Abdul Aziz Othman started his career as a Peninsular Gas Utilisation Project engineer at PETRONAS Gas Berhad (PGB) more than three decades ago. Having held numerous managerial roles within PETRONAS Group, he recently returned to PGB in January of this year; this time to assume the role of CEO.
Aziz took the occasion as an opportunity to share an important message with staff; one that would set the course for the company under his leadership. “I made it clear that the way PGB was during my early years is definitely not what it is today,” he shares.
“While it has been running strong for almost 40 years, and our performance and reputation in gas processing, transmission and regasification as well as utilities needs no introduction, we would need to embrace the current development moving fast towards energy transition.
“And we must evolve to stay resilient and relevant in the industry.”
Keeping up with the global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based systems of energy production and consumption like gas, oil and coal to renewable energy sources such as wind, sun and lithium-ion batteries is one thing, but the company must also find creative ways to capitalise on growth opportunities as Malaysia goes for gas market liberalisation. This aims to create a conducive environment and level playing field for energy players in the market while balancing the need to maintain a low cost of utilities to the consumer.
“This condition presents a challenge for PGB as the nation’s energy source transporter to be able to strike a balance, following the government’s aspiration to have competitive utilities for all users in a liberalised market setting,” Aziz explains.
As someone who enjoys taking charge, these challenges energise him. “The challenge in leading the company to successfully navigate through the energy transition and Malaysia’s own energy liberalisation objective is unprecedented,” he says. “I can see the realisation of the various initiatives in the midst of the industry dynamics, and it provides me with the added push to wake up every day, looking forward to going into the office.”
“Collaboration is key in achieving PGB’s targets, especially as we move forward, pursuing growth through our commercial excellence.”
The Challenge of a Lifetime
However, little did Aziz know that a worldwide pandemic would soon come, presenting the challenge of a lifetime and preventing many from returning to the office at all. Fortunately, he was able to rely on his vast history with the company, leaning on years of experience while understanding the weight of the situation, to steadily and calmly lead his team through the uncertain waters.
“PGB shoulders the responsibility to provide energy security in Malaysia. Traditionally, our working arrangement has always been in a labour-intensive industry setting with the management and operations of our sites and infrastructure,” he reveals. “However, as an agile organisation, we were able to respond quickly to weather the COVID-19 storm and address the crisis in a holistic manner by focusing on upholding workers’ safety, sustaining operational excellence and accelerating into the future with digital. This enabled us to endure the unprecedented time with the assurance of effective guidelines put in place to minimise all risks related to the outbreak while ensuring the continuity of gas supply to the nation.”
Like many other companies in the world, PGB operated swiftly to make the switch to working remotely for those in the office who could, while ramping up the safety for its onsite staff and contractors. The common theme tying both sides together was communication. “We accelerated our digital transformation by adopting more technologies to keep communication lines open between our staff, suppliers, customers and the authorities,” Aziz shares. “As a public-listed company, we also embraced new ways of conducting engagements and events with stakeholders and local authorities through digital platforms, including our recent event, where we live-streamed the PGB annual general meeting and shareholders utilised digital voting.”
Even more, PGB incorporated digital technologies to improve nearly every aspect of its business. “We implemented GPU Technical Centre, a centralised digital tool, which provided us with descriptive, predictive and prescriptive analysis to prevent business interruption and maximise reliability,” he says. “We also launched our Remote Operation Centre, which monitors and manages both our assets in Utilities Gebeng and Utilities Kertih, helping to increase operational efficiencies and further optimise our manpower needs and costs. And across our daily operations, the extensive use of drones for surveillance of our pipeline was employed, assisting our staff in plant walkabouts and inspections.”
“PGB shoulders the responsibility to provide energy security in Malaysia.”
During it all, the Group came through each challenge with finesse, maintaining its goal of absolute reliability – a tremendous point of pride for Aziz. “Despite going through these unprecedented challenges, we are very proud of PGB’s undeterred commitment, especially regarding the 100 per cent reliability of products delivered to our customers since the outbreak of COVID-19 up until today,” he beams. “Our strong operational performance also provides a sturdy foundation to pursue growth and secure new sales and customers through existing assets.”
PGB’s operational performance over the years has translated into outstanding financial results, serving as a strong foundation for its future pursuits. And now with the uncertainties of COVID-19 largely managed, it is ready to leverage on its proven resilience and grow. “As part of our measures to grow the business, we will continue to sustain our superior operational performance by operating safely, reliably and efficiently,” Aziz confirms.
“We will also pursue new sales to maximise asset utilisation and secure favourable terms for our transmission and regasification segments, which are regulated under the recent third-party access regime. We recognise it’s also vital to continue to focus on our most valuable asset, our workforce, through effective people management and culture.”
And lastly, the Group will pursue growth opportunities that leverage its core capabilities and take advantage of the energy transition trend. “PGB’s goals are beyond financial profitability, and work to balance economic, environmental and social considerations as well as compliance to governance in making sound business decisions,” Aziz points out. “Sustainability plays a crucial role in formulating our business plans and activities, and has been woven into our culture from day one.
“PGB is developing our strategy to reduce our carbon footprint and remain strongly committed to the execution of other identified sustainable alternatives in echoing PETRONAS’ Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050.”
In 2020, PGB reduced its CO2 greenhouse gas emissions by 15 per cent. In terms of water management, its improved operation and maintenance initiatives resulted in a drop of seven per cent water withdrawal, which is roughly enough water to supply 6,815 people in a year. Additionally, its concerted efforts in waste management resulted in a 17 per cent waste reduction, and its improved energy management initiatives resulted in a reduction of 4.5 million gigajoules – the amount of power required to supply nearly 415,000 homes in a year.
As impressive as its strides in sustainability are, the company recognises its overall total growth vision couldn’t be realised without strategic business partnerships. “Collaboration is key in achieving PGB’s targets, especially as we move forward, pursuing growth through our commercial excellence,” Aziz says. “We constantly collaborate with regulatory bodies to ensure that there is no interruption to our assets’ operations and that they’re always in compliance with governance.”
Equally as important, the company relies on the talent of its workforce and as such, embraces a culture of innovation. “The common misperception of gas processing and utilities infrastructure management is that it lacks innovation,” he says. “However, that’s not the case at all for PGB. Innovation has always been our core belief, ensuring we remain relevant. By fully embracing it, our staff is encouraged to push the boundaries to deliver new value while keeping the customer top of mind.”
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