A Conversation with Karen Maclennan
Updated: Feb 17
We spoke to Karen Maclennan, Head of Planning and Commercial Operations - North Sea, Angola, Mauritania and Senegal for BP, about her career, how she approaches achieving a work life balance and what advice she would give to others looking to develop their careers in the oil and gas industry. Karen has also kindly agreed to answer any further questions you would like to put to her. Please email these to firstname.lastname@example.org by 16th June. We will publish her answers by 16th July.
Q: What do you think have been the key themes in your career?
A theme about the places I have worked (EY and BP) as opposed to career, is the quality of the people I have interacted with. I have been incredibly lucky to work with people that I have truly liked, respected and learned from. On career, it has been a real mixed bag but stepping into roles that I don’t necessarily have the track record of experience for seems to be a key theme. At EY, when I moved out of audit into corporate finance, my first job was in Siberia working on a stock exchange transaction. In BP, I moved into a fairly senior role in Upstream with no Upstream experience and have moved from accounting and external reporting to performance management to commercial operations. The key thing is recognising where you can provide direction and leadership and making sure you have the right team in place, and trusting that team, to deliver.
Q: How important do you think overseas experience has been to your success?
Personally I have found it very rewarding, which may be because I like travelling and find it exciting to move somewhere different. It forces you to step outside of your comfort zone, be the new person in a new environment and gives you an appreciation of the challenges that are faced in different locations. But you can also have an equally good career being based in one place, particularly now that technology allows much easier access to people in other locations. The key is exposing yourself to as many different people, perspectives and cultures as you can, by whatever means.
Q: You are currently the Head of Planning and Commercial for BP in the North Sea, Angola and Mauritania and Senegal; what are the most rewarding and the most demanding aspects of this role?
On the most rewarding, I will pick out three aspects. First, the people I work with are really great – you spend a lot of time with work colleagues and enjoying their company is so important. Second, when something gets completed and the team feels a real sense of accomplishment both in terms of tangible delivery but also in the way they have delivered (i.e. with the right behaviours such as respect, teamwork etc). This could be a negotiation, a transaction, an internal review with our Executive team or the submission of a business plan. The third is teaching – I love doing training, lectures, coaching etc. The most demanding aspect is managing my time and making sure I am prioritising the most important things – and making sure I am not working 24/7, which is the next question…..
Q: Do you find it challenging to maintain a good work life balance and how do you go about achieving this?
Yes! However, I am much better than I used to be at leaving the office no matter how much my head is in “work mode”. I am often booked into a 7pm Crossfit class so it feels like a commitment and I know I am much more productive as a result of it. I have also found it helps to plan when you are going to check in on work if you need to. For example, if I am on holiday I don’t look at emails all the time. Instead I may “agree with myself” that I will have a quick check-in on, say, Wednesday morning and then put work out of my mind until then. That way, I am not constantly considering whether I should have a quick look to see what’s going on!
Q: What advice would you give to others looking to develop their careers in the oil and gas industry?
My advice, and this is not specific to oil and gas, is strive to do an excellent job in the role you are currently in, rather than being too focussed on what is next. While it is important to have drive and ambition, good performance and delivery in the present is what will get you recognised. Also, be really open to learning from others and maintain a good network. The oil and gas industry is constantly changing and there will always be different ways of doing things, so challenge yourself to listen, learn and adapt. Finally, do remember to have some fun along the way!