Up Close & Personal with J. Hunter Farris, chairman of ExxonMobil Subsidiaries, Malaysia

J. HUNTER Farris loves extreme sports. Admitting that he never leaned towards traditional American sports when he was younger, the chairman of ExxonMobil Subsidiaries, Malaysia says he prefers sporting activity with an element of balance.

Farris enjoys skateboarding, mountain biking and skydiving.

Having moved to numerous cities and across borders, he says he suits his love for extreme sports to whichever place he is at.

“Malaysia has some of the best mountain biking. There are all kinds of phenomenal trails so I get back into it when I came here. I ride on the neat trails that the area has to offer,” he says.

Pump it up

Farris refers to American band One Republic’s latest hit Counting Stars, of which Ryan Tedder belts out “everything that kills me makes me feel alive”.

“I’m not that extreme,” he laughs.

“It’s the thrill that motivates me,” he adds, his eyes hinting an element of excitement and danger.

He says there are similarities between extreme sports and his role at ExxonMobil. “When I have to go and conduct talks to about 1,000 people, it’s a bit of the same. It makes your heart beat a little faster, gets your adrenaline pumping. And it enables me to do my best,” he says.

While he says exercise is a sub-benefit of doing extreme sports, it is more the getting outdoors, enjoying nature, exploring new areas, and also being challenged physically and mentally, that continues motivating him.

“It’s sports that you’re doing that involves a lot of thinking on the fly. As you’re challenged, you have to figure out how to approach various obstacles differently. Sports like running or road biking – I can’t stay with it,” he says.

Quite a bit different from his usual, Farris’ most recent past time is golf, which gives him four to five hours of camaraderie with friends, as well as provide him with some challenges.

“Ooolala... depends on what day,” he says regarding his handicap.

“I’m about a 24 or maybe a little better. I’ve been playing for a year and a half now. Every week is a step in the right direction,” he says.

Though he does not have a favourite sport, he mostly does mountain biking and golf in Malaysia.

“I’ll adapt to what that area has to offer. The one common thing is that I’ll always be active, I’m not one to sit around. It’s all about healthy choices, and

staying active physically and mentally,” he says.

There is a dichotomy between liking a challenge and putting safety as a priority. Sports with an element of risk and challenge attracts Farris more than other sports.

They inspire him to perform at a higher level and he believes that risks can be appropriately managed. “You need to understand and mitigate them. You must also know your personal capabilities and limitations, and do it in a safe manner,” he says.

If there is a choice between something that involves adrenaline versus something that did not, Farris says he would always prefer the former.

Although skydiving seems dangerous, he says the risks are more manageable than Base jumping, of which Base stands for building, antenna, span, and earth (cliff).

“It’s rigorous, and safety and precaution are taken, and there are ways to mitigate risks if things go wrong. So, skydiving may appear dangerous but if the risks are understood, it is manageable,” he says.

As soon as his eight-year-old son is old enough, Farris says they will go skydiving together. Although his son is young, he is very cautious and thoughtful in his approach to more adrenaline-filled type of sports, he says.

“He is a chip off the old block. He is very active on anything that has wheels and enjoys going out with me quite a bit. Part of my philosophy with my son is to expose him within boundaries, to see what he likes, and then have a base so he can choose what he wants to do and continue doing what he excels in,” says Farris.

He and his son keep a list of the things they have not done together, and one by one, check them off when they do. It brings a level of excitement and feeling of closeness, he says.

“We have tried things from going to a fish spa to riding a camel in the Middle East. We look for new experiences and we find it enjoyable and rewarding. It’s something that creates memories and we want to make as many as we can, “ he says.


ExxonMobil has impacted Farris the most in terms of developing his appreciation for safety. “God gives us abilities to see, hear, and move. Through experience in the industry and recognising this risk, unfortunately you get to see where people have been injured,” he says.

Farris tells of how he joined ExxonMobil.

He needed to find a summer job to pay his bills. One day, his roommate came back and told Farris he had gotten an interview at Exxon.

Farris duly wrote to the company of his interest in working there but did not get a reply. At a job fair, he saw Exxon’s booth and decided to introduce himself. Coincidentally, the person he met was the same person he had written to earlier.

The next day, Exxon offered Farris an interview. He was offered a full time job before he even graduated. “It was right out of school in January 1991. At that time, I didn’t really understand it (the business) and didn’t appreciate it,” he says.

It has been non-stop for the past 22 years, Farris says.

His passion grew as he moved up in the company. He believes in giving it his all in his role.

“When I worked in different areas of the business in different regions of the world, I could really see how important energy is. And how it enables economy to grow, and what it takes to be able to find and develop and produce oil and gas today,” he says.

The company is now a large and integrated energy group with 200 companies covering every aspect of energy.

As a leader of the company, one thing that is important to him is respect. “I want it (ExxonMobil) to be respected by our business partners, the government, and people, for the knowhow we bring to the country and industry, and how we add value to the country to prudently and efficiently produce precious resources,” he says.

ExxonMobil is working with Petronas on the RM10bil Tapis enhanced oil recovery project, one of the largest offshore projects of its kind in South-East Asia. The next field that has the potential application for similar technology would be Guntung, he says.

ExxonMobil has invested more than RM50bil in the country so far and has 48 offshore platforms.

“All of our liquids are refined and consumed within the country. Nothing is exported. Everything is operated, managed, resourced, built by, operated by, and consumed by Malaysians.

He says the organisation is more than 95% Malaysian.

Asia for beginners

Farris remembers the time he arrived in Malaysia with his wife and son three years ago on Dec 29. Fireworks were going off, celebrating the imminent new year. “We looked at the fireworks for five minutes and went back to bed,” he smiles.

Malaysia, he says, is a potpuri of Asian culture. “People are friendly, the infrastructure is good and a lot nice experience for memories,” he says.

Farris is looking forward to taking his younger brother mountain biking, on food trips and showing him Malaysia’s unique spots when he comes to visit soon.


BORN: Oct 29, 1968

PERSONAL: Married with an eight year old son

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering

CAREER: Chairman of ExxonMobil Subsidiaries, Malaysia

FAVOURITE FOOD: Spicy boiled crawfish with an ice cold beer

FAVOURITE PLACE: Any new adventure with my son

VALUES: Respect, trust, caring, hard work, and treating others, as you would like to be treated

HOBBIES: Many but mountain biking and golfing are the most practiced.

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