How Shell Harnesses Innovation To Fuel Operational Readiness | Work Done Right with Julie Ferland

This week on the Work Done Right podcast we are joined by Julie Ferland, the Vice President of Innovation Excellence at Shell, to unravel the intricate thread of innovation in large companies Julie delves into the intersection of operational readiness and lifecycle costs and explains the importance of collaborative innovation adoption. She also addresses the delicate equilibrium between processes and innovation, shedding light on how large companies can maintain efficiency while embracing transformative change.  
 
Don’t miss as Julie breaks down the importance of understanding user needs, long-term benefits, and collaborative development to drive successful innovation and change within the energy industry and beyond. 

About Julie 

Our guest today is Julie Ferland, who serves as the Vice President of Innovations Excellence at Shell. In her job, she focuses on driving innovation and delivering near-term value to Shell’s businesses through development, demonstration, and deployment of technologies from outside energy systems using systems engineering to target applications of technology.  

Previously, Julie worked in various roles at Hydroid Inc. Maritime, Applied Physics Corp and the US. Navy. Julie received her degree in Mechanical Engineering from Harvard University and her Master’s of Science in Naval Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  

Top 3 Episode Takeaways

  • Lifecycle Cost and Operational Readiness: Drawing parallels between the Navy’s focus on operational readiness and the energy industry’s concern for operational uptime, Julie highlights the significance of considering lifecycle costs and long-term benefits. Investing upfront in technologies and maintenance that improve long-term performance and reliability can yield substantial advantages, even if it requires a shift from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. 
  • Intimacy with Operations Drives Innovation Adoption: Understanding the day-to-day operations of a company, especially in industries undergoing significant change, is crucial for successful innovation adoption. This requires collaboration between innovators and end users. By intimately grasping the operational challenges and intricacies, innovators can develop solutions that resonate with various levels of the organization and lead to more effective adoption. 
  • Balancing Processes and Innovation: Large companies must balance the need for well-defined processes and procedures with the desire for innovation and agility. While processes are essential for ensuring efficient operations and project execution, fostering innovation requires a degree of flexibility.    

Episode Transcript 

  

Wes Edmiston: 

Julie, welcome to the show.  

 

Julie Ferland:  

Thanks so much, Wes. It’s a pleasure to be here.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

So, to start this off, Julie, you spent years serving in the Navy as an engineer, a salvage diver, and really, honestly, especially the salvage diver.  

  

I’d like to hear more about that. That could probably be a whole podcast in and of itself, but could you tell us a little bit more about your Navy experience and what you did and kind of how that translated throughout your career?  

  

Julie Ferland:  

Absolutely, yeah. I started out in the Navy through the ROTC program and started serving on ships and very quickly learned some fundamentals that I think I’ve carried through my career. One was a deep appreciation for the technical expertise of the operators and learned very quickly.  

  

I talk a lot about this from a leadership standpoint, that when you join the military, leadership comes number one and you quickly learn who has the smarts to know the technical sides. It’s quite a while before they let you touch anything, which is really probably a very good lesson to carry forward.  

  

But I really learned to enjoy the hands on aspects of engineering, understanding how things work. I’ve always been a tinkerer and understanding that kind of deep technical level that you’re forced to do, both when I was serving on ships and as a diver especially you’re in charge of your equipment and your life depends on it.  

  

And I really enjoyed that side of being a problem solver and I’m very glad I got to experience that early in my career because it taught me a lot about myself, but also to appreciate kind of how systems work in the world and how you fit into that and how to get things done.  

  

The other thing I really took from my Navy career is I started serving on ships and then moved into an engineering function, and the Navy does that very purposefully. They want you to have lived and worked on a ship before you go designing anything for it.  

  

And it really gives you this deep sense of empathy and appreciation for what it takes to make a quality system that’s actually going to serve the environment that it is operated in. And so I carried that forward and I hope I can still continue to bring that to my current job in Shell and kind of operators in any kind of industrial environment.  

  

This idea that, what you design is not just something on paper. It has to actually work, and someone’s going to have to interface with it every day. So how you maintain it, how you work with any system, really affects people’s lives and affects operations quite deeply.  

  

And I think I’ve carried that kind of rigor for quality assurance and for understanding how systems work together with humans forward in my career. And I’m appreciative of having had that moment in my background to have taught me that early.  

  

Wes Edmiston: 

Yeah, it sounds really honestly invaluable and just that idea of not even just human factors engineering, but like compassionate human factors engineering, right. You’ve lived this and you really feel for the people that will be on the receiving end of it whenever it comes to the facilities that you’re building.  

  

But that’s actually intriguing because now with the work that you do in innovations, I can see how that would kind of translate over into that aspect as well in thinking about, we’ll say not even necessarily human factors engineering, but UI UX work, right.  

  

How it is that through innovations, how it works with the end user. So do you feel like that same perspective has carried over into your career with what it is that you do now in innovations? And how does that kind of materialize?  

  

Julie Ferland:  

I think it really does. It ties over quite closely because really understanding that we’re talking a lot about kind of digital innovations and AI and all of these kind of things. And the bottom line is so much is how humans interface with systems.  

  

And I kind of look back and you had mentioned my time diving, and there were a lot of aspects of the training and elements of. A dive operation that seemed crazy in the moment. But what I learned was so much of it is really exercising the human mind where it can be as adaptive as possible and training things to become rote that now we can automate a lot of those things but that really put systems in safe so that you can really understand an evolving world around you and be adaptive.  

  

And to me, that’s where the heart of innovation comes in is really unlocking the mind’s ability to see a situation, evaluate it quickly and react to it, which means as much of the steady state as you can automate or make safe as possible.  

  

Is that much more advantageous to unlock more of how humans interact with everything we do?  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, it’s really interesting to think about that. So whenever you went into Shell to begin with, you were heading up the TechWorks division, right?  

  

Julie Ferland:  

Yes.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

So those of you don’t know, TechWorks is the research and development arm of Shell that is trying to bring forward different innovations, effectively speaking. Is that about right?  

 

Julie Ferland:  

Yeah, it’s a kind of interesting node that I haven’t found a lot of other companies having.  

  

So Shell has a fairly large technology group that does a lot of cutting edge research. But the tech works. Arm was really meant to bring in folks like myself from other industries that are kind of coming in and able to ask the dumb questions for lack of a better because we don’t necessarily have the depth of experience in one of shell’s lines of business that others do, but we can kind of see things with a fresh set of eyes.  

  

Bring in technologies from other industries and perhaps kind of rapidly prototype or bring in a systems view that can unlock new innovations. So it’s a really interesting place to work.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Whenever I was even running crews I would always say that I actually enjoyed having somebody that was fresh to the industry.  

  

On my crew because they’re seeing it with a fresh set of eyes. Right. That oftentimes some of the best ideas I’ve ever heard came from came from the three month apprentice of why are we doing it that way?  

  

That doesn’t make any sense. You’re right. That doesn’t make any sense. So it’s really interesting that Shell is taking that approach of bringing in outside industry people in order to do that. I’m curious.  

  

So this TechWorks division is there in order to kind of help alleviate some of the issues that are faced by the energy industry through different means of digitalization and innovations. What sort of issues did you see?  

  

What sort of issues the industry was facing whenever you came into TechWorks? And what were some of the issues that you’ve seen with kind of driving adoption of some of these technologies?  

 

Julie Ferland:  

You’re hitting some really hard hitting questions here because they’re right on what we’ve seen.  

  

The model that TechWorks was built on was really to respond to kind of immediate needs of a business unit. So we do have this large technology division that is looking at kind of future molecules and big processes and things like that.  

  

But there are also this series of immediate challenges and that’s the model that TechWorks thrives in because it’s really kind of amazing the number of challenges that are these niggling issues. Sometimes they feel too small for one business to capture onto.  

  

And Cumulus has actually been a great story in this of kind of torquing bolts. Doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that’s going to make it up to a very high level in a technological challenge. But on the other hand, they’re everywhere and and so the.  

  

One of the things that’s come out of TechWorks is this ability to kind of look at a systems view and see where there are really impactful things that we’re seeing trends that cross lines of business and being fully open and candid.  

  

That’s hard to do in a big company. We tend to be organized by our lines of business. So having this unit that is kind of agnostic to that and agnostic to any particular technology and can look and see where are the places that there’s something that we can improve on by applying something maybe outside of the box that probably has impact across normal organizational boundaries.  

