Walking into the office of one of the largest foreign investors in Thailand, few people might notice the array of tea leaves stacked up in containers in the corner of the room.
“We’ve worked with a lot of governments over the past 50 years and we’ve worked well with all the governments because we both have one thing in common which is energy security”
“I got into drinking tea when someone gave me some a few years ago and ever since I’ve been hooked on it,” says Brad Middleton, managing director of South Asian operations for Chevron. He even has a special kettle that he keeps on the boil all day long so he can indulge his pleasure.
“This way I get to drink lots of water as well,” he jokes after an interview with Asia Focus.
When he’s not sipping, the American-born petroleum engineer devotes his attention to what people in the oil industry like to call “Texas tea”, a career that dates back nearly three decades his days on the offshore platforms of Chevron in the Gulf of Mexico.
Those days, he admits, were the best in his life, and not what most of us perceive offshore work to be like from the outside.
“One may think that it’s hard on the family but in reality, I spent more time with my children because I was going to their schools. I was there for everything because I would not have to come home at 6pm every day,” he recalls. “Life on the platform is great.”
A shift on a rig lasts two weeks at a time but as compensation the workers get two weeks to stay home because they can’t go back to home every night like most of us.
Managing Director, Chevron Asia South Ltd
As managing director of Chevron Asia South, responsible for upstream operations in six countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
Prior to assuming current position, served as general manager of Corporate Strategic Planning and general manager of Upstream Organisational Capability. Other leadership positions in 27-year career with Chevron have included postings in Thailand, Nigeria, Indonesia, the UK and US
Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering, Louisiana State University, 1986
“I would be at home when they left for school and there when they got back from school at 2 or 3pm every day. I would do stuff during the day, help them with their homework, sports and all the other things.”
But the life he loved only lasted five years when Chevron moved him up the corporate ladder. Twenty-three years after he stepped off the platform, he’s now in charge of activities in six countries in the region: China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.
Having arrived in Bangkok only at the start of this year, Mr Middleton could be forgiven for feeling nervous about leaving scenic Kazakhstan for politically unstable Thailand, but he sees it very differently, saying that he loves this country and Asia overall.
“My wife and I are ecstatic about moving back to the region. We love Thailand and have lived here before from 2006-08,” he said, adding that the last time he was here was when the 2006 coup took place.
“As I said, my daughter graduated from ISB (International School of Bangkok), and we love the culture, the people and this region as a whole.
“With respect to the current political turmoil, we are long-term investor. We’ve been in Thailand for 50 years and we want to be in Thailand for another 50 years or more.”
In the long time span that companies in the exploration and production business need, they go through many governments and regimes.
“We’ve worked with a lot of governments over the past 50 years and we’ve worked well with all the governments because we both have one thing in common which is energy security,” Mr Middleton said.
ENERGY DEMAND EPICENTRE
Demand for energy and having energy security is so paramount in most nations that whoever comes to power would tend not to interfere with the processes required.
That demand is surging in Asia as the region takes centre stage in global economic growth and countries from China and Thailand to Bangladesh are all scrambling for energy security.
“Today Asia South is the epicentre for energy demand growth,” he says, adding that it is also the area where the International Energy Agency estimates that around $700 billion will be spent on investments to try to meet the region’s needs.
Since 1990 energy consumption in the region has increased by 2.5 times but the region’s per capita consumption is still well below the average of other parts of the world.
“If you look at the degree of electrification, it is relatively low, and it may come as a surprise but there are about 130 million people in Asean who do not have electricity,” Mr Middleton states as an example of how much more demand for gas is needed to generate electricity.
Gas has become one of the cheapest and easiest energy sources for the region as exploration is revealing new sources.
It’s estimated that from now until 2035 the region is expected to see an increase in energy demand by 80%, double the rate for the rest of the world.
“If you just take it further and put it in Thailand’s context, over the next 15 years Thailand needs to double its power generation capacity to meet forecast demand for electricity, and that would require a significant amount of domestic development if we want to avoid expensive imports,” he said. Thailand currently uses natural gas as the main source (67%) of its fuel for electricity generation.
Countries rely on companies such as Chevron to supply natural gas. In Thailand’s case the US company provides about a quarter of the country’s gas requirements for electricity generation; in Bangladesh the figure is 50%.
