CEO remarks at the 2020 Energy Intelligence Energy Executive of the Year Award

Amin H. Nasser, President & Chief Executive Officer of Saudi Aramco

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are!

Let me start by thanking my friend Ben van Beurden, not only for his kind words today, but for his continued support and friendship over the years.  Ben has made an enduring impact on the global energy industry, and it means a great deal to have him involved in the award presentation today.

I also want to express my appreciation to Alex Schindelar and the team at Energy Intelligence for conducting the 2020 Forum under such extraordinary circumstances.  While we may be deprived of one another’s company, we still have the opportunity to hear from leading figures across the world of energy in this difficult moment for the global community.

Most of all, though, I want to thank my peers and colleagues for this award. Everyone likes to be recognized for the job they have done.  But when it comes from those who know from personal experience just how complex, demanding, exciting, and ultimately rewarding your work can be that is truly humbling. 

Today I am joining a group of 23 industry leaders who have been presented with this award—including my predecessors Abdallah Jum‘ah and His Excellency Khalid Al-Falih.  To have my name associated with all of them is indeed a tremendous honor.

Of course, this is an occasion for reflection as well as celebration.  Looking back at my own career, I cannot help but reflect with pride on Aramco and its position in the energy industry and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

“Pride” often gets a bad rap, but the pride I am talking about is the kind of inner satisfaction you take in completing a task with skill.  It is the steady confidence that comes with overcoming difficulties and setbacks.  It is the profound sense of fulfilment you derive from the achievements of your loved ones. 

That is the kind of pride I have in being part of Aramco. In fact, there is a deeply personal element in my pride in the company, because you see I am a second-generation Aramcon.

My father worked for the company for 42 years, mostly in junior grade codes—real hands-on stuff on the frontline.  Up until his very last day on the job he reported for work at 7 AM as normal. But when he and his colleagues came home each day, they walked like lions because of the pride they took in their work, the recognition they received from the community, and the knowledge that they were part of something meaningful. 

No matter what your job was or where you worked in Aramco, there was dignity in putting in a hard day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and people felt privileged to be able to put food on the table and provide for their parents and their children.  Seeing this, I resolved from an early age that I too would join Aramco.

Looking back, it is clear that our sense of pride does not come from record production levels, or technical achievements, or operational milestones.  It comes from belonging to a community where people care for each other, care for their country, and care for the planet. 

Those great achievements are the result of a system and a set of strategies, but more importantly, they are the product of a deep-seated culture of responsibility.  From its earliest days, the company has always worked for all of its stakeholders, not just its shareholders, and has always been committed to what today we would recognize as ESG.  Contributing to the wider society while also delivering results has always been part our DNA.

For example, entire communities sprang up along the route of the Tapline pipeline across northern Saudi Arabia, with people drawn by access to water and new trade opportunities.  The company did not have to battle malaria and trachoma or build public schools, but it did.  As a boy I attended just such a company-built school, and then went to a university established by the Ministry of Petroleum with the support of Aramco, right next door to the company’s headquarters here in Dhahran. 

In fact, as a kid, Aramco was a window on a whole other world.  During the Eid holidays, my friends and I would pool our money, take a taxi to the Aramco camp in Dhahran, cut the fence and sneak into the open-air cinema where movies were being shown—which was an incredible experience! 

I realize now that there are other, better gates into Aramco, and when it comes to movie admissions I don’t encourage others to follow in my footsteps!  But even then, the company was more to me than a place where my father worked: it was the gateway to a new quality of life and expanded opportunities.

In short, people saw for themselves how the company was engaging with the society, changing lives, acting responsibly, demonstrating integrity and contributing to the Kingdom’s greater good.  Even those who had no personal connection to Aramco.  And ultimately that was what inspired us and, yes, made us proud.

Of course, times have changed—as my children never stop reminding me.  Life is faster and more complex, and there are many other professional options and career paths available to young people now.  As the Kingdom and its economy have grown and developed, so Aramco must increasingly compete to attract and retain top talent—and that’s a good thing! 

One of our challenges, frankly, is to ensure that the new generation gets every opportunity to experience the same deep sense of pride in addressing today’s challenges that we felt as young people. Thankfully, there is still a sense of excitement about Saudi Aramco’s future.  And in our part of the world, bright and enthusiastic young men and women remain keen to be part of the energy industry and our company. 

That is because they see a world of opportunity based on merit, the potential for significant personal and professional development, and the means to contribute to the communities where they work. 

Our people also recognize that we are not only delivering results today, but also building something for tomorrow, just as my father’s generation did and the generations before him.  Something that will endure, and whose benefits will be passed to future generations.

A moment ago, I made a distinction between what you might call “empty” pride and “true” pride.  In my view, the difference can be seen most clearly in the effects of each.

Empty pride creates overconfidence and breeds complacency.  It blinds us to our own faults and to the value of others.  It distances us from reality.

But true pride is drawn from real life, real challenges, and real achievements.  It encourages and sustains us when times are tough.  Taking true pride in our own accomplishments allows us to better appreciate the success of others.  And far from creating a false sense of superiority, true pride grounds us, humbles us, and keeps us grateful.

