Leader Speaks

Mar 06, 2022 14 min read

Diversity is about synergizing the unique abilities of each individual and achieving a common purpose!

Women see the world through a different lens than men. They therefore interpret the requirements of leadership comprehensively and differently. Women are outcome focussed, collaborators, empathetic and demonstrate extraordinary prowess at resolving conflicts.

Women are oriented to play the role of a Change Maker, with the flexibility to shift contexts and reconcile paradoxes at individual, team and organizational levels.And they embrace change not as an obligation but in the interest of producing breakthrough results.

A case in point is Ms. Sukla Mistry, the first woman IOCian to take over as Director (Refineries) of IndianOil. Ms Mistry was also the first woman in IndianOil to hold the position of Refinery Head of an IndianOil refinery unit, first at Digboi Refinery (Assam) and later at Barauni Refinery (Bihar).

A Metallurgical Engineer from Bengal Engineering College, Calcutta University, Ms Mistry also holds an Advance Diploma in Management from ICFAI and certification in Industrial Radiography & Ultrasonic Non-destructive testing.

The trailblazer opens her heart to the readers of HR Vista, in conversation with Sumita Singh and Pashmina Pusdekar.

Congratulations on taking over the reins of the Refineries Division. You've had an inspiring journey. What is the most important takeaway from your journey, that you'd like to share with our readers?

I have had more than my fair share of struggles. I hail from a very humble family from a remote village of Sundarban, West Bengal. There was no electricity or pucca roads, and every rainy season the island got flooded. I remember walking through these muddy roads to get to the school. I remember even getting to Kolkata was an arduous journey. We would have to take a 2-3 hrs boat journey to Canning from where we used to take a train to reach Kolkata.

I studied under kerosene lamps. I did well in Xth Std and got admission in Lady Brabourne College. A distant uncle supported me a lot for my education. I owe my success to so many people who offered support along my journey.

Every struggle made me stronger; every challenge made me determined. I never allowed any personal hardship or professional hazards come in the way of discharging my duties to the best of my abilities. I made integrity, commitment, and performance the buzzwords of my life.

I was the first woman to move out for studies, and the first engineer from my village.

What has been your driving force/motivation in your professional life?

I think enduring motivation comes from within oneself. It is your own individual resolve & passion about what you do and how you do. I am fully focused on what I need to do.

I have learnt so much from people around me; subordinates; colleagues; seniors. I have always striven to better myself with these learnings. There have been big champions, male & female, who have infused my journey with energy and enthusiasm, and elevated my life and growth.

Major challenges that you overcame as the first woman refinery head? (were they professional or societal). Any anecdotes you would like to share?

The Oil & Gas industry has historically been considered as a male bastion & a hazardous industry. The share of women in the overall workforce within the energy sector across the world is abysmally low. In the Indian patriarchal system and stigmas, women face challenges, which are different from what a man would face at the helm. I would add that most of these challenges are invisible, and may erode your motivation at times, but you got to keep going on. Yes. Women have to work harder to prove herself. But I consistently maintain that commitment, hard-work and performance will finally ensure success and support.

What are your views on diversity and how does it help companies, communities?

How can there be progress and balance in the world, when one half of its population is not an active contributor? Diversity is not only about gender, but even of culture; communities, ethnic groups, etc. Diversity is about synergizing the unique abilities of each individual and achieving a common purpose.

If you are specifically talking about women professionals, then I believe that she is at par with any other. She is equally skilled; intelligent; hardworking and committed. The uniqueness comes in approach and behavior. She brings her multi-tasking skills; empathy; collaborative nature to work.

Is there a doubt anymore, I wonder on the substantive contribution and value that a robust women workforce can add to the performance parameters of an organization? I certainly don’t have any. I personally think women is the most natural leader in a society with her roles as creator; nurturer and transformer and building families. It is time that she gets full credit and respect for it.

The oil industry, especially refining, is traditionally seen as a male bastion. Operations were regarded as challenging for a woman till a decade ago. Tell us what motivated you to join IndianOil and then taking on tough assignments early on.

As any other young graduate on the campus, I was applying for options available. I remember an industrial tour to a premier engineering company, where big machineries fascinated me. I dreamt of becoming a part of such a company. I was eagerly waiting for its advertisement.

