Shamhary Mustapha became Deputy Managing Director of Brunei Gas Carriers at a seemingly inopportune time. He assumed the senior position in the months prior to the global pandemic, which complicated logistics around the world. COVID-19, he says jokingly, “welcomed me to the business”. But Shamhary and his crew rose to the occasion, even if “there were some close calls”.
“We continued to prove ourselves as a reliable and safe operator, even during these times, and we’re proud to say we’ve not missed any cargo deliveries to our customers,” Shamhary tells The CEO Magazine. “I’m not saying it’s been smooth sailing. But I owe it to the resilience of our people, and the commitment they demonstrate to ensure that operations remain reliable and safe.”
COVID-19 has been but one of the business challenges Shamhary has navigated in his role with Brunei Gas Carriers (BGC), where he took over as Managing Director in November 2020. The company – 80 per cent owned by the Brunei government in partnership with Shell Gas and Diamond Gas Carriers (part of Mitsubishi), each owning 10 per cent stakes – transports liquified natural gas (LNG) produced in Brunei Darussalam to markets in the Asia–Pacific region and beyond.
BGC also maintains an important role in the Brunei economy; its four ships transport LNG from the world’s ninth-largest natural gas producer on the island of Borneo to the world. Its smooth operations are essential to preventing upstream problems, Shamhary says, referring to the work of extracting and processing natural gas prior to its shipment.
“If there is a disruption on our side, it would have a knock-on impact upstream, to the energy processing business,” he says. “We are the outlet.”
Planning for disruptions
Shamhary had extensive experience in the oil and gas industry prior to joining BGC. He was Managing Director of Brunei Shell Marketing for six years and previously held executive positions with Brunei Shell Petroleum. He also worked for 12 years as a senior environmental officer with Brunei’s Ministry of Development.
“I’m not primarily born and bred in the shipping industry,” he says. But his business background of “having experience with upstream and subsequently downstream, having B2B as well as B2C dealings gave me a set of fresh eyes in terms of looking into the business”.
Shamhary put his experience toward planning for disruptions – many of which predate the pandemic. One disruption was the LNG market itself. When BGC’s predecessor started 40 years ago, the market was new with few strong competitors. Nowadays, Shamhary says, “We do find ourselves in a market where there are lots of additional new suppliers.”
There’s also the energy transition, in which the world is transitioning to renewable sources of energy – a phenomenon Shamhary believes “we can’t escape”. But BGC has played its part by renewing its fleet. And moving forward, he comments, “People are saying LNG will become the transition fuel.”
Shamhary has focused on what he can control. He’s accelerated company plans for digitisation and increasing cybersecurity. He’s also focused on maintaining relationships – with customers, suppliers and staff. It’s an investment that paid off during the pandemic.
“I think our close working relationship with our business partners in countries, to provide that extra level of service that we expect in extraordinary times, has been excellent,” he says.
I think it’s about resilience, and it’s not just about looking at the present but also having an eye on the future.
Looking after the people
The focus on people means paying attention to staff and the people of Brunei. During the pandemic, crew were forced to stay at sea for six months at a time. Quarantines at ports could be crushing. BGC beefed up its onboard communications to keep crew connected with families – in an example of helping staff cope with the pandemic. “People are the most important asset,” Shamhary says. “We do ensure that the welfare, as well as the safety of crew is maintained.”
BGC has also opened a maritime training facility, which he hopes will become “a maritime talent pipeline in Brunei” and benefit the entire maritime sector.
“I think that I’ve always had this long-term, or this two-prong approach of looking at the immediate company but never letting go of what the future looks like,” Shamhary says in summing up his leadership approach. “I think it’s about resilience, and it’s not just about looking at the present but also having an eye on the future.”
This interview with Shamhary Mustapha was conducted prior to his departure from Brunei Gas Carriers on 7 June 2022.