The Curious Mind of Genel Energy’s Nilufer Ozder

Genel Energy’s associate general counsel has built a career on learning new cultures

Paragliding, windsurfing, skiing, and horseback riding are Nilufer Ozder’s favorite hobbies.

But she’s not a thrill seeker. She enjoys activities that require her to handle complex issues—the weather, the parachute, coordinating a landing, or interacting with an animal to achieve a mutual understanding.

Nilufer Ozder Genel Energy
Nilufer Ozder, Genel Energy Photo by Caglar Madenci/Studio Sakura

The same is true in her professional life. “Being a lawyer is not only related to laws and regulations,” she explains to her class of newly educated young lawyers at the Turkish Bar Association. “It’s more related to using information in a complex situation to create the right solution for the client.”

Ozder is the associate general counsel of Genel Energy, one of the largest independent oil producers traded on the London Stock Exchange and the largest holder of reserves and resources in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Working from the company’s office in Ankara, Turkey, she is centrally located between Genel’s London office, where she travels frequently, and its operations.

Her business travels and personal background coalesce in her role. Born in Germany, she moved to Turkey as a child. “Here in Turkey, we have a mixture of European and Eastern cultures,” she says. “From my childhood, I have learned how to adapt to different cultures and respect them.”

She describes this cultural adaptability as “being a bridge.” She says, “Besides all my legal responsibilities, the ability to understand the differences between cultures helps me to adapt to the worldwide regulations with which the international companies have to comply. Therefore, having a cross-cultural background is a valuable asset within an oil and gas business on our sphere of influence.”

In addition to knowing each government’s laws, she must also understand the ethics of the region’s lawyers and how the laws are being implemented in different territories—what she calls “the cycle behind the regulations.”

Acting as a bridge between diverse cultures and international companies can be compared to horseback riding, a pastime Ozder has enjoyed since childhood. She describes the activity as interacting with a common goal of understanding one another to be safe and enjoy the experience. Practicing this in both her personal and professional lives indicates it is a true passion for Ozder. “I always feel that my job and my personal life are completing each other,” she says.

A self-described lifelong learner, Ozder always knew she wanted to practice international law, and she saw the energy industry as the perfect opportunity. “Facing a new culture is a kind of adventure,” she explains. “This is why I like the oil and gas industry so much, because every new operation and new region is opening new challenges, new things to learn, new cultures to meet.”

Her professional career has spanned more than eighteen years—all of which have been in the energy sector and for the last fifteen years in the oil and gas sector. “It started with the first company I worked for, an electric energy company, where I worked with Italians,” she says. “Then I worked for an American company, then a French company, which has operations in twelve regions around the world.” It was this last company, Perenco, where Ozder was working when a recruiter approached her about an opportunity with Genel.

Nilufer Ozder Genel Energy
Photo by Caglar Madenci/Studio Sakura

She wasn’t interested in leaving Perenco; she was happy to be a part of its legal team and saw exciting opportunities for her future career. But, the recruiter persisted, and she met with and received an offer from Genel. She decided to decline that offer, but the recruiter continued to keep in contact, and nearly seven months later, he had an enticing proposition: a meeting with Tony Hayward, the former CEO of BP, who was chairman of Genel at the time. “We had a one-and-a-half-hour chat over coffee,” she says.

Hayward shared with Ozder the vision of a high-growth international company, newly listed on the London Stock Exchange, for which she would be one of the first employees and would therefore make a large impact. She was sold. In total, Genel spent almost a year recruiting Ozder, and the entire experience exemplifies her secret to success in the legal field: work hard and build good relationships.

Relationships also drive her leadership style, which she practices both in her role at Genel and as an instructor with the Turkish Bar Association. “I am teaching international and local oil and gas law to passionate and idealistic young lawyers,” she says, emphasizing how much she listens to her class instead of only speaking to them. “I like brainstorming, discussing, and producing an outcome together.” Her style is to be transparent and collaborative, sharing information and research in order to work together on the path to progress.

“I am teaching young lawyers not to be afraid,” she says, “to pursue their desires, their dreams.” Just as she has done.

A Woman Among Men

Nilufer Ozder works in law (a male-dominated field) for an energy company (a male-dominated industry), and she works with local governments in regions such as the Middle East (a culture of male dominance).

How does she do it? With confidence. “Knowing what you are doing is very important,” she says. “When I was a young lawyer, if I showed a little bit of hesitation on what I was advising, the gender difference became apparent. I am still working in the same industry and still working in risky areas, but I never act like I am female and the others are male. We are all professionals. If you don’t feel the difference, it disappears.”

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Herbert Smith Freehills LLP:

“As a legal adviser to Genel Energy, I have worked alongside Nilufer for a number of years, and I admire very much the unique blend of legal, commercial, and cultural skills she displays when dealing with the knotty issues that can arise in the oil sector in developing jurisdictions, making her an asset to Genel’s business and a pleasure to work with.”

—Paula Hodges QC, Partner and Head of Global Arbitration