Baker Hughes’ Africa leader finds solutions in shared knowledge

As managing director in Central Africa for oil field services provider Baker Hughes, Indira Moudi is responsible for Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Prior to joining Baker Hughes, she worked in the nuclear industry in the Republic of Niger, and for another oil field services company, Schlumberger, in Nigeria and Gabon. She was born in Algeria, but lived in eight different countries growing up and maintains homes now in France, Canada and Niger.

Moudi spoke with FuelFix during the Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Energy and Technology last month in Houston. Edited excerpts:

Q: How did you begin your career in the oil industry?

A: I began as a drilling engineer in Nigeria, working for an oilfield services company. I was offered the job while I was still at university in Montreal. When I went through the second round of interviews, it was my turn to ask the recruiters why I should come and work for them. They gave the right answer — it was the chance to do it anywhere in the world. I chose Nigeria because of my personal roots — my mom is from English Guyana and my dad is from Niger.

I later was able to work in Niger in the nuclear sector, where I dealt with a range of issues related to a uranium mine, and the stakeholders ranged from the government to the head of the village to union workers. It was a great opportunity to develop skills as a leader, finding solutions for all those different stakeholders.

Q: What did you find most surprising about working in Africa?

A: When you are on the rig site — whether it is Nigeria or Gabon or the USA — the rig life has its own culture and way of ensuring things get done. We make that happen as a team. It is the collective work of everyone to make sure that we drill the well, cement the well, and make sure that everything ends up well. What is important is the understanding that everyone brings something to that unique solution.
In terms of energy, there is a lot that has not been discovered yet in Africa. I have a Canadian heart, a French heart, but also an African heart. The oil of Africa has to come out with African hands — the knowledge sharing is very important. It is important both for the international companies and national companies looking for oil that we do it with everybody. That is how we will be able to get innovative solutions.

When a person steps back and accepts the human being that is in front of them, it brings something else, something completely different to solutions.

Q: What do you like best about your job?

A: Leading as a woman is great, especially in this new time, when there are so many opportunities in the energy field. I love being able to move along so many different people toward their goals.

I also like working in challenging places. Here you turn on the faucet and you have water. In Central Africa, the power will disappear 20 times a day. Even sending an email can be a big issue. Leading in such an environment is fantastic because it is so unique and challenging. Every day is different.
And I like demonstrating that we can do the job with all the integrity and in full compliance with the standards of the Western World. We are showing you can work in developing countries with world class integrity.

Q: What advice would you give a young woman entering the field today?

A: Be yourself. Be patient and work hard, which is obvious. It is a matter of being persistent, consistent, patient — making sure that your differences are understood and that those differences bring something to the table. The new generation has the chance to benefit from having a lot of role models.

Q: What has changed for women since the beginning of your career?

A: When I think of the industry over the last 17 years of my career, I see a lot of people who have helped move the current women leaders forward. It is now our turn to do greater things, developing other women and being role models for the next generation of women in the industry.

Q: What is the best career advice you ever received?

A: A leader I greatly respect once told me, the chief reason you are here is to bring me solutions. At that moment, I realized you can create a solution yourself. I now always tell my staff, come with a solution, or we can get together and find a solution. If there is a true problem, there is a solution. It is empowering for people to realize they can use their own diversity of approaches to think about what kind of solution they can bring.