Sara Akbar, the chief executive of Kuwait Energy, talks about her job and the role of women in the boardroom.
What is your day like?
I normally get up very early at 5am. I spend the first hour checking emails and reading the papers. At 6am I wake my kids for school. Sometimes we make a call to my eldest son who is studying in the US. It's 10pm there so we Skype with him then off they go. I stay at home for a bit because that's the quietest time to work. Then at the office I have a full day of meetings and various activities. I do travel a lot, visiting our sites and meeting with shareholders, bankers and lawyers. I finish off the day about 4pm by checking in with my assistant. In the evening I go out to dinner or do normal family stuff.
What is your advice to women starting out?
A small story. After a long battle, the company said I could work in the field from 7 to 4. If you work in the oil business, especially offshore, it never takes eight hours. So I was asked to go to the field. I took the boat and went offshore. By the time it I got there it was 1 o'clock. I just started to do the work and it was 4. So I called my boss and he said: 'Sara, the weather is really bad. You have to wait until the sea is not rough.' At 10pm the crewboat came and there was this new engineer who refused to move on to the platform using the very horrible basket system. And the people were telling him: 'Look, there's a woman up there and you are refusing'. He said: 'That's a crazy woman'. [Another] replacement came the next day at 10 o'clock in the morning. And that was my first training in the field. After that I spent 10 beautiful years working in the oilfields in Kuwait, offshore, onshore, day, night and nobody even bothered. That was the best technical training … and the basis for my abilities later to excel. You should be persistent in demanding the training you need to do your job in whichever career you are.
You were there during the Iraq invasion of Kuwait?
What I learnt from that invasion was how strong I was. Difficult times bring the best out of you and teach you about yourself. I was not afraid and I could do magnificent things for my country. Before the Iraqis went they left us with the largest man-made environmental catastrophe ever. They put on fire all our oil wells. And for the next seven months I was working with the firefighting teams to put out fires and bring back production.
You were recently in Dubai, participating in a forum about board diversity.
Yes. In my view, if this was a fair ground then we could leave it to the abilities of women to get on the board. But it is absolutely not a fair ground. To correct that we have to use legislation.