  

Those have been really interesting. The flip side of it is they’re also really hard to implement at times because you have to find an owner in the company. Ultimately we’re a company that is run by we’re a publicly traded company and we have fiscal considerations and all kinds of operational considerations.  

  

So finding ownership for some of these things can be a challenge. We find some really neat possibilities when we can get buy in from end users, when we really are out there and listening to end users and operators and empathetic to that.  

  

And when you solve their problem, they get really invested in that and then you can kind of come at it from both directions in the company. But it’s definitely been something that TechWorks has thrived on, kind of capitalizing on these challenges that nobody else is really attacking and being willing to go out there and prototype something and if it doesn’t work, try again, take another pivot and try something else.  

  

And building that culture into how we think about innovation has been really important.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, that’s great. There’s a lot that. There’s still a lot of, we’ll say opportunity in order to improve construction, operations, maintenance and all of those different disciplines as anybody that’s ever been in the industry pretty well knows right.  

  

Not picking on any one company. We all have just look at this optimistically. Just really a lot of areas of opportunity in order to improve. So it’s great that TechWorks is there in order to honestly help us to get a little bit closer to solving a lot of these problems that we have on the day to day.  

 

Julie Ferland:  

  

Absolutely. And I think we learn a lot in that process too and those learnings can expand to broader parts of the company, which is huge. It’s great to have a learning node like that.  

 

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah. So now you’re the vice president of Innovations Excellence with Shell.  

  

So honestly, the fact of there even being a position such as that shows and kind of a culture of learning right. Which to me is one of the most valuable things that anybody can have. Not just saying this as a compliment to Shell, but really just to the individual level that to me is one of the highest achievements that we should all be searching for is kind of that culture of continuous improvements in learning.  

  

So could you tell us a bit of what it is that you’re working on on a day to day basis and kind of how this carries through with the rest of Shell’s vision or on the construction or maintenance front?  

  

Julie Ferland:  

Absolutely. Yeah, I do have a pretty cool job title. I’ll admit that they had me at the title when it came to taking this position, so it was a pretty easy sell. I’ll wholeheartedly admit that I take advantage of having innovation in my title to kind of push the boundaries once in a while like, well, you gave me the job with innovation in my title, I’m going to take advantage of that.  

  

And in my team, I have the TechWorks team sits in the Innovation Excellence team. And I really think of them as these kind of forward thinking agents. They’re solving great problems and delivering great value to the company, but they’re also providing me with some great insights of what’s changing, where are the places that there are unaddressed challenges in the company that we need to be reactive to and be ready for.  

  

So a lot of what the TechWorks team does is they bring in kind of new capabilities and determine how those capabilities are going to fit into our system and how they might expand and grow. The rest of my team in Innovation Excellence, part of our remit is to incubate those capabilities to really think about not just how they can be applied to a single project, but how do we actually infuse them into our ways of working.  

  

So things like systems engineering, things like really developing strong commercial partnerships for commercializing our technologies or inserting our technologies into our processes, things like Agile Project Management that a few years back was not viewed as something that was applicable in the R and D space, never mind the maintenance and execution phases.  

  

And now we’re seeing where you’re kind of bringing scaled Agile frameworks into some of these environments really is impactful. It’s allowing great prioritization, but it’s a fundamental shift in the culture and the way we work.  

  

So a lot of what I do in my team now is bring those kind of things to life across our 3,500 person technology organization. I also get the honor and privilege of doing a lot of external interface, which is really fun.  

  

So in Innovation Excellence we look after the academic partnerships for Shell which are global and really impactful to look at both cutting edge research areas with professors and universities as well as things like.  

  

The energy transition and how it’s being considered in various countries kind of from almost a policy and advocacy standpoint what different countries we operate in Think about the energy transition and how their academic institutions play in that field.  

  

There’s also a big part of that in recruiting. So if we’re going to bring innovative new capabilities into the company, we need. The pipeline to actually build the capabilities into the future workforce of the company.  

  

So it’s really fun. I get to look in all of these different areas and see how the picture comes together to hopefully set the right road for the future for the company.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Honestly, given the fact of the different technologies that you’re looking to implement, bringing in potentially all of the new talent, that’s a really pivotal role that you’re playing within really the greater strategy and vision of Shell as a whole.  

  

So it’s a lot that you’re doing.  

 

Julie Ferland:  

It’s not always easy, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. And we get to engage a lot, in addition to the academic institutions, on the external side, we engage a lot with startups.  

