Euan Baird: Oil Man for All Seasons

Date: 11/10/2010

As captain of the Schlumberger ship for nearly two decades, he sailed our industry's high seas through weather both fair and foul, using a few simple principles to stay on course for success: common sense, hard work and perseverance. Though slowed by a serious health problem shortly after leaving Schlumberger, he looked as sharp as ever when we met him recently at a Paris café.

After Hours: 
Looking back on your 42-year career with Schlumberger, of which 17 as chairman and chief executive officer, what would you describe as your most significant and gratifying achievement?

It would have to be the implementation of our national diversity policy, and the development of the truly international workforce that represents Schlumberger today. This was an idea whose time had come, but which took a certain amount of pushing to achieve—both from myself and Pierre Bismuth, personnel manager at the time.

The idea originally occurred to me during a trip to the Middle East in 1980, when an executive from one of our biggest clients complained to me that his country wasn't represented among Schlumberger's workforce. "All your people are French, British or American," he said. He was right, of course, so I determined to change the situation, using a speech at the World Petroleum Conference in London that year to announce our intention to begin hiring much more eclectically. Nobody believed we would actually manage it, but we proved them wrong.

We started by initiating closer relations with selected universities around the world, where we focused on hiring and developing the best graduates. About 10 years went by before it finally became clear that we were on the right track. By then, the company had already begun to change for the better. Today, 30 years on, Schlumberger is a strange and powerful mix of excellent technology and some of the best people the world has to offer. I think it is this mix that holds the company together through good times and bad.

After Hours:  Did you have a mentor in your career, or was there a Schlumberger leader you admired particularly? If so, explain the qualities that made this person a source of inspiration.

I'd been with the company four or five years when I was taken under the wing of a man called Roy Shourd, a sometimes-surly but straight-shooting American who was in charge of our Libya operations at the time. That was about 1963. I'd just finished a stint as our Wireline sales manager in Teheran, Iran, which Roy figured qualified me to go into management. So he helped me get my next job—as district manager in Dubai—and my career was off the ground.

Later, when I came to New York as president of Wireline, Roy helped me apply some much-needed discipline in our research organization, which had lost focus at that point. We ultimately succeeded in making the organization viable again through the liberal use of what was certainly Roy's greatest asset—common sense, which I have since found to usually be the only thing that really counts in the world of business.

In between all these business endeavors, however, Roy and I became friends. He had a genuine and charming wife and family, with whom I used to stay when I was in Houston. I appreciated his straightforward understanding of Schlumberger as an American, and I'm pretty sure the world is not quite as good a place without him in it.

After Hours:  Albert Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind." Do you have anything to add?

I don't know about the need for religion in science, but I do know that without science, nothing means anything. At Schlumberger, for example, without the best science you're lost. Were we to allow and promote anything but the most rigorous science in the development of our technology or services, the integrity and value of the entire company would rapidly fall apart. I'm convinced of this. That's why when I headed Wireline, I used to spend one or two days every month at our research center in Ridgefield, Connecticut, watching and listening to our scientists to reassure myself that we were headed in the right direction, and that we were doing the best work possible.

As far as religion goes, I have no problem with it. It doesn't interest me personally, but I advocate a person's right to believe whatever he or she wants—on condition that it doesn't interfere with their work. For me, hard work comes first.

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

One of the last books I read and quite enjoyed is called Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex von Tunzelmann. Half history and half biography, the book tells the story of India's independence through the lives of five people: Lord and Lady Mountbatten; Nehru; Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan; and Mohandas Gandhi, spiritual leader of the independence movement. It was a fascinating time in world history, and the author, a young British historian, manages to tell the story in a particularly engaging way. It's a long book, which I had the luxury of reading during a month spent at my daughter's house on the island of Antigua, but I found it well worth the effort.

After Hours: 
You were the first non-French CEO in the history of Schlumberger. How do you see your Scottish character as having contributed to the company once you took over?

Well, Scots are known for their stubbornness, so I guess that's what I'll be remembered for most. However, I like to think of this side of my character as having more to do with perseverance, which I consider to be an important quality. Of course it's tempting to renounce and quit when faced with a difficult challenge, but rewards never come from giving up—only from persevering. I saw this happen more than once in my career. When we began trying to develop LWD in 1983, for example, we assembled some of our best people and worked for roughly 10 years without conclusive results. A lot of people thought we should give up on the project, but I insisted we keep going. Today, LWD is more than half the size of our Wireline logging business, and it continues to grow.

So these things cost us a bit of time and effort, but we got our reward, and I suspect most people today would agree it was worth it.