We saw that when tackling the immense changes associated with getting the company ready for our IPO last year, and this year’s acquisition of SABIC. 

But the determination and resilience of our people were demonstrated most clearly during and after the attacks on Abqaiq and Khurais just over a year ago.  Nearly six million barrels of production capacity were knocked offline. Yet, incredibly, that was safely restored in just two weeks.  And ultimately that was because of our people who enabled us to rebound without breaking stride. 

I said then, “You can attack our facilities, but as long as we have our people, we can overcome anything that is thrown at us.”  And I take great pride in making that statement again today.

That is why I find it discouraging and even distressing that an industry that has done so much to enable prosperity for so many, so often finds itself on the defensive.  

We can debate the reasons why.  It may be due to mis-perceptions of our sector and a lack of knowledge or balanced perspective. It may be because we have let others define us with their narrative. Or people may simply have taken our industry for granted—or more precisely, taken for granted what we make possible, and the benefits we provide. 

But the reality of the situation is this: the energy industry continues to be the responsive and responsible motive force behind global economic activity as well as social development and progress. 

We are tackling issues related to carbon emissions and climate change from a proactive, leadership position, including through industry-wide collaborations. We are harnessing technological advances and a spirit of innovation to usher in an even more reliable and more efficient energy sector. 

Our companies are engaging with their various stakeholders around the world to better meet society’s rising expectations. And in recent months we have successfully overcome the operational challenges posed by COVID-19, continuing to provide vital energy and indispensable products while safeguarding our people and our communities.

We should never grow complacent, ladies and gentlemen, particularly around the issue of climate change. We need to stand with our heads held high and take pride—true pride—in the petroleum industry’s many achievements. And we need to capitalize on this pride to better serve our people, secure our future, and protect our planet.

We also need to demonstrate confidence in our future contributions. I have a strong belief that with technology and collaboration our industry can and will overcome the biggest of its future challenges—foremost among them, climate change. 

Make no mistake, my friends and colleagues: the decisions we make and the steps we take now will have an impact for many years, indeed, many decades to come. That is a great responsibility, and given the right resources, the right vision, the right spirit, and above all the right people, it is a responsibility I know our industry is capable of shouldering.

On a more personal note, I would like to close by noting that the love and support of my family have made all of my professional achievements possible, and they are why I am here talking to you today. 

When I was a boy, my family supported my father and took pride in his achievements.  In turn and over time, he took pride in mine. Whenever I was promoted in the company, my father was proud.  “Inshallah, next you will become a supervisor,” he would say. “God willing, you will be a manager.” My mother, of course, was confident from the very beginning about where I would end up! 

I am blessed that my children Hala, Leena, and Faisal, and especially my wife Rania, have been equally supportive over the years. Most of my career was spent away from them in the field and in remote areas.  Now, it is long hours, a lot of travel—when that was still a thing—and competing demands for my time and attention.

The kids had no choice in the matter, to be honest, but my wife should have spotted the red flags a long time ago. As soon as we were back from our honeymoon, we moved into our house in Ras Tanura. I showed her where the commissary, the clinic, and the bus stop were, and then I was offshore for the next five days… 

Six months after that we moved to Midland, Texas, for a development assignment with an American company. For the first two weeks we were living in a motel on the highway with a ditch in the middle for a swimming pool.  Once again, I got my wife settled in, and then I was off to the rig! 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure why Aramco had sent me there, because most of the work involved mature or declining fields, not like those in the Kingdom. When I got back to Aramco, I asked my supervisor, a great man named Roger Busby, about this assignment. He told me I had been sent because he wanted me to see the future, and to understand first-hand the evolution of things. “If you ever become chief petroleum engineer one day,” he said, “this is the kind of thing you need to understand.” 

Decades later, I did indeed become Aramco’s chief petroleum engineer. And while our oil and gas reserves remain abundant, Roger was right: that early experience proved invaluable, in part because it showed me the importance of taking the long view and always considering the future.

In any case, although our time in Texas wasn’t always comfortable, those are still some of the finest and friendliest people I have ever met. Despite the hardships it was an exciting experience for Rania and I, because it was such a great opportunity as we began our life together. And ever since then, the excitement has never stopped—nor has her support, for which I am deeply grateful.

Ultimately, my family is what has made my journey worthwhile. So this is their award even more than it is mine. 

And that goes for the entire Aramco family. Not just the men and women around the world with whom I have the privilege of working today, but all those employees who came before—my father included—who built the foundations for what our company has become and what it will be in the future.  This is your reward, too.

So ladies and gentlemen, I am enormously proud of my family and their achievements, and I am proud to be an Aramcon.  I am equally proud to be a part of this tremendous industry of ours that is still fueling the global economy and intensifying its efforts to both reduce emissions from our existing energy supplies and develop the new, cleaner energy sources of the future. 

But I am also incredibly humbled by this award, and deeply appreciate your recognition today.

Thank you.