  

Not just cumulus, but a lot of startups through everything from the game changer program through we work quite closely with our venture arm and things like that, really understanding how this ecosystem is all going to come together.  

  

Because, look, we’re a big company. We know we can do some things really well, but we also know we need these partnerships to do everything we want to do. So it really is a lot of fun. It’s not without its challenges but it’s a lot of fun.  

  

Wes Edmiston: 

Well the challenges are part of the fun. If there were no challenges. That just becomes a board after a while. Like you said, there are plenty of things that we all do really well already. Right there there are plenty of things that honestly, Shell does very, very well that attracted me to work with Shell for the time that I did because they’re cut above the rest in many different regards.  

  

But it’s not to say that they were really all companies don’t still have opportunities, improvement. Right. I like to remind myself of a quote, something along the lines of a smart person learns from their mistakes, a wise person learns from somebody else’s.  

  

Right. And being the youngest in my family, I had the opportunity of saying the things that people did well and things people didn’t do well and learning really from everybody’s best and worst in the best way we can.  

  

Right? In a similar way, given your really diverse background, I’d like to hear kind of what you see that the Navy did really well because in a very similar way, continuous operations and the viability of the Navy is critical infrastructure.  

  

In a way, this is directly tied to national security and defense. So operational uptime is of the utmost importance for them, just in the same way that maintaining operations in a plant and system integrity in a plant is of utmost importance.  

  

So is there anything that you would say that the Navy did well that maybe we could learn from in oil and gas as a whole or really in the energy industry as a whole? And could you just tell me more what your thoughts were with working within the Navy?  

  

Julie Ferland:  

Absolutely. And I’m laughing because I’m the youngest in the family too. Spent a lot of time observing and I laugh because my older brothers were army and Air Force, so I don’t want to. Call service favorites, but I watched them and decided to join the Navy and go to see I just should be very careful of who’s listening.  

  

I love all the services. Very thankful. I think it’s really interesting because when I was transitioning from my ship driving days to becoming a naval architect and going into shipbuilding was really at an interesting transition point for the Navy, where we were are outsourcing more.  

  

And more of our design work and also really getting a much closer understanding of the tie in between lifecycle cost and the upfront in shell. We would call it Capex of shipbuilding and that had been a challenge for a long time where it’s very hard to get congressional budgets approved, not a shocker to anyone there.  

  

And it’s much easier if the dollar value is lower. And we see the same things in industry where it is much easier to get a capital project approved when the investment cost is lower. But the operational considerations of some of those things that happen when you start scratching out line items become really profound.  

  

And we learned a lot about this when we started looking at the 30 year lifecycle of ships of really understanding if you can automate something to reduce the manpower, reduce the headcount on a ship, the implications of that over those 30 years compared to the build cost is just different orders of magnitude.  

  

It’s so impactful things like corrosion and maintenance. The more you can build that in up front, the much more cost effective and smooth operating the ship will be long term. Now, tying those two things together, I would say there’s an awful lot of commonality between.  

  

What I saw in the military and what we see in the energy industry, that it’s really hard. We operate right or wrong, we operate on fairly short budget cycles. We’re looking at share price almost daily and things like that.  

  

So it’s really hard to say, no, just trust me, if we put this extra money in now, it will pay off in 20 years, and you’ll be really glad we did it. Those are really hard decisions to make. So I empathize with the business decisions that drive some of the behaviors, but I think we can do so much more when we can tie the two together and really look at lifecycle costs.  

  

And I think the other thing that we’re really learning is that maintenance is downtime, and downtime is expensive, and that’s a bottom line. And I think in the fleet, in the Navy, it was focused on readiness.  

  

It’s all about, how do you make sure that we hope it will never happen, that you actually need to use a ship for the purpose that it’s built for? But please, please, when you need to use it for that purpose, may it work and may everything work, from the systems that are the weapon systems to the defense systems to the I spent a while in damage control to the firefighting and response systems that you never, ever want to have to use.  

  

But we test them all the time, over and over. And it’s very similar, I think, to industry, where in operations, time is money. You’re looking more at uptime than necessarily readiness, but that uptime is costly drives business decisions, the fundamentals underneath it for the importance of maintenance, quality assurance, and building it right the first time are exactly the same.  

