Sandra Redding Discusses the Power of Diversity at Dragon Oil

At the Dubai-based oil and gas company, exposure to new worlds, new cultures, and new perspectives has been a uniquely rewarding experience for GC Sandra Redding

Sandra Redding, Dragon Oil Photo by James Varghese

One of Sandra Redding’s sharpest memories of first moving to Dubai to work for Dragon Oil was learning how to drive on the wrong side of the road. Redding, a New Zealand-born Australian, had never before driven in right-hand traffic, and her new path to work took her down Sheikh Zayed Road, the main artery of the city, which has up to eight lanes running in either direction. “It hit me straight away: I’m going to have to deal with this every day,” Redding recalls, laughing. “But, it’s amazing what you can learn to do.”

Learning new things is hardly daunting at this point for Redding, whose curiosity early on led her to London after she earned her law degree in Australia. In Britain, she swiftly built a career as in-house counsel at companies such as Gaz de France and RWE. When she was contacted by Dragon Oil, an independent oil and gas company based in the Middle East, she jumped at the chance to join because “I could see that it was going to present a huge range of challenges and opportunities to push the skill sets that I had developed,” she says.

At the time, the company was looking for additional legal support from someone experienced in upstream oil and gas, and Redding’s background and skills were a match. But, unlike the companies she had worked for in London, Dragon Oil had operations in Turkmenistan, Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, and Afghanistan. So, from the outset, it became important for her to travel to the different areas of operation with other members of the company, in order to learn their cultural and political landscapes as well as their unique legal hurdles.

Photo by James Varghese

“Finding people to build relationships with was pretty critical straightaway,” Redding says. “What was challenging was having to build advisers in countries I hadn’t been to, and it’s a constant learning process.” It was also a challenge to work for a newer and more dynamic company, which was then undergoing significant growth and looking to expand into new territories. “Multinationals have a very structured, rigid, practice-driven organization,” Redding says. “When you come to an environment that operates in a different way and see how it works in a different country, you can take that learning and apply it.”

Dragon Oil was bought by the government of Dubai, and Redding was given a new opportunity in 2017: a promotion to general counsel from her previous position as senior venture management lawyer. The move allowed her to expand her team, and she looked for people who shared her flexibility, adaptability, and curiosity regarding Dragon Oil’s business and the countries it operates in. “I’m very impressed by people who question what Dragon Oil’s commercial challenges are, as opposed to people who just want to talk to me about the history of their legal careers,” Redding says.

She also looked for diversity, particularly when it came to the different cultures that her team members have worked in. Today, she has attorneys from New Zealand, Turkmenistan, Canada, the Philippines, and Britain. And, in support of Dubai’s Emiratisation Program, aimed at expanding the number of Emiratis in the workforce, Redding is hoping to add to her pool of talent with an Emirati attorney. “The real value of being in-house counsel when a company is as diverse as Dragon Oil is always your ability to understand commercial problems and be willing to be a problem-solving adviser,” Redding says. “People who have worked in different countries, who have grown up in different cultures and societies, have different solutions and offer a range of things that might not occur to me. It’s hugely valuable because the best problem-solving in a business is collaborative.”

As the company has continued to expand into new territories, Redding has worked to establish a new office in Algeria, navigate the company’s first crude oil sales from Iraq, and build up a joint venture in Afghanistan. It’s been a challenge, overseeing things remotely from Dubai while working to solve last-minute problems in new areas. “It’s a bit like you’re MacGyver at times,” Redding says.

And, meanwhile, she’s also had to tackle concerns arising from Dragon Oil’s already existing operations—including new venture opportunities, M&A work, and oversight of trade compliance—while keeping an eye on new regulations and sanctions coming out of different countries, particularly the US. “The key thing to being able to work in this kind of role is learning the importance of listening to the business at a commercial level and learning how to be timely in giving advice,” Redding says. “A lot of the countries we work in can be quite bureaucratic; being timely means knowing when to be fast, when to be patient, and how to read political and commercial environments.”

Redding has also worked hard to mentor her team members—something that she’s valued highly from mentors she’s had in her own career, including Dragon Oil’s CEO, Ali Al Jarwan. “I have some very talented young lawyers on my team, with a strong potential to contribute,” Redding says. “They just need to have exposure to senior leaders and be allowed to engage and have room to grow.”

When she looks back on her time with Dragon Oil, Redding is impressed by how much she herself has been able to grow—on a professional level as well as on a personal one. She and her family travel frequently, often to Nepal, and she recently trekked to Everest Base Camp to raise money for a cancer charity, something she’d never thought she’d be capable of.

“When I think about some of the friendships I now have in my life, particularly with people from different backgrounds, it has supported how I approach my professional life more than I ever knew,” Redding says. “I could not have seen it was going to turn out like this; it was a blind adventure.”

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CMS:

“We congratulate Sandra for her outstanding contribution to the legal and energy sectors. She is an inspiring female GC. CMS is proud to support Dragon Oil and the future of women in law.”

—Matthew Culver, Partner, Oil & Gas

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Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP:

“I have had the opportunity to work with Sandra on a number of matters over the past few years, both arbitrations and transactions. Sandra is a highly effective general counsel, who quickly grasps the legal issues whilst remaining very commercial and focused on achieving the best outcome for Dragon Oil. In addition, being a strong technical lawyer, Sandra has a highly developed cultural awareness of doing business in the Middle East and knows how to get things done. These attributes, taken together, set her apart as one of the region’s most talented GCs.”

—James Bremen, Partner and Chair of the Construction & Engineering Practice