comes out. It's a stressful situation, stressful trips. It's fun work, but could not see getting myself getting on a jet plane again to do it.
I said (to myself) I'm tired. I thought it was time. I saved, why did I save? Because I wanted to retire at fifty-five, so I got to fifty-five and I retired.
DS – Last Question – It’s early December and this chat will be posted around January 1st. Since you are a numbers guy . . .
JS – 37-33 (laughs)
DS – That is your forecast for the Cotton Bowl game?
JS - Isn’t that the question you were going to ask? (laughs)
DS – Well part two of the question is who is 37 and who is 33?
JS – I have high hopes that #8 (Kansas State) will beat #6 (Arkansas).