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Michael Heaney

SPE Aberdeen Continuing Education Committee Chair

When and why did you join the oil and gas industry and what’s been your career path to date?

I left university in 1976, at a time when people would stop you in the street and offer you a job in the oil industry. Within a matter of weeks I was an offshore Commissioning Engineer in the Forties field. After 12 years at the sharp end I came onshore to an R&D role, developing well test tools. I then moved into oilfield computer software, followed by business development and service quality assurance, and finally managing SAP deployments. I was then told I had done such a good job that I’d made myself redundant. I had been encouraging my team to continue their career development, so, to set a good example, I went back to university to complete my Masters degree and set up my own (current) consultancy, Benchwhistler Associates Ltd, to deliver Knowledge Harvesting and Employee Engagement – to make people happier, wiser and more productive in their work. I also get requests for longer-term interim management roles to help plug the gaps in smaller companies.

Have you had any mentors during your career?

My first boss told me: “If you don’t know what you are doing, we don’t want you out there.” That still applies today. My last boss was also inspirational: he always took time to listen and to explain how quality and customer satisfaction are key to continued opportunity and success.

Why did you join SPE? Has it lived up to your expectations?

If I had known how useful and supportive the SPE is, I would have joined earlier – and saved a small fortune by buying life membership. The greatest benefit of active SPE membership is the access to a wide range of people. Their hard-won expertise is freely shared with other members and that’s invaluable to anyone building a career in this industry.

What does being Aberdeen Section Continuing Education Chair involve?

Working with volunteers to plan, organise and deliver a wide selection of conferences and events that address our members’ need to stay current within this fast-moving industry and to learn new ideas.

How do you choose to switch off from work?

As a student I was a founder member of the Aberdeen University Draught Stout Appreciation Society. I still occasionally work on developing my taste for dark beers. Which three words do you think best describe you? Never too serious. I daren’t repeat what I’ve heard others call me. Any life-changing moments you’d like to share?

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion… c-beams glittering in the dark... All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…” Oh no – that’s a speech from Blade Runner.

An oil industry career can put you in many strange and wonderful places. I have great memories of walking at dawn in the Abu Dhabi desert, being arrested in Vietnam, and working in the heat of a Singapore summer. Just a few months ago I was in Beijing sharing a pot of jasmine tea and meeting people with an entirely different world view. What a privilege.

Who (from history or the world today) inspires you most and why?

I’m a big fan of Niccolo Machiavelli. He was a brilliant diplomat in dangerous times and his political writings have been greatly misunderstood. He spoke truth to power and ended up getting tortured for his trouble. But his books are still in print 500 years on, so his ideas still resonate today.

What would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time?

If I’m still breathing that will be a good start. I should really start on that blockbuster novel I’ve been mulling over for the last thirty years. Perhaps detailed location research in Paris, Venice, Denver and Dublin. I hear they do a half-decent black beer there.


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