And Chevron is looking to at least maintain if not raise its production capacity in each of the countries in which it operates. It currently has three major ongoing “growth areas”: Bangladesh, China and Thailand.
The company has been in Bangladesh for more than 15 years and has increased production by tenfold there.
“We currently are executing the Bibiyana project which will further increase our gas supply to the country by 30%. We will increase our own production by 30% although the country’s gas demand will increase as well,” Mr Middleton said.
Some of Chevron’s onshore facilities are in the middle of tea plantations and Mr Middleton’s collection of six tea jars includes one from a plantation in Bangladesh.
In China, the Chuangdongbei is a key project that will supply much-needed gas to a country that has been seeking energy sources from across the world.
In Thailand, the company over the past five years has drilled more than 5,000 wells and set up more than 250 platforms.
“We have invested just over $30 billion since we have been here and over the last 10 years we have increased our gas supply by 35% and we are currently at 25% of the gas supply used for power generation in Thailand,” he said.
“We continue to drill over 400 wells and set up about 18 platforms [a year] just to maintain the supply that we are giving to Thailand. We also have a growth project in Thailand, which is called Ubon, which is expected to reach a final investment decision by next year, which would increase the supply that we give to Thailand,” he said.
Despite being in a region that is infamous for changes in governments, especially in many of the developing nations, Mr Middleton says it is not changes in governments that occupy investors’ attention; rather, it is policies with a long-term perspective that they are looking for.
If governments support policies that are conducive to investments flowing into the energy sector and promote domestic energy, then businesses such as Chevron would be more than happy to participate.
“What we as investors want is a stable legal framework, predictable tax regimes, rule of law, a level playing field for all investors. These are the things we all are looking for and a lot of these countries are offering this.”
Citing the example of Thailand where successive governments have always promoted a consistent energy policy, he said that by doing so Thailand has managed to develop energy security.
“If you look at the investment climate in Thailand, it has created one with huge domestic supply from what is really a difficult gas reserve to undertake. The gas reserves in the Gulf of Thailand are not conventional and are not easy to develop but the governments and the energy ministry have worked to bring that gas to the market,” he added.
Chevron annually spends close to $1.5 billion just to maintain that supply. But in order to keep up with the rising demand, Mr Middleton says that more areas need to be explored.
“To substantially increase domestic supply, we have got to open up some new areas and access is one of the challenges because what we have is sometimes off limits, wherever it might be,” he says.
Such limitations are hampering the industry and as a result the country could have to rely on more expensive imports of fossil fuels. In the overlapping areas in the Gulf of Thailand, he said, there is the possibility of huge potential only if the governments involved could work something out.
In a day and age where job-hopping is the name of the game, the man who has spent his entire career at Chevron says it’s his aim to retire in the company when the time comes, and to return to the family home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle where his father grew up.
Just three months into his new job, Mr Middleton enjoys sailing, boating and scuba diving and is taking full advantage of the region, sailing and diving in Phuket.
A lover of aerobic sports, he says he’s also trying to improve his golf game after being “killed” by a subordinate in a recent round.
Mr Middleton says his aim is to have a good balance between work and home life, and even at work he takes a “stretching break”, which happened to come exactly at the same time as our interview was taking place.
“This is a ring for stretching. We want people to get away from their desks and stretch for a while and this takes place at 3pm every day,” he explained.
While work keeps him in the office until 6 or 6.30, he wants to spend time with his family and friends as well in order to maintain a healthy balance. “We like to work hard, but also like to promote some quality family time.”
As for future plans, Mr Middleton says he has no ambitions beyond Chevron, crediting its internal leadership training system with helping to put him where he is today, saying it could well take him somewhere else in the future as well.
“As for career, with Chevron all I did a long time ago was say, ‘I turn my career over to you and I trust you’. All I said was that I will go anywhere you want me to go and do anything you want to do. And it has been the most rewarding career. I never have had to look for the next job because they tapped me on the shoulder and said that they want me to go here or there.”
For that reason he is a strong believer in staff development. Here in Thailand and in other countries across the region, he is trying to promote more local staff to higher positions. As well, he notes, many local staff who are now taking positions abroad with Chevron as expatriates from Thailand.
About the author
- Writer: Umesh Pandey
Position: Editor for Asia Focus