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Globetrotting as a Way of Life:  How Kate Shae Built an Adventurous Career with ExxonMobil

By by Amy Heibel

Kate Shae was born in Bendigo, two hours north of Melbourne. She bypassed the travel abroad that is typical for young Australians to pursue her studies and a career. However, over time, she’s more than compensated for any adventures she may have missed, with an exciting career filled with international travel and opportunities to live abroad. 

Kate studied science at University of Melbourne, majoring in statistics. At one time, she thought she might become an actuary, but instead took a position in investment banking. A few years working in the business world fueled an interest to pursue an MBA. “I was fascinated with business more broadly,” she recalls. “My training in mathematics was not as broad as I wanted it to be. Business school was a way to expand my exposure to a range of different business considerations. I was interested in strategic and business development—not just finance.”

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When it came time to choose a business school, Kate applied to several programs in the United States, hoping for the chance to live abroad.  She eventually chose to attend The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  “I loved business school,” Kate recalls. “I’d go back in a heartbeat. The program had an incredibly diverse group of students. I knew a professional ballet dancer, someone who was part of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations, and many others from varied backgrounds.” Kate interned in New York and loved it, but when it came time to graduate she chose to return to Australia. Her first position was with a large retail company, but its emphasis on marketing and branding, wasn’t a fit for Kate’s analytical nature.

Kate heard that ExxonMobil in Australia was recruiting and decided to apply. She was offered a position in the treasurer’s group, which was a good match for her finance background. “In my initial position, I was providing advice on the investment of our pension plan assets,” she says. “It was a great way to get an introduction to the organization and work with senior management.”

The culture at ExxonMobil, with its strong emphasis on developing employees, suited her well.  The company offers focused training and development, as well as a constant array of new challenges and opportunities. “Employees tend not to stay in the same job assignment too long,” she says appreciatively.  And indeed, Kate moved from the treasurer’s group to human resources, overseeing recruiting and benefit design in Australia. “It allowed me to take my analytical skills, where I felt very comfortable, and apply them in an area where I hadn’t had as much exposure,” she says. “Making sure our remuneration systems were set up to attract and retain the best people.” 

She had the particularly exciting opportunity to serve on the team involved in merging the Australian Mobil and Exxon organizations, pulling together the employee benefit packages from two different companies and reconciling them as one.  After that, Kate spent a year as controls manager for Australia, before getting her first international assignment in Dallas.

“I’ve moved to Dallas three times now, so moving to Dallas has become one of my key skills!” she jokes. After her first stint in Dallas, Kate returned to her hometown of Melbourne to serve as acting treasurer for nearly a year.  One of the key projects was to transition the local cash management activities to an international center. Capitalizing on that experience, she returned to Dallas to join the affiliate finance team, helping to make sure that ExxonMobil’s many operations around the world had the right amount of cash in the right currency at the right time. “I came from a small local affiliate,” she says. “To an organization looking at the global picture of where the money was and where it needed to be, which was very interesting.”

After a year in that position, Kate moved to Houston, and then a few years later, to Bakersfield, California where she served as CFO of a major ExxonMobil US producing JV.  She and her husband enjoyed their time in California and the opportunity to see the western part of the United States, but by 2008, she was back in Australia, with the opportunity to take on the senior financial position in Australia. “It was a treat to go home in that position. …. Being in a leadership role in an organization you know so well allows you to quickly identify opportunities to take the organization to the next level.”  It was also during this assignment that Kate had the opportunity to play a key role in managing the US$14 billion financing for the Papua New Guinea liquified natural gas project – a project that is expected to double the GDP of the country.

When we spoke to Kate, she had just moved back to Dallas for yet another leadership role as assistant treasurer for ExxonMobil, and she and her husband were still unpacking. “I believe you have to get comfortable with relocating,” she explained. “We’ve signed up for a life of not knowing where home will be next year. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But for us, it’s exciting to experience new places and constantly try new things.” Wherever they land, Kate makes sure to carve out time for exercise and playing the piano, to ground her.

Kate has a self-professed passion for spreading the word about why the oil and gas industry is a great place to make a career. “It’s interesting and challenging work that makes a real difference to people’s lives,” she says. “Energy is such an important part of the world economy. It’s important that it’s handled well, and responsibly. “

Reflecting on her trajectory since college, Kate says she’s thankful that she found a culture where her skills are embraced, and where her fascination with numbers is recognized and valued. Adding to that the passion she and her husband have for travel and for “seeing how people live around the globe,” ExxonMobil has turned out to be a place where Kate is stimulated and rewarded, personally and professionally. “It’s been a great place to build a rewarding career over decades” she says.

- By Amy Heibel
Amy Heibel is a media producer and president of Here Now Communications

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