BEING selected as a Petronas scholar gives a young adult the head start and a solid platform from which to launch her career aspirations.
Subsequently being part of Malaysia’s largest energy conglomerate as one of its talents gives a person the chance to reach uncharted heights of achievement, thanks to Petronas’ organisational culture of progressive talent development.
Liza Mustapha, Petronas’ first woman chief financial officer, has come far from the time she undertook her A-Level studies at Concord College in the United Kingdom with financial support from the Petronas Education Sponsorship Programme (PESP).
Her journey as a Petronas scholar continued at the renowned London School of Economics where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics, majoring in Accounting and Finance.
She subsequently completed her chartered accountancy exams at Emile Woolf College in London.
“Being a Petronas scholar made me feel like I was part of the larger Petronas family, ” says Liza.
“Being a student away from home at the time, the Petronas student officers in London knew us all by name. It was then that I began to wear the Petronas badge with pride.”
Two and a half decades on, she has earned her spot in the organisation’s 46-year history as its first woman CFO, a position that many finance professionals can aspire to, thanks to Petronas’ commitment in developing its diverse pool of talents.
“Learning on the job with constructive feedback from those in leadership positions has helped me understand the blind spots and gaps in my performance and capabilities, ” says the mother of three.
Liza says the organisation’s emphasis on sending its high-potential talents to both functional and leadership development courses, such as the Harvard Business School management programme, has further refined her qualities to complement her capabilities.
The journey of talent development these past decades with Petronas has led to Liza earning the much deserved seat at the senior leadership table.
The framework of talent development in Petronas enables employees to learn a myriad of skills, which means that even a specialist in finance can be immersed in and absorb the knowledge and skills across multiple divisions that work cohesively in powering the organisation.
For example, in the finance fraternity, a finance professional is able to grow in diverse departments, such as strategic planning, commercial, human resources and digital divisions, among others.
The breadth and the integrated nature of Petronas’ business model provide opportunities for someone like Liza to head several different functions across the organisation.
She had earlier assumed the role of chief financial officer at Petronas Gas Berhad, and senior general manager of Petronas Group Treasury where she led the implementation of centralised treasury management group-wide.
Thereafter, she became the chief financial officer for Upstream Business which encompassed exploration and production, LNG liquefaction and LNG marketing and trading.
In addition, Liza was responsible for risk management and ICT, as well as the setting up of Petronas Reserves Group to strengthen the governance and assurance of reserves management in Petronas.
These invaluable experiences gave Liza additional perspectives and understanding of the depth and complexity of Petronas’ organisational operations and processes.
It also made her an extremely well-rounded individual who evolved together with the organisation as Petronas grew, strengthened and diversified.
The diversity and inclusivity that runs through Petronas’ DNA extends beyond its 2,000-strong finance team, Liza shares.
More than half of the team are 35 years old or below, while 60% of the finance division comprises women.
With such a vast pool of talents, developing this resource requires a structured approach.
As such, the dedicated Finance Capability Development Unit was set up under the office of the Finance Skill Group Advisor to help sustain Petronas’ commitment to building its talents.
The aim of such talent development structures is to produce best-in-class trusted advisors and strategic business partners to the organisation from within, and as evidenced by Liza’s ascent, the programme clearly has its merits.
“The idea is to develop talents who are well-rounded and equipped with finance technical and business-needs competencies, as well as effective leadership, ” says Liza.
“This includes building the talents’ ability to be resilient while carrying out good governance practices which are aligned with Petronas’ shared values of loyalty, integrity, professionalism and cohesiveness, ” she adds.
As demonstrated by Petronas’ steady stream of strong and capable talents, the emphasis on leadership begins with every aspiring student it chooses to support under the PESP.
Such corporate commitment to strengthening the future of organisational leadership in Malaysia is what ultimately powers the growth of the nation.
Since 1975, Petronas has sponsored approximately 37,000 Malaysian students under the PESP with over RM3.3bil worth of education sponsorships, providing financial support from foundational studies up to their first degree in geology/geophysics, mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering, and other industry-related courses in Australia, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as in Universiti Teknologi Petronas and local universities.
This effort is in line with the Petronas’ Sustainability Agenda and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 and 8 which focus on providing quality education to the graduates as well as promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth respectively.
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