Careers in O.R.
ProfileS - Alex Orman

Alex Orman


When I graduated with a degree in Mathematics I was in a bit of a dilemma what to do next. The two areas I was interested in were applying mathematics to real world problems and complex functions. The advice I got was that ‘If you study complex functions you will become an academic and you wouldn’t like that’. Operational Research was then mentioned as a good route. After my MSc. at Southampton and, against all previous advice, I did a PhD. This then led, as you might guess, to my first job as a lecturer in Mathematics, at Southampton. I enjoyed my time lecturing as it gave me the freedom to indulge in consultancy work with a variety of companies, most of which are still in business, and research areas of Operational Research that took my interest.

Having spent 5 years lecturing I was ready for a change, my interests had moved more on to applying O.R. and experiencing real business value as a result of O.R. projects. By this stage I had been working as a consultant at Shell for a couple of years (in the vacations I would spend time doing O.R. work at Shell when my university colleagues would be enjoying a student free campus). Shell struck me as a very exciting environment in which to work, the energy industry has some fascinating planning issues that lend themselves to O.R. and the scale of the industry means that you can have a real impact on some major investment decisions.

I’ve now been at Shell for over 11 years and had 3 main assignments (one of the great things about Shell is that one can move around the company into very different roles). For the first 4 years I ran a team of Operational Researchers who worked on projects throughout the range of Shell businesses (from manpower planning to scheduling tankers) in all corners of the world. Doing O.R. in a large organisation can open many doors and serves as an excellent way of experiencing a variety of businesses. Consultants in the team had an unrivalled position of working with senior executives, throughout the organisation, early in their careers. Later in that assignment I ran the entire consultancy practice. I then moved on to a commercial role in the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) supply/trading area. The role, based in The Hague, involved running a team managing the entire LNG structural portfolio (deals extending between about one and seven years). My team was comprised of highly analytical and commercial staff and we operated in a truly global and dynamic business. My O.R. skills were extremely useful to help understand deal value and to ultimately grow the trading portfolio. Most recently, in 2010, I then moved roles again, this time into the strategy area where I manage a global team with expertise in gas markets and pricing. This has required a very different set of skills as I have gone from dealing with prompt opportunities to looking at what opportunities might exist for a company like Shell in 20 years time.

On reflection I would recommend the PhD route to those who are in the slightest interested in studying O.R. further as it establishes one with a certain level of credentials that are very useful in industry. That, combined with lecturing and consultancy experience, is an excellent springboard to entering a managerial position in industry.

If you want a career that has an excellent reputation, good prospects and variety of opportunities I would strongly suggest you look at O.R.

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