Kalybek Mukