René Huck: Both Sides Now

Date: 11/24/2009

René HuckHaving attained the higher climes at both Schlumberger and one of our biggest customers, opera lover and avid rugby fan René Huck now has the leisure to reflect on a work life well spent in the oil and gas domain—and to contribute to the lives of those less fortunate.

After Hours:   You were one of Schlumberger’s original mid-career hires, having joined the company after 16 years at Total and two more as CEO of a small independent drilling contractor. How would you describe the change of corporate culture on your arrival and how did you adapt?

Two things struck me when I arrived at Schlumberger. First was how very openly people communicated with one another, right up to the highest levels of the company. Second was the true national diversity so successfully implemented at Schlumberger. It was unique at the time and I believe it still is. As it happened, I had long hoped to see the adoption of these cultural elements during my time at Total, so I had no problem adapting to the scene at Schlumberger. I also appreciated the true delegation of authority and the huge field of opportunities.

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

Most of my assignments were extremely motivating and challenging so this is not an easy question. I guess what I liked most were the assignments in which I had the opportunity to shape and create something new and different, and the ones during which I got to spend time in the field with operations people. If I were to use these criteria to determine my most memorable assignment, then there is no doubt that being designated to create and develop Integrated Project Management (IPM) was the most challenging, the toughest and the most memorable time of my career. It was new to Schlumberger and required putting in place new standards for client relations, technologies, training and recruiting. Not the least challenging was helping establish a stable relationship between IPM and the Schlumberger product lines. It was a totally new concept for the industry and Schlumberger was still organized by product line, each of which was large, successful and powerful. While they could accept being given orders by the oil companies, they did not want to be managed by a small, new and unknown internal "pseudo client." It took a lot of effort from senior management and a few successes in the field to demonstrate that IPM could bring us more business, even in tough times. Only then would it be accepted and considered a partner rather than a problem. 

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

While it’s true that certain key Schlumberger values were close to my heart before I joined the company, it was only after my arrival that I learned how well they could work when put into action—that you really could give people equal opportunities and base promotions and career development purely on dedication and talent rather than origin, be it ethnic, national or educational. Today I have friends from all parts of the world, who bring enormous cultural enrichment to my life. I would never have met these people if I hadn’t joined Schlumberger.

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

Well, it's not really the last book I read because, as chance would have it, the last one is not always the best one. The book that I really liked recently was translated from German. Its original title is "Jeder sterbt fur sich allein," which means "everyone dies alone." The author, Hans Fallada, captures with remarkable skill what it was like for ordinary people living under a totalitarian system in Nazi Berlin, and how these people react under such circumstances. Though it is really more of a social documentary, it reads like a detective story. At times frightening and oppressive, it ends with a powerful and positive message of hope. I heartily recommend it.

After Hours:  What do you do with your free time and why?

My wife and I live in London and have a house in the Basque country in southwest France. I sit on a couple of Boards of Directors, but apart from that we have the luxury to do pretty much what we want with our time. So one thing we do is travel a fair amount, mostly in Europe these days. We both love the arts, opera and rugby. Consequently we find ourselves in Italy from time to time—mostly for the arts and opera, less so for the rugby (not the country’s strongest game, though their national team deserves credit for its great sporting spirit). Last but not least, we support a few charities. One is involved in the installation of solar powered water distribution systems in remote villages of the Ecuadorian Andes. It is run by an old friend of mine I met in the early 1970s while teaching petroleum engineering in Ecuador in lieu of military service. We support this effort because it is sustainable, run with minimum overhead and evaporation of funds, and because we were confronted with the tremendously difficult living conditions of people in the high Andes. Having easier access to clean water allows the villagers (and mostly women) to dedicate their time to more useful activities than carrying heavy loads of water on their backs. The second charity is involved in educating children in developing countries and in troubled French suburbs through the practice of rugby. This charity was created and is still chaired by a former French international rugby star, Philippe Sella—an old favorite of mine, who remains one of the finest centers ever to have graced the game. The third charity we work with funds schools in West Africa, providing students with books, boarding fees and other support. We work with the latter two charities because we are truly convinced that education is one of the most effective ways to improve lives and help young people have a positive impact on their communities.