Despite her passion for work and a Ph.D. from Rice University, Tauseef Salma had a difficult time finding her first job in energy. Many offers turned elusive in the absence of having permanent residency at the time of graduation.
While at Rice, Tauseef studied the ability of genetically engineered bacteria to degrade hydrocarbons in the presence of surface active agents. A similar concept was later used to disperse the oil during the massive spill in 2010.
“Being an international student, the odds of finding a job were limited,” she says. “Most companies hired primarily U.S. citizens or permanent residents.”
Tauseef, a speaker at HERWorld Energy Forum in Houston on March 8, landed a post-doctoral fellowship at Oklahoma University, where she spent the next five months. Her position at OU began just three days after submitting her thesis at Rice, and she was responsible for the evaluation of proppant placement and real-time monitoring of proppant flowback from the fractures using fiber optics — a stimulation procedure now commonly referred to as “fracking”.
When Tauseef arrived at her new job, she realized quickly that it was going to be a humbling experience. The task was daunting and the team she was working with had an experienced staff of technologists and technicians with over 30 years of oil and gas experience. Tauseef had to define the experimental protocols that this seasoned team was expected to follow.
“I had the least amount of hands-on experience, yet I was responsible for leading the research because of my formal education,” she says.
Plus, only three months into the role, she was informed that her research funding was coming to an end. But Tauseef harnessed the power of her team to design experiments — and, ultimately, developed her own confidence in the process.
Within just five months, through a collaborative effort, Tauseef was able to present her results at an SPE conference in San Antonio and submit a proposal for future research.
A longstanding career at Baker Hughes
As her time at OU began to wind down, Tauseef came across a job at Baker Petrolite. The timing was ideal for her to make the move. She completed her studies at OU and then joined Baker Petrolite as a senior development engineer in the production chemicals business in November of 1997.
The next two years brought a downturn in oil. So Tauseef worked harder than ever to create and demonstrate value for her company. Over the span of next 20 years, she had the opportunity to travel across the world to multiple countries, many remote oil fields and offshore operations. Her first big break came in 2009, when she was selected to be the first chief engineer of Baker Hughes at the enterprise level. This step offered the opportunity to develop and implement strategies at the enterprise level, build influence and develop a very large professional network.
Two and a half years after serving as the first chief engineer and setting up a common design review process and reducing the risk in design in the technology investments, Tauseef was asked to lead the departments of sustaining and testing engineering for drilling and evaluation. Coming with a production background with her strengths in commercializing new technologies and process, she was able to work with a team of 140 engineers and technologists in drilling and evaluation, to deliver a new product revenue of $150 million in less than one year and a team that was recognized for their above-and-beyond contribution.
After a very successful turnaround in the drilling and evaluation world, she was then offered the opportunity to lead the P&L for Trinidad, which encompassed the Caribbean market. To date, the Trinidad team has maintained excellence in health, safety and environment (HSE) for five consecutive years. The Trinidad team won performance excellence for three years in her tenure as well as delivered its record year with 50 percent year-over-year growth in 2015 with perfect HSE. (Perfect HSE means no accidents, no recordables and no harm to the environment.)
After the Halliburton acquisition was called off in May of 2016, Tauseef was appointed to be the first female vice president of technology for Baker Hughes in over 115 years. After the merger with GE, she is now the vice president of global chemicals at Baker Hughes.
“I have come full circle over my 20 years of tenure, with 11 different roles at Baker Hughes. I am now responsible for the global chemicals business at Baker Hughes in its entirety,” she says.
Tauseef cites several key factors that helped her reach her current level of success: A strong commitment to execution, organizational agility to overcome difficult challenges, sharing her wins with the team, a passion to learn and teach, being an early adopter and an agent of change, self-reflection and the willingness to maintain optimism and faith in the face of adversity.
When asked her thoughts about GRIT: growth, resilience, innovation, and transition – our theme for HERWorld — Tauseef says she firmly believes innovation will enable the transition of the energy industry into its next phase, which will, in turn, enable growth.
“For existing companies large and small, the key to success and a competitive advantage will come from the ability to be an employer of choice, speed of innovation and attracting new talent with new skills to develop resilience,” she says.
The Future of the Energy Industry
Tauseef is excited about the future of the industry. She believes that the key challenge (and opportunity) will be its ability to adapt to new developments in analytics, predictive controls, artificial intelligence, automation, robotics and manufacturing space.
She feels that women in the industry are still on a tentative path.
“While focus on diversity and growth cycle enabled filling the pipeline with a higher number of females in 2011-2013, recent reviews of the percentage of women in management roles remain similar to the low values encountered in the tech sector. Women reaching executive ranks remain in the single digits range at an organizational level,” she says.
However, Tauseef is hopeful about the future.
“The most recent downturn has enabled the C-Suite to be filled with a generation of leaders in both the public and private sector — people who are more open to and better champions of diversity in leadership and workforce,” she says.