Alaina Ramsay on her Journey from Aberdeen to Abu Dhabi

The general counsel of ADNOC Drilling Company is helping the company expand strategically

From an early age, Alaina Ramsay dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but she never imagined her career would lead her from Aberdeen, Scotland—known as the Granite City—to the neon skyline of Abu Dhabi.

“I always knew I wanted do something that would make a difference, and I think—like all young people who want to be lawyers—you imagine being a criminal attorney and putting the bad guys in jail. Of course, once I grew up a little bit and got to university, I saw how interesting commercial and corporate law could be because the lawyers were able to help businesses get to where they wanted to be,” says Ramsay, who now acts as the ADNOC Drilling Company’s general counsel and board secretary heading up the legal, compliance, and governance division.

Alaina Ramsay ADNOC
Alaina Ramsay, General Counsel, Legal, Compliance, and Governance Division, ADNOC Drilling Company, an affiliate of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Photo: Stu Williamson

“What I enjoy the most about being a lawyer is jigsaw puzzling something together, but the answers aren’t necessarily there in front of you,” she says. “That always drove me, and it has throughout my career.”

When she was fresh out of law school, Ramsay says her decision to join the oil and gas industry as a legal advisor was a natural one since Aberdeen is one of the foremost locations for the oil and gas industry in Europe as well as a major hub for the North Sea region. “For a long time, the industry sustained a large percent of the economy. Many people were, and still are, involved in oil and gas, and as a young lawyer, it was natural that I would gravitate in that direction,” says Ramsay.

She earned her first in-house position with Wood Group, now known as Wood. “That’s where I got my grounding and fell in love with the industry, as well as working in-house,” Ramsay says. “It’s not just rewriting contracts and providing generic legal advice; it’s very much an opportunity to embed within the business.”

From there she joined the team at Transocean, one of the world’s largest offshore drilling contractors, where she oversaw the North Sea and Norway region. After a year and a half, she says she had the good fortune to be moved to Malaysia, which would begin her international journey as assistant general counsel in charge of the Asia-Pacific region, India, and Australia. Eventually the company restructured, bringing Ramsay to Dubai.

“I matured a lot in my career within those five years, and I learned a lot,” Ramsay says. “It’s where I really learned to operate an integrated part of the business, placing the legal team as a true and valued business partner. Being an in-house counsel, you’re not always privy to big budgets for legal teams, so you have to do a lot of things—and thinking—for yourself.”

Eventually, Ramsay joined the ADNOC Drilling Company, an affiliate of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as general counsel and board secretary, where she channels the skills obtained throughout her international career in order to help the oil company achieve its 2030 strategy.

These goals include modernizing and upgrading the entire value chain of the business so ADNOC can better take advantage of its geography and meet the oil demands of the world as a whole. “A key driver for ADNOC is its ‘In Country Value’ initiatives, which encourage the use of local goods, services, and manufacturing to stimulate economic diversification and growth,” Ramsay says. “My role as someone with an international background is to take my skill set and use it to build a team that works dynamically through teaching and mentoring to encourage progression.”

In addition to helping ADNOC script its big-picture strategy, Ramsay and her team have also been instrumental in helping the company secure its recent equity partnership with Baker Hughes, a full-stream oil and gas services provider headquartered in Houston, Texas. “The partnership with Baker Hughes forms an important building block of ADNOC’s 2030 smart growth strategy,” Ramsay says.

“I’ve never worked in a company before where I’ve seen such a resolve to drive gender diversity, tolerance and inclusivity for all woman within the company.”

Ramsay also is a major player in the company’s efforts to empower women both inside and outside the company. While statistics show women generally constitute 5 percent of the oil and gas industry in the Middle East, ADNOC’s workforce is comprised of 11 percent female employees.

“I’ve never worked in a company before where I’ve seen such a resolve to drive gender diversity, tolerance, and inclusivity for all women within the company. As part of our 2030 smart growth strategy, ADNOC has appointed two female CEOs; we’re ensuring that 15 percent of our senior managers are women; and we’re aiming to increase recruitment of Emirati women to 30 percent by 2020,” Ramsay says.

“The UAE government itself is at the forefront of investment in women in industry, and ADNOC has really taken that message literally by driving empowerment within our organization and enforcing diversity and inclusion,” she says.

“ADNOC is one of the companies that I’ve worked for in my career where I really feel like my voice is heard as a woman and that I’m fully supported in the things that I’m saying as well as the things I am seeking to achieve as a woman in management. It’s a very refreshing thing to see.”