 

Wes Edmiston: 

Yeah, I would almost see that. I guess operational readiness would be harder to manage and maintain and even quantify. Than operational uptime because it’s just like we all pretty well know that if you don’t use something, it’ll actually degrade oftentimes a lot faster.  

  

If you ever had a house that was just sitting somewhere, it goes to bits like quick. It’s actually kind of frustrating because you think, who’s using all this stuff, right? Nobody. That’s the problem.  

  

So it’s interesting to think about how it is that that the Navy is able to maintain operational readiness despite the potential for things to go awry that you don’t even see because you’re not even using it right.  

  

So how is it that, I guess we can draw that parallel into operational uptime and keeping some of our rotating equipment operating for longer? Or I guess, how do you see this relationship between those two?  

  

And what can we, I guess, do a little bit better in the energy industry?  

 

Julie Ferland:  

I think we’re already on that pathway. And it’s interesting that even though we hope we don’t use systems in our defense system very often, we sure exercise them a lot.  

  

Ships are at sea. Go look at the map of kind of where ships are at sea. They’re out there operating. We’re testing those systems constantly for good reason for exactly what you’re talking about, that things degrade when they’re not used, so use them very often.  

  

I do think there’s a lot in kind of maintenance and operations that we’re learning so much more predictive. Maintenance is a great example that we were learning this very, I don’t know, probably two years ago of really when I was in grad school looking at kind of pump curves and how can you determine that a bearing is about to go way before it goes?  

  

These kind of things that I think we’ve grown so much in that 20 years of the data we have, there’s a lot of question of. Are we using it? Are we using it to our best advantage? And I think in industry there’s some bias against change that the kind of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mindset that comes for very good reason.  

  

Look, we incentivize most of our operators for that uptime. We incentivize them for keeping their plant operating safely. When the crazies like me come in or any of our teams come in and say oh, but we think you can do it better there’s an inherent risk in that.  

  

If someone has been operating very smoothly for a long period of time it’s hard to drive that kind of change. But on the other hand, I think when we have compelling cases that can be driven by data and that can unlock insights by data we can do an awful lot.  

  

We’ve seen this in some of the tools that cumulus fields that really looking at these kind of workflows and how information is so critical to getting in front of things that can be disruptive. And I think we can continue to do more on that front to just show people, show operators what’s available to them and let them draw the insights that they wouldn’t have thought possible.  

  

Wes Edmiston: 

Yeah, it’s a really interesting thing you point out with this idea of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And most people’s temperament toward trying something new like you even pointed out for very good reason right.  

  

There is inherent risk with change and oftentimes the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t or what have you however you want to look at this even if the alternative is much better. If you don’t if you’ve never experienced it, it’s really hard in order to believe some of that hype.  

  

So I’d be very curious to hear how it is that you or your team discusses the potential to implement some of these innovations with the people at these operating facilities and how you get them over that sentiment of risk, whether it’s real or it’s just a perceived risk.  

  

How you help to walk them through getting comfortable with the idea of trying something new.  

 

Julie Ferland:  

I think a lot of it gets driven by having the operators invested in the process. Really, when you’re listening to their challenges and able to solve some of their challenges, it makes all the difference in the world that when you hear someone go, hi, you have some interesting ideas.  

  

Let me tell you my real problem. If your ears perk up and you can help to get to those bits, it really does make a fundamental change. And I think of some of the systems we’ve developed, and a lot of it has been that when you’re I remember the WeldScout system, one of these systems that we’re now licensing to Cumulus.  

  

And the idea behind it was really to help clear this backlog of looking at ultrasonic test data. And those that are overloaded do not have time to talk to you, but if you can get them to talk to you a little bit and then kind of float the idea of, well, what if we could could really take out a good part of the boring part of your job.  

  

Really listen, okay, what’s the part you hate about your job? If we could automate that piece and allow you to focus on the interesting parts, on the actual places that might be a flaw or an issue. Would that make a difference?  

  

And then you kind of get the, oh yeah, but is that possible? Versus coming in and saying, let me sell you a robot, which I think a lot of. Look, I used to work for a robotics company. I think when we can get that kind of engagement with end users, where they’re seeing the possibility, and then they can iterate with the development process.  

  

And that’s what we learned with Weldscout is really this, okay, you send us something, let us run it through the algorithms. We’re going to send it back to you. You tell us what we did wrong, and then iterate like that.  

