Dr Poh P Huck
Retired: Royal Dutch Shell
Dr Poh P Huck studied for a PhD in Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University following his undergraduate studies. He received his doctorate in 1984 and has spent his career working for Shell. Here he discusses the development of his career, working in different countries and his time spent studying at Loughborough.
I actually started with Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough. A month into the course, I quickly realized that it was not for me. Moreover, to better able to secure a job back in the East, instead I ought to do a more flexible engineering course. Chemical Engineering was it and I believe it is still one of the most versatile fields of studies for aspiring engineers. Prof Freshwater opened that door for me and I remain eternally grateful. Fortunately for me, I found my passion in the Energy business and stayed on for 32+ years until my recent retirement.
I enjoyed many of the subjects in Chemical Engineering and especially Particle Technology, the field where I earned my PhD. Having an innate sense of curiosity coupled with an inclination for asking infinite “Whys”, I decided that working on a PhD research project in a field I am passionate about would be a good next challenge. A leap of faith in following my heart. It also helped that with a research grant I was employed as a Research Assistant, so got paid as well.
The search for new insights in research added to my cumulative confidence and dare to seek and break existing paradigms in creating new opportunities in my business career.
The relentless pursuit of knowledge adds to a few key attributes of business success, viz: the determination, persistence and stamina to start things and see them through to completion and finally deliver the desired outcomes.
Appreciation of the need and importance of attaining deep technical knowledge & expertise to win in targeted areas in this increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.
Also, the strong industry link that the Chemical Engineering Department had (during my time there) to help place students for industrial attachment is a goldmine! Please keep that going. I have not seen that degree of success anywhere else. I benefited enormously from the 1 year attachment at the Conoco Oil Refinery at South Humberside.
Would there be one piece of advice that you would give to current or prospective students looking to study a PhD?
Go for it - follow your heart and passion. Should you even subsequently decide to step out of academia, the enhanced training of the mind from the pursuit of research will add enormously to your toolkit and fire power to succeed in business.
Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities during your studies? If so, what impact did these have on your experience?
I was actively involved in student activities. I was the Treasurer of the Latin American Society and I played competitive badminton and departmental cricket. I also took part in community service activities such as helping the aged town residents with the delivery of their groceries and laundry during the weekends. That on top of the high quality education I got, I truly had some of the best years of my life at Loughborough.
Can you tell us about your career with Shell? What was the most interesting part of your career with this company?
I retired towards the end of 2016 as a Senior Executive of Royal Dutch Shell after 32 years of service. My last role was the Vice President for Shell’s Downstream Technology Services based at the Technology Centre in Amsterdam.
Over the course of my career I held a wide range of technological, operational, business and leadership / senior management positions at local, regional and global levels. The most interesting part of my career is having the privilege to work and live in multi locations: twice in the Netherlands (the Hague & Amsterdam), Thailand, Singapore and Australia.
Living and working in different countries were exciting and rewarding experiences. Such diversity of exposure does give one a more international outlook and empathetic understanding of what works in one location and not necessarily so in another.
Workwise and with Shell having a strong corporate culture, it was very much business as usual with the necessary adjustments made to adapt to the different cultural norms and sensitivities. For the spouse and children especially, the adjustments were more stark and challenging.
At every new location there was the sense of “starting all over again from base 1”. New friendships to be forged and at school your past accomplishments (unlike work) carry absolutely no weightage, hence the sentiment of “starting all over again from scratch”. Taxing on growing kids, but looking back they recognize the great value adding these experiences had on their personal growth and they are the better for it.
If I have to pick one what I particularly enjoy and cherish most in my career, it is not limited to a particular role. It is actually seeing up and coming staff who I have played a part to groom successfully climbing up the corporate ladder. Even more so are those who rose to leadership roles from the rank and file. In that regard, I have a few proud examples from my first role as a unit plant manager leading shift workers at an oil refinery.
I am a firm believer in life-long learning and took personal charge of that to influence my own learning needs beyond what the company provided in-house. Always a big challenge since the demand of work was perpetually high and took priority. In short, by being deliberate and taking personal charge, I was able to get the company to send me for many leadership and business courses at some of the leading business schools outside. So the most important challenge is to always keep up to date with ones competences and adaptive learning especially the morphing outside situation and needs in an ever changing world.
When I became a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers supported by my cumulative work experience and career journey in Shell. But this pales in comparison to the recent news that Loughborough University is declared the Best Sports University in the World!! Nothing can beat this. Well done Loughborough! This is the ultimate pride.