If not for a C in organic chemistry, Amy Holmes might have become a doctor instead of a lawyer. The segue into law, however, has not deterred her drive to help people, which she does now in her position as deputy general counsel and assistant secretary for Scientific Drilling International (SDI). With her extensive diplomatic and cultural experience conducting cross-border business transactions, Holmes is now negotiating international contracts on behalf of the global energy-services company. At the same time, she’s improving relations and communication both inside and outside the company.
Holmes began her career as an associate for a firm providing outside counsel to some of the world’s largest energy companies, and it was there that she first developed her diplomatic skills. “The biggest lesson was about how to appreciate and adapt to cultural differences,” she says. “International work requires a certain level of diplomacy, and that really shaped how I approached my relationships with the people on the other side of the contract. Now, I know to take the time to establish a rapport and follow all the formalities before launching into business details.”
She then moved to Champion Technologies as associate general counsel. Her work there honed her diplomacy skills further by teaching her how to navigate the tricky waters of gender and other biases in foreign countries. “I knew that in some parts of the world, local women didn’t share my privileges, so I was careful about how I managed my service delivery,” she says. “But, company management made sure I was always involved in the big picture, and after I demonstrated my expertise on a project, the gender and other issues were really off the table.”
She was recruited to join SDI in 2014. The company was looking for a leader with international experience, and the position offered her the opportunity to sharpen her legal chops. Rather than focus solely on global affairs, she began finding ways to fine-tune the company’s internal operations, too.
When she started at the company, the legal department was largely siloed and responded mainly to emergencies rather than serving as an integral partner in day-to-day business practices. Consequently, other business units across the corporation were also operating as separate entities, each doing business independently from the others. The lack of communication and coherence created unnecessary risks that needed containment.
Holmes determined to resolve it all through a single process: standardize contracting policies and procedures across departments and countries and bring a legal perspective to each separate element of the enterprise. “Standardization puts the global strategy at the forefront of every business unit and also makes it easier to spot and resolve the regional challenges that arise in different jurisdictions,” she says.
In the process, Holmes also improved in-house relationships between her legal division and its companion business units. “Opening up communications with all aspects of the company means information flows both ways,” she says. “They tell me what they are contemplating, and I lead them in an analysis of the risks they should consider before moving forward.”
She includes the company’s key operational factors (margins, value creation, etc.) in the conversations, too; by doing so, she helps local business units accomplish their goals and stay on track with larger corporate objectives. “I realize that legal doesn’t directly generate profit for the company,” she says, “so we have to participate with those units that do generate profit wherever we can.”
In August 2017, Holmes was promoted to deputy general counsel and put in charge of global contract negotiations. She’s looking forward to getting back into the international arena now that Scientific Drilling has adopted her methodical processes and is working so well internally. Her small legal team—comprising herself, the general counsel, and three paralegals—focuses on jurisdictional differences before commencing contract discussions, and she relies on an extensive corporate database to keep her up to speed on international nuances. She also relies on locally sited outside counsel to mitigate regional risks and keep Scientific Drilling’s business units on task, compliance-wise.
And, while she loves the work and the people, Holmes is especially appreciative of how Scientific Drilling lives its values. Dedicated to pursuing safety, integrity, teamwork, innovation, and passion in all its efforts, SDI is also focused on valuing the humanity of the people with whom it works. “To value a person, you have to meet them where they are,” Holmes says. “I wanted to help people as a doctor. Now I’m making it easier for them to do good business.”
Photo by Cameron Keffer