It sounds too simple to be true, but Meg O’Neill credits much of her career success – and personal satisfaction – to her willingness to say one three-letter word.
“I think the ability to say ‘yes’ is very important,” she starts. “If ExxonMobil asks me to take on a new project or move somewhere I’ve never lived, I have the philosophy that I ought to try to say ‘yes.’ It gives me a chance to see new things, and I know I won’t be asked to do anything I’m not ready for. Saying ‘yes’ keeps doors open.”
Having started at ExxonMobil as an engineer in 1994, O’Neill is currently the managing director of ExxonMobil companies in Norway. She’s held several other positions along the way, moving to new countries every few years with each new promotion.
When O’Neill first started with ExxonMobil at its Upstream Research Company, the oil industry was just starting to develop fields in more than 1,000 meters of water. Her job was to conduct modeling testing and computational analyses to begin to answer questions about how to design structures for such water depths. After a few years, she transferred within the company to work as a reservoir engineer, producing models about how oil and gas flow through the subsurface and developing plans to optimize value from the fields.
Her next move to New Orleans as a reservoir engineering supervisor placed her much closer to the business side of the company, something she prepared for as an ocean engineering student taking courses at the Sloan School of Management.
“It was very helpful to understand the business context of the technical work I was doing,” she says. “When I started at ExxonMobil, I was doing hardcore technical work – very cutting edge applied research. Moving into the production environment put all that engineering in a business context.
“One of the best things about an MIT education is the emphasis on problem solving. It’s been very helpful for me as I’ve gone through my career and worked on problems that weren’t immediately relevant to my technical education. But MIT taught me how to define and tackle a problem, figure out what I need to solve it, and determine what the remaining uncertainty is. It gave me the framework for how to address a wide range of questions and gave me a good amount of flexibility.”
O’Neill was asked to move to the company’s fields in Indonesia, and she replied with her trademark response. She worked there for several years, first in engineering management, then infield operations.
“That was a very fun time because I really had to have my hands on the business,” she says.
From there, O’Neill returned to Houston to work as a global reservoir engineering manager, looking after all the reservoir engineers around the world, then moved to Canada after she was promoted to President of ExxonMobil Canada. She transitioned into her current position in Norway in 2012.
“I’ve lived in four different countries doing everything from hardcore engineering and operations to business and management, so there’s been a tremendous amount of variety, a different challenge every day.
“It’s been great to be able to enjoy so much variety within the same company, to come up through the system and encounter different challenges in the workplace everywhere around the world.”
As for next steps?
“We’ll see what ExxonMobil asks me to do,” says O’Neill. “I’m confident that I will say ‘yes.’”