There are many business arenas still dominated by men, the world is changing and dynamic women are becoming passionate leaders rising up to take their positions alongside these men. Marianne Olsnes, is one such woman. After being responsible for the initiation and delivery of Shell’s transformation/change programme in Norway, she is now General Manager for Digitalization at Shell’s International Development Organization in Den Haag.
This article gives an insight into an incredible woman who navigates the corporate worlds while fulfilling her role as a loving mother and wife.
What was the journey like to get where you are today?
Continuous, exciting, unexpected, logical….
I have never had a North Star in terms of what I wanted to be, nor a particular drive for a specific position or career. I am driven by doing a good job where I am, learning, growing and developing. This so far has opened doors and given me new opportunities along the way. I started as a petroleum engineer in a Norwegian oil company after university, then I did an MBA and started working with gas strategy for Shell. After a few years, I went back to my original technical discipline to build a stronger foundation and gain experience, before eventually expanding into team and business leadership roles.
Over the last few years I have moved into change management and community leadership – all within the energy company, Shell. In Shell we rotate between roles about every 4 years, and so far I have been able to get very exciting roles. At first I felt like they would be too challenging and unmanageable. I didn’t know whether I would master them. However, taking on these challenges and letting myself develop into a new area is extremely fulfilling; it’s the feeling of growth, managing something one didn’t know one could.
What do you feel has been the most important part of this journey so far?
The experience that led me to acknowledge I could be a good leader.
I never thought I would have it in me to be a leader. I was never a leader at school, nor in the sports team – but I have always been driven by a high work ethic, the need to do a good job, and the ability to see people and collaborate across different perspectives and backgrounds. When I got my first job as a team leader 10 years ago, I felt insecure about leading a team of people with more knowledge and experience than myself. But the joy of motivating people, setting direction and getting the best out of individuals and teams has been, and still is, the most fulfilling experience in my career.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
One of the largest challenges was, and still is the difficulty of downturns and going through large restructuring exercises where close friends, colleagues and staff have to leave the company. The difficult decisions and the trade-offs between individuals’ needs, wants and wishes versus what is best for the company and all staff in the long run, these are always difficult and challenging processes to manage and to be in.
How did these experiences mould and shape you into the leader you are today?
They have moulded me in different ways: the first is to dare to tackle difficult discussions and not avoid conflict. Growing up I always tried to avoid conflict, it was also how we dealt with difficult issues in my family – not talking about it, hoping they would go away. But addressing difficult issues head on is extremely liberating and insightful, and many actually evaporate as they are often based on misunderstandings or not knowing each others perspectives. The worst thing that can happen when addressing a difficult topic is that it remains difficult, but you normally gain some insight into why.
Being authentic is a very powerful leadership tool, much more important than being a certain personality type, and behaving in a certain way.
What has been a breakthrough moment for you?
I was once in a leadership course where throughout the whole week I felt out of place, in a group that was very forceful, aggressive and overly ambitious – and I felt that if that was the behaviours I needed to exhibit to be successful I would never like being a leader. I started to doubt myself, and whether this was for me. Then on the last day, a group of senior executives came to the course for a panel debate. And that group of senior leaders, was very diverse in terms of personalities, there was the quiet one, the introvert and the extrovert, they were all very different – and they all had such good reflections, high personal integrity, values and morals. That was an aha moment for me, that being authentic is a very powerful leadership tool, much more important than being a certain personality type, and behaving in a certain way. There are many different personality types that can be good leaders.
What excites you about your future?
The young people who are raising their voice against oppression, against the established ways and for climate change, for what they believe is necessary changes for the world to survive. This drive I think can make us succeed with the challenge of climate change. Being part of an energy company that also believes change must happen and tries to participate in the discussion with society, regulators and customers – preparing for a transition and production of more and cleaner energy. Through this I can contribute to how the future evolves, and this excites me.
What does success mean to you?
The opportunity to make a difference, to develop people and teams towards their potential and to make a difference to the company I work for and the society I live in, as well as learning and developing myself is success to me. To have balance in my life, the energy and time to both be there for my family, and learn and develop myself, is success.
About Marianne Olsnes
Marianne Olsnes is the General Manager for Digitalization in Shell’s International Development Organization. Up until end September she was the Development manager in AS Norske Shell, responsible for all field development studies and execution, including exploration, wells activities and production optimization.
Marianne Olsnes is a highly passionate and energizing leader with long term experience in the global energy industry, has held various strategic leadership roles, with accountability for delivery of mega projects, restructuring and corporate change management programs, strategic and bottom line delivery.
Marianne Olsnes studied Petroleum Engineering at the University of Stavanger before she earned her Master of Science degree from Texas A&M (USA). After a few years working she followed up with an MBA from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University ( NL).
She works in the Netherlands, and lives in Stavanger with her husband and two sons, enjoys an active lifestyle with hiking, skiing and travelling.