But as fate would have it, IndianOil advertised first. I applied and got selected. Frankly, at that point of time I did not know much about IndianOil. Being the eldest in the family, I had to take on the responsibilities early on and so I took the job. It was only after joining, I realized the magnitude of the Company and its operations- the tremendous challenges, opportunities, freedom, facilities and comfort that IndianOil offered. The thought of joining any other company never crossed my mind ever. I took on difficult assignments with the thought that if I did not opt for it, how will I learn & grow the breadth of my horizon.

You are the first woman on Indian Oil Board, which is a breakthrough not only for IndianOil but for the entire Indian energy fraternity. As a leader, what do you think is the best way to support diversity in the Company?

IndianOil is an equal opportunity employer. I personally believe our organisation offers great support and encouragement for women professionals to bloom. I have seen the environment and approach change over the years for the better.

It is a level-playing field for everyone at IOC. The kind of positive and supportive environment that the Corporation has today, diversity is certainly not an issue. With special policies, training, and leadership programmes, and abundant learning opportunities, and support from top leadership, there is nothing that can stop the strides of a strong women professional in the company. The idea of Aarohi programme is unique and shall open wider horizons for our women folk. There are opportunities, openings in the industry to opt for, and now it is up to the women professionals to compete and shine.

The businesses are passing through a period of transition, bringing the focus on Change Management. Your views on the role of Leadership in Change Management

We saw an inspiring role model of dynamic change management, when our top leadership led by our Chairman saw the Corporation through the tumultuous and unexpected changes during the pandemic. The IndianOil team collectively demonstrated remarkable resilience and an undaunted spirit because our top leadership gave directions, motivated, and cared.

So, businesses must reinvent to survive as per the market diktats and thrive. ‘Crafting a green future’ is the revolutionary change is our path forward. I am very excited about the opportunities in Hydrogen; CBG; fuel cells; batteries and so on. This is the change that we need to sensitise every IOCians about and get their buy-ins to be in readiness to partner this transition to a diversified energy company. Targeted interactions & discussions should be our tool, along with arming our employees with tools, training is very essential. Mentoring can play a big role here. After all, the growth and welfare of the employees is inextricably linked to the growth of an Organisation. This win-win situation must be inspired across board.

It is felt that women still carry an unequal burden in terms of domestic responsibilities despite carrying out professional duties. What would be your advice for young women aiming to make it big in today's competitive corporate environment?

Look around and you’ll find women taking charge in every sphere. From becoming a part of the Indian armed forces to taking confident strides in the domain of space technology; from handling the reigns of India’s economy to launching start-ups; from soaring high in media & entertainment to leading in health & nutrition, science, and technology; women are making an impact with their talent & entrepreneurship. Not the least, the corporate ladders in India too are gradually being occupied with more women in commanding positions. I would believe that there no peaks left unconquered.

The present generation is far more sensitive to parity and sharing of responsibilities. With both husband and wife working, a balance of power is germinating. I would tell our younger generation that just like we collaborate in office, we need to build a strong team at home front as well. With so many support systems available around in the form of day cares; creche, etc. I urge the young women workforce to draw support. If you change your attitude, everything will seem easier and workable.

As the Head of Refineries of India's largest refiner, what is your vision and plans?

Refineries Division is the fulcrum of the business operations of IndianOil, and it is important for the Division to play this lead role by building refinery operations that are inventive and future ready.

We have to continue to keep a razor-sharp focus on achieving highest-level of operational excellence in terms of reliability, fuel & oil loss, energy conservation. Not the least Safety is the focus with strict attention on details & adherence to SOPs, Operating Manuals, & other guidelines.

I want to ensure that we fuel the vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”, through refinery expansion, petrochemicals integration and providing green-energy solutions.

Never has IndianOil rolled out mega projects of such magnitude that Refineries Division is witnessing now, with projects worth more than Rs. One Lakh Twenty Thousand Crore in various stages of implementation. The timely completion of these projects is of paramount importance to reap the benefit of the peaking demand trend of future.

The other focus area is petrochem. The petchem projects in pipeline at Gujarat, Barauni, Panipat and Paradip refineries, the present 4.6% PII is targeted to increase up to 8.2% by 2025 and subsequently to 11.4% by 2030. I am keen to identify streams from refineries that can add value through petchem integration. And ofcourse we have to add greater momentum to our digitalization vision of I-Drive.

Along with my team, my only focus is to keep refineries landscape in absolute preparedness for catching the beneficial future trends, before other energy options takes its space to meet the stricter sustainability stipulations.



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