  

So there’s this real buy-in of we’ve learned from each other along the way. And that’s one example. But there’s many of them along the way where you kind of get this interface and then that user is really bought in and then they’re going to go tell their friends, they’re going to tell the operators on the other shift, or they’re going to go to the asset next door and then things start to go viral.  

  

We certainly have seen this with the smart torque system when the examples when COVID struck and our construction had to shut down, and there was one set of work orders that didn’t need to back up weeks or months in their paperwork.  

  

And that rumor goes around really quickly.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, we’re such a small industry, right. It’s almost impossible. Even when doing these different calls and talking with folks like yourself, even when talking with people from other companies that I’ve never been related to in any fashion.  

  

Somebody always knows. Somebody that we know even. The, the folks that I bought this house from that I live in, the gentleman worked at Phillips 66 and I actually used to work with a guy that worked with him whenever he met his wife.  

  

And it was just like, what a small world. Right. So with that though, when something really works yeah, word of mouth spreads very quickly. So I guess what I’m hearing though, is getting that initial buy in and kind of going through that journey as a partner with your prospective customer or with whomever it is this end user may be, is really where you’re seeing a lot of value and getting people over that initial hesitation or that perception of risk.  

  

Is that about right?  

 

Julie Ferland:   

I think so. And that’s at least in the area that I get the privilege to work in, that’s been really impactful. There’s obviously other things that are but although we’ve even seen the same thing in kind of big energy transition projects where to really get in on the front end and understand in a hard to abate industry, how do you build a system model that’s really driven by how an industrial process works?  

  

Now, before you try and sell them the new solution so that you can really see how changing pieces of that energy system will affect their operations, And I think it really resonates at all different levels of scale.  

  

That kind of intimacy with the day to day operations really does make a big difference in adoption.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

I’d be curious though, eight years in the space of technology and with everything that you’ve done with TechWorks and everything that’s going on nowadays, I’d be curious to hear, I guess, what sort of changes you’ve seen holistically within the company since then.  

  

Is there a similarity or a difference in the type of problems that you’re trying to address now?  

 

Julie Ferland:  

I think for the innovation nodes that I’ve had the opportunity to work with, we certainly have seen shifts.  

  

Where the pull for these capabilities come from in the company. And it’s actually been something kind of an unexpected element of the TechWorks model. For example, by being kind of completely unfunded and responsive to what the business wants today, you kind of get to see where the company is shifting.  

  

So which businesses are in need of innovation? They tend to be the ones that are going through the most change, whether that’s growth, whether that’s shrinking, whether that’s kind of needing to shift because of something in the energy system.  

  

So not because of some grand strategy that we say, oh, this is an area we’re going to deploy tech works on, but much more a bit reactionary. So you look at what we used to call new energies, you look at our renewables businesses and it’s something that we’ve seen a lot of change and shift over time, but a lot of it has been in experimentation, which is really interesting.  

  

I won’t say the actual there’s fundamentals that stay the same, the ideals of looking at a system level of understanding how a concept of operations comes together and how technology plays in that the kind of fundamentals of rapidly prototyping getting something fielded really quickly to learn from it.  

  

Those elements of some of the things that my team brings to play in shell have been constants but the problems to which they get applied to are continuing to change and evolve. Which is exciting because it means the energy systems changing and evolving, which is, I think, what we all want.  

  

 

Wes Edmiston: 

With eight years, you came into this with an engineering background, with experience with all forms of construction, manufacturing and really technology and innovation. But not necessarily toward, we’ll say, the energy industry because we are a bit of a niche whenever it comes to all things construction and operations.  

  

Right. We’re very similar, but also very different to a lot of other industries. And you said you still feel new and you’re continuously learning, but I’d be curious, are there any lessons that you learned, I guess just in your first eight years?  

  

Is there anything that you wish that you would have known coming into this? Is there anything that you would say this distillates into the top couple of lessons that you’ve learned in your career?  

 

Julie Ferland:  

I think I have learned a great appreciation for what it takes to run a company as large as Shell that can feel when you come in as an experienced tire, especially into an innovative node where you’re kind of given the freedom to go work on all kinds of interesting stuff.  

  

It can be really frustrating when all of a sudden the process comes in and it’s like everything slows down. But on the other hand, you realize that some of those complexities of the company allow us to continually to evolve the company and that’s really exciting.  

