INTERVIEW: OLOF ARNMAN
Manager, Legal and Commercial for the Eastern Hemisphere, Grey Wolf Oilfield Services
Olof Arnman has worked in the oil industry for nearly ten years, in Denmark, Qatar and Dubai, where he is now based. He talks to GC about life at the intersection of legal and business in Grey Wolf, part of Precision Drilling, and his globetrotting in-house career.
G C I N T E R V I E W
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: What made you decide to become an in-house lawyer, as opposed to working in private practice?
Olof Arnman (OA): I didn’t actually have a preference to become one or the other; instead I applied and interviewed for both when I graduated from law school in 2003. As it turned out, I worked for the first couple of years after my graduation in a government office, and from there I started looking for other opportunities – as government gets a little slow after a while. I had a couple of interviews both for in-house and for private practice, and my first appointment was with an oil company in Denmark; that’s how I got into the corporate world. Since then, I haven’t even thought about going into private practice. I just thoroughly enjoy being in-house.
I hadn’t planned to go into the oil and energy business, but it happened to be what came along, and I’ve been in the same industry ever since. I haven’t looked for anything outside because it’s just such an interesting industry to be in.
GC: You’ve lived in a number of different countries. Is international travel something that particularly appeals to you?
OA: The international angle is something that’s very intentional for me and the opportunity to work in an international environment is key for my career. It was important for me even when I was in law school - I studied for one year in the Philippines, so my first international experience was before I even graduated. It was a fantastic, amazing experience. I had completed my degree in Stockholm, but already at that point I had my mind set that I would live and work internationally.
The oil and energy industry is ideal for this because it is such a global industry. With Maersk Oil, which was my first job in the corporate world, one of their major operations is in Qatar and so my first professional experience outside of Scandinavia was my secondment to Doha.
GC: When you look back over your career so far, what has been the highlight?
OA: The highlight for me has been the time since I joined Grey Wolf Drilling. It is still a new international operation to a large degree. Grey Wolf is part of Precision Drilling, one of North America’s largest drilling contractors, but the international footprint is still growing and it’s not as significant yet. When I started in 2012 we only had two rigs working in Saudi Arabia, and we now have 10 rigs in the region. We’ve grown very rapidly over the past five years, and we’ve done it with a pretty lean, highly effective management team. I’m very proud of being part of that.
GC: Has your role changed as the business has grown?
OA: Yes, I think it has. I came into Grey Wolf as legal counsel, but as the business has expanded I have taken the initiative to make sure that my career has developed in a certain direction. It really has become a dual legal/commercial role where I’m equally involved in the business development and the commercial side of growing the business, alongside strictly legal work.
GC: Have you found it a challenge to get the legal role to be embedded in the business, and to develop commercial skills to accompany your legal skills?
OA: It both is and isn’t a challenge. If you look at it, there are few teams or roles in a company (aside from legal) that are so ideally located in the organisation where they can become a really integral part. The work comes to encompass more than just legal, because a legal team gets involved in pretty much everything that goes on, and all departments at some point will require some legal advice. It’s an ideal point from which to build a more integrated function. I think the challenge is that people are so rooted in the thinking that lawyers do just legal work, and the change in perception has to start with the lawyers themselves – they have to want to be doing more than that. It’s a process that takes time, but in-house counsel must continue to perform and show the organisation where we can add value as well as being good lawyers. We are also general good business advisers because we understand risk. We understand regulatory and contracts frameworks - that’s important always - but lawyers usually have a pretty good understanding of business risk in general. So being a lawyer is an ideal position to grow into something more for the business.
GC: You didn’t work in private practice first; you’ve always been in the corporate world. Do you think that assists you in that business mindset?
OA: It might well be the case. I think the fact that I was raised in the corporate world really has helped me, because as you work in that kind of environment you do get involved in everything: technical conversations, commercial conversations, and financial conversations.
GC: Looking to the next few months, what are you anticipating will be coming over the horizon in terms of legal challenges for you and your team?
OA: There are obviously some uncertainties in the market right now where clients are wanting to renegotiate contracts because of the oil price. Some of our clients have also approached us asking to renegotiate terms, so that is an important part of what we’re doing in the legal team.
GC: What do you think the secret is to being a good legal manager, or a good leader?
OA: I’m not sure if it’s really a secret! I always prefer the word ‘leader’ than ‘manager’. I think that being a good leader is much more important than being a good manager. A lot of people can probably manage, but not everyone can lead. For me, it’s important to see every individual in the team and to understand their strengths and weaknesses, focus on building their strong sides and then building on whatever areas of improvement they need. Once you understand and implement that, then you can work on how best to form the optimal output for the team. It is important to understand how you as a leader can help people grow, develop and become even stronger contributors.
GC: Do you find that there’s a tension between supporting people to develop and then understanding that they may grow out of their roles?
OA: For sure. Obviously you do see that sometimes, and from personal experience that’s probably what made me accept the opportunity with Grey Wolf.