Join the Oil Industry, See the World

Dzul Bakar’s wanderlust led him to be part of the management team that established one of the world’s leading offshore jack-up drilling companies, Shelf Drilling

Photo by Momentary Awe Photography

More than twenty years ago, in the early days of his career, as a litigation lawyer at a prestigious law firm in Malaysia, Dzul Bakar wished to travel and live in different parts the world. He’d obtained economics and law degrees from the University of Tasmania, in Australia, but he wanted to go further—to other parts of Asia, Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. He also wanted to transition to in-house corporate work, and his twin goals led him straight into the international oil and gas industry.

“I’m passionate about business and switched from taking an engineering degree to completing a dual degrees in economics and law, and since then it’s been a wonderful journey,” he says. “I think the legal profession gives you a lot of opportunities and a multitude of career directions. And, the oil and gas business affords me the opportunity to see how a legal department works in managing multiple jurisdictions, being responsible for legal operations in various parts of the world.”

He started working in-house initially, for Exxon in Malaysia, before joining Schlumberger, an oilfield-services company, where he was posted to Singapore, Indonesia, and Houston—each time with increasing roles and responsibility. An opportunity then came up with offshore driller Transocean Ltd, and after an initial stint in their corporate office in Houston as one of its associate general counsel, Bakar relocated to Jakarta with a regional responsibility for Asia and Middle East. In 2012, he jumped at a chance to be part of the executive management team for Shelf Drilling Ltd., which was created through a spin-off of Transocean’s thirty-seven jack-up drilling rigs and its one swamp barge. Today, as Shelf Drilling’s vice president and general counsel, he helps oversee the business and its operations around the world, and his global perspective allows him to serve as a trusted legal adviser looking out for the company’s best interests.

“As a part of the executive leadership team, I am responsible for all aspects of legal governance and compliance, implementing Shelf Drilling’s strategic goals from a sound legal perspective,” Bakar says. He’s not limited to just managing risk, though; he’s also seen as a business partner, an active commercial player helping management arrive at strategic decisions.

“And the oil and gas business affords me the opportunity to see how a legal department works in multiple jurisdictions.”

He sees his dual role as both a challenge and an opportunity. “You need to ensure that your skills go above and beyond just the legal skills,” he says. “From my previous experience, I have realized that the general counsel must become business oriented. In my previous firm, I was encouraged to take up management programs, and that has really helped my overall personal development.”

Bakar’s business-minded approach also helps him maintain efficiency and minimize the legal department’s impact on the bottom line. He makes sure that most of the legal work, where possible, gets managed in-house, thereby reducing the costs, and he reaches out to external counsel only when necessary. “It’s about deciding among the various external service providers—those who are best positioned to handle our work in a cost effective and professional manner,” he says. “There are different professionals who provide varying levels of service, and we have close relationships with just a few outside law firms who understand our business and are cost effective in the process.”

Much of his in-house team’s recent work has revolved around Shelf Drilling’s rig acquisitions, financings and its public listing, in 2018. The listing was challenging because the company decided to complete it on the Oslo Stock Exchange on a “fast-track” basis in just a six-week time frame. By comparison, most companies take at least a couple of months to complete the process. “Six weeks is an aggressive timeline, but we managed it,” Bakar says. “We became a public company in Norway in August of 2018 thanks to the outstanding efforts of our in-house team and our external counsel.”

Shelf Drilling now operates in Asia, India, West Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean—all regions with core shallow-water markets. Working across such geographically and culturally varied markets has been an interesting and rewarding experience for Bakar and his team of diverse and multijurisdictionally qualified lawyers.

“We are a highly localized company,” he says. “Our main focus is to ensure that we have high local content in the various countries we operate in, so in many of these countries the business is entirely managed by local national employees. This helps us interact better with the local clients and customers while managing costs and expectations.”

Bakar has observed that effective teamwork is the most important aspect of managing processes and practices among such a diverse and far-flung workforce, so as a leader, he encourages his Dubai-based team members to collaborate with others as they refine and expand their own capabilities.

“I recognize that a good team leader needs to design, support, and balance the talent of the various individuals within the team so that they end up managing and growing themselves professionally,” he says. “I definitely encourage my multinational legal team to grow their legal and nonlegal skills and also encourage their own personal development.”

Through such efforts, they will be able to continue helping Shelf Drilling succeed around the world.

Expertise Spotlight:

Shelf Drilling has a close working relationship with Brodies LLP’s dedicated oil and gas legal team. Brodies is Scotland’s largest law firm, with more than 650 talented individuals delivering services of the highest quality to Scottish, UK, and global organizations.

Its dedicated oil and gas team is the largest in Scotland with sixteen industry experts specializing in all legal aspects of the industry’s activities, from startup and exploration to drilling and production to decommissioning. Each team member has in-house experience, which gives them an unrivalled depth of knowledge. This, combined with the capability to advise on offshore and onshore activity—in the UK and internationally—and the ability to provide expert advice to both upstream and service-sector clients, sets them apart from their competitors.

The team works to establish a close relationship with clients to fully understand their business objectives and provide advice with real commercial value. The team works as an extension of clients’ in-house teams, and it is relied upon to provide trusted strategic and legal advice.

Backed by the largest specialist legal resource in Scotland, Brodies’s oil and gas team can draw upon experts from the rest of the firm to offer advice in areas such as employment, real estate, litigation, corporate, and compliance, who also have relevant experience advising clients in the oil and gas sector.