  

And so I find myself continually reminding especially the new folks that are coming into our teams, especially for two things. One is I deeply value the experience that others are bringing in. We often have this discussion of how long have you been in Shell before you can no longer count yourself amongst the newbies. And I think that insight of when someone comes in and goes, well, why do you do it this way? And you go, oh my gosh, I’ve become that person that normalized.  

  

Something that I shouldn’t have is a really important element. But I also think there’s elements that we can continue to learn from what the company has done really well for a long period of time. And I think that’s also something that I’ve grown and evolved to understand, that some of the very large projects we’re able to execute and an appreciation for what it takes to bring all of those elements together.  

  

There’s a reason behind some of the things that can feel frustrating to the innovator. So there’s a lot of opportunity to learn and bring those views together. And I think when we can get and we’ve seen a lot of examples of this recently, when we can get the right teams of people that are kind of innovative thinkers, married with folks that have the depth of experience in some of our areas of business and can build the structure of psychological safety where they can really have an appreciation for what each other brings to the table and come together as a team.  

  

It’s pretty incredible and it’s a really neat part of what keeps me excited to come to work every day.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

I guess I’ll say so speaking from experience. You’re right. The systems, the processes and leaders can be frustrating at times, but kind of like you were alluding to, whenever you’re thinking about carrying on operating a multibillion dollar facility or executing the construction of a multibillion dollar project, you quickly understand that.  

  

Don’t have processes and procedures in place, you can’t do it. There’s so many moving parts and if you don’t have a plan effectively in place in order to execute this, it’s not going to end up happening.  

  

So those procedures really enable and facilitate the execution of the broader vision. Without it we all just fall the bits.  

 

Julie Ferland:  

Yeah, yeah. And it’s really interesting. You know, we see this a lot in our interface with startups that, you know, those of us that we kind of have brought together, we call it a natural team of, of the different elements in shell that interface with startups.  

  

And we have a pretty. Cool spectrum that we cover everything from early stage seed funding to equity investments. We share this common like we have control frameworks that are meant to protect our suppliers, our customers, our company in really big stuff and then we are constantly pushing against the system to remind them that a startup doesn’t have an army of lawyers to review the and we’re learning how do we kind of in the right places where the right risk tolerance is there, and we can do it. How do we get a little more nimble and pare those kind of things down to really uncover and enable innovation in new and exciting ways without kind of squashing it?  

  

I don’t think we’re perfect at it but I think it’s a dance. And how do you kind of get the dance partners in sync with each other? But I think there’s a lot of opportunity there because a lot of what we see, especially in the places where we interface with smaller companies, smaller suppliers, startups and some of these things are super important and near and dear to our heart, especially when it comes to bringing in better buyer diversity and really kind of moving the needle in areas that we’re passionate about as a company.  

  

But we also have to develop that empathy and understand how the interplay works. But I do think it is a two way street and we see this a lot with our startup engagements that some of the most valuable engagements is really in that kind of mentorship back and forth and it definitely goes in both directions, where we can learn an awful lot about that kind of hunger that comes from.  

  

I have to know how to make payroll next week, which, right or wrong, a lot of people in a large corporate don’t think about at the same level. The difference between oh, resubmit your invoice. I know we’re on 60 day terms, that resets the clock, that’s not a big deal.  

  

Right? Is an existential crisis to some of the both startups and suppliers we want to work with and say we really do want to empower and enable. On the flip side, I’m hopeful that we can do more to help some of these really small innovative nodes understand, say, the broader energy system and how they fit in and unlock ways that they can scale much more quickly through capital investment and through kind of seeing where there might be an opportunity.  

  

Globally that they might not have the opportunity to see in the market they’re operating in. And places where you go, wow, your innovation is amazing, but man, it would be really well suited over here.  

  

And you could probably scale much quicker. And I think we can do that kind of mentorship, again, involves developing this trust relationship and seeing the value from both sides.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah. This is a global issue and honestly, even across industry, just an energy thing.  

  

It’s really all large companies in general. You’re spot on. Nobody’s perfect, but we’re all striving to be as much as possible. It almost sounds like there’s an opportunity, if there isn’t already. Maybe I’m just unaware.  

  

But like a cross company, cross industry committee made up of companies like Shell or BP or another ones, any of them out there, but even other larger, we’ll say, manufacturing companies, GE’s of the world, and all of them mix with other smaller companies.  

  

Just kind of get people together and talk about how it is that we could all work together better.  

 

Julie Ferland:  

Absolutely. And there are some great forums out there that we try and participate in and we probably haven’t uncovered all the ones that are out there.  

  

I know we have some very valued relationships with groups like the National Renewable Energy Lab that does an awful lot to bring partners together to kind of see the system as a whole. But that’s an example that I happen to be fairly intimately familiar with.  

  

But they exist across the globe and there’s a lot of those, but I think we can continue to do more with them.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Are there any interesting or really exciting potentially new and immersion technologies that you’re really interested in that you can speak to?  

  

What are you hopeful to see more of in the future?  

 

Julie Ferland:  

Well, I think as the energy system continues to evolve, it’s a place where maybe it’s just from my early part of my career, I’m a systems engineer at heart, and I think viewing the energy system as a whole, there’s some really exciting applications of systems engineering that I’m excited to see come more to the forefront.  

  

It’s something that we, we worked on in defense for a long time. NASA was the kind of I think systems engineers have been around a lot longer than NASA was, but they’ve kind of established the kind of triple redundancy and really seeing things as a system.  

  

But that becomes so much more important as the complexity of the energy system continues to change. And I think that’s a really interesting place where we understand how kind of more stable features of the energy system can interface with more intermittency and come together to actually achieve our decarbonization goals.  

  

So to me, that’s really exciting and it is continually evolving and just so kind of neat to see what the winners and losers come out as. And there’s a consumer element to it, which is something that I think is hard for the energy industry to really wrap their heads around.  

  

Having some experience with consumer products. There’s always the people that are arguing like, well, why did Beta win over VHS? Or why did the iPhone win over the but some of this is consumer behaviors and when it comes to the energy system layering, that on top of the things that we go, but technologically, this is the right solution is, I mean.  

  

Pop some popcorn. This is going to be a fun ride. But it’s really interesting, and I think it’s interesting to see how this all goes. The other piece that I think is really interesting from a technological standpoint is how we can leverage combination of digital solutions and rapid prototyping, and those come together really in how we can push to scale quickly.  

  

We’ve learned a lot about how we can get something fielded, but I think in the digital place, there’s still some tension. We have enterprise solutions that don’t fully leverage the data we’ve got because we still have data in little hidey holes.  

  

Our information management isn’t great, and I’m not even just talking about I think this is across the globe, and so therefore, people are making decisions on incomplete information. And I think there’s so much that I’m very excited about that we can do kind of one bite out of the apple at a time to upend this and get to the point where people are really asking for the whole picture of data before they’re making a decision and able to do that much more real time.  

  

And I think those kind of they’re broad areas, but they’re applicable across multiple industries and I think are going to be really interesting to watch evolve and develop in our lifetime.  

 

 

Rapid Fire Questions 

 

Wes Edmiston:  

Julie, we’re coming right up on time, so I’m just going to ask a couple of last minute rapid fire questions to get to know Julie Ferland, the person, not just the professional.  

  

So first question I like to ask is, what continues to motivate you?  

 

 

Julie Ferland: 

 

I think we’ve touched on it earlier, but there’s a lot of challenges out there, and with challenge, because it’s opportunity, and that’s a chance to innovate.  

  

And that’s really fun.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

That’s great. What is the one word that best describes you?  

 

Julie Ferland:  

I asked my daughter. You gave me a preview of this question, so I asked my daughter and she said, industrious.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

That’s good.  

  

What is your idea of a perfect vacation? 

 

Julie Ferland: 

 It’s probably a bluebird day on a ski mountain somewhere, looking out over the above treeline vista and enjoying some powder.  

 

Wes Edmiston:  

If you could have dinner with any one famous person, living or dead, who would it be?  

  

Julie Ferland: 

I’d probably have to go with Grace Hopper. And it’s just more fascinating that for someone at that time to have made it, to become an admiral, to have figured out how they mind boggling to, like before computers existed I mean, we’re digital natives now, but to be inventing programming languages and to do it all as a woman at a time where it wasn’t exactly cool for women to be working. Period. I think I would love to pick her brain of how that all went and what kind of interesting things she ran into along the way.  

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