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Jean Chevallier: Thanks for the Memories

Date: 03/18/2010

Jean ChevallierRather than just raise a toast to a long and satisfying professional career, Jean Chevallier has rolled up his sleeves to help those less privileged. What better way to repay our world for the ride of a lifetime?

After Hours:  Please describe your most memorable assignment at Schlumberger.

A career spanning 38 years has left me with so many great memories that it is difficult to name just one. Each of my roles was enriching both on a professional and personal level, however the assignments I found most rewarding were those that enabled me to witness the great power of individual and collective motivation as well as what an esprit de corps can yield in a team. My time at Sedco Forex gave me many occasions to see how deeply we depend on people, and how working with a first-class crew can be so rewarding, particularly when emergency events in the field call for critical decisions. I owe a lot to the many drillers with whom I have worked over the years.

Developing something new was also something I always enjoyed.  That’s why I got such pleasure out of contributing to the start-up of Omnes—a joint venture between Schlumberger and Cable & Wireless, the telecommunications company. Capitalizing on SINet, the JV was built by a small team possessed by a tremendously entrepreneurial spirit. Keeping up a fast pace and leveraging people’s creativity were key to the project—a lot of fun!

After Hours:  How does the time you spent with Schlumberger affect your views on the world today?

Working and living in diverse environments leaves a strong mark on your life, altering your views of the world and how you interact with people. You begin to understand how different cultures behave—and you learn that yours is one among many. Diversity is an amazing asset for the world.

After Hours:  What do you consider your greatest personal achievement outside work?

Life is filled with milestones: completing your studies, getting married, the birth of your children and grandchildren. As I look back over my life so far, I am proudest of is the successes and joys involving my family.

After Hours:  What's the last book you read and what did you like about it?

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and for some time I have been enthralled by the works and life of Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist who was born in Paris in 1909 into a wealthy, agnostic Jewish family. She had a short but dramatic life. She studied philosophy at the prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure and eventually became a philosophy teacher, attracting attention for her radical Marxist opinions. In her quest to understand the working class, she worked in farm fields and factories. But over time she lost faith in political ideologies and was drawn to Christianity. What made her unique was her total lack of dogmatism, her humility, and her uncompromising quest for Truth. She died in England in 1943 at the early age of 34. I have read most of Weil’s books, but the one I enjoyed most is L'Enracinement (The Need for Roots), which was written during the last year of her life.  This book, her most political work, inspired by her spiritual convictions, contains brilliant insights into the human condition. In it she argues that people’s lives should be governed not by any claim to rights, but by the recognition of their obligations to others and themselves. The premise that man needs roots, a sort of identity in the community, in order to flourish is what should drive any political action, says Weil. There’s something utterly compelling about commitment of this caliber. I highly recommend exploring Weil’s work!

After Hours:  Before retiring you said you would dedicate part of your retirement to volunteer work. Are you now involved in a volunteer project, and if so, what is it?

Volunteer work gives me tremendous satisfaction, which is why I have been involved in several different projects for some time now.

First, I am a member of the Comité de la Charte, a French non-profit organization which ensures that fundraising for charitable purposes is organized and performed in a satisfactory manner. In essence, our association looks after the interests of donors.

My second project, called Dounia Don Kalan, is a non-profit literacy and training organization of which I am the president. Since 2003, Dounia Don Kalan, which means “Discovering life through reading,” has sought to improve literacy in Burkina Faso, where more than 60 languages are spoken and illiteracy is quite high. What’s interesting about our teaching method is the use of colors, whereby a color is associated with a particular sound. Substantial research shows that this method increases the speed at which people learn to read.

Finally, the project that is perhaps closest to my heart is called IDO Chad, an initiative that Philippe Lacour-Gayet and I started two years ago, which seeks to provide clean drinking water to impoverished populations in rural Chad. The idea is to leverage the expertise of Schlumberger people to improve the lives of native peoples living near Schlumberger operational bases in the country. Our mission is to provide technical and organizational support to non-governmental organizations. Our pilot effort is based in Kome, in south-central Chad, where Schlumberger has a large facility. The issue in Chad is not the lack of wells, but pump maintenance. It turns out the pumps break down every few months, thereby cutting off the water supply. So our primary goal is to conduct regular well inspections, undertake repairs when necessary, and impart our skills to local people to ensure they’re able to make future repairs. I guess the project is a way for me to give back a little bit of all that I was privileged to receive during my professional life.