[Women Leading Change at TotalEnergies Marine Fuels] Laura Ong: It’s Difficult But It’s Not Impossible
Blog Article - March 15, 2023
Once blanked by oil traders for being a woman, Laura Ong now heads TotalEnergies Marine Fuels’ trading and operations team for Asia Pacific, delivering bunkers in over 40 ports across Singapore, Korea, China, Japan and the Pacific Islands. Amongst her many responsibilities, she leads the commercial development of the entity’s alternative marine fuels in the region. And she is focused on her people, setting a respectful tone in her team, mentoring interns from her alma mater and ensuring colleagues’ careers have longevity.
“It was very, very tough. Very tough,” Laura says of her first days as a shipping operator for U.S. refiner Tesoro Petroleum some 20 years ago. “The suppliers in the Middle East would say – I am not speaking to you because you are a woman!”
“Did I want to give up? All the time. But my focus was to do well. I grew up in a family in poverty, and my father had just been struck by stroke,” she says, so providing for her parents “made me strive and be resilient.”
The position at Tesoro was a rude awakening to the macho culture of the shipping world but she says things have gradually improved in the past two decades. By the time she joined Shell in 2010, a strong push for diversity had already taken root and she found several female role models as she herself began honing her leadership skills.
Since joining TotalEnergies Marine Fuels three years ago, Laura has relished new challenges. She said it took a year to settle in with the new team and role “and just as I was very happy with how I built my team, Covid struck!”
The pandemic upended energy and shipping markets, causing huge volatility in the prices for fuel and freight. “We were completely cut off from our customers [due to Covid rules]. We couldn’t come and see them and pitch. But we stood together, strong, and we got through it.”
WE HAVE THE BEST PEOPLE
Another momentous challenge came in December 2021 when TotalEnergies Marine Fuels struck its first biofuels trial contract – a groundbreaking project, which required building new commercial structures, technical processes and networks from the ground up, while still under Covid restrictions.
“At the beginning the challenge was very daunting and I told the team – we are starting with nothing, but we have the best people. And the team united; we worked through the nights, weekends and holidays. When the first trial was completed, we cried as a team. It was an unbelievably proud moment.”
Since then, TotalEnergies Marine Fuels developed a local biofuel supply chain, completed multiple biofuel trials for a variety of vessel types, and now, successfully launched its first commercial biofuel operation.
Laura believes it is TotalEnergies Marine Fuels’ push for alternative marine fuels that will invigorate the traditional bunkering industry and the careers of her colleagues for years to come. A passionate believer in developing and mentoring her people, Laura says she is proud to expose the entire team – even junior staff – to these new experiences.
OUR BIOFUEL DEVELOPMENTS
“I told the team from the start, it’s very important to make sure, especially when you are young, dynamic, intelligent, to work towards ensuring the longevity of your careers,” she says. “We cannot do mono-energy anymore; we have to evolve and move to multi-energy.”
One initiative Laura is particularly proud of, is taking on interns from her alma mater, the Singapore Maritime Academy. She mentors the interns personally, long after they finish their stints, and beams like a parent when she recounts their successes, especially the women who remind her of her younger self.
And Laura continues to strive against old cultures in the industry and champion changes where she sees fit.
“In this way you show people: I know it’s difficult but not impossible,” she says. “We all must have open minds and evolve with the business. Times are changing. I live by the principle: do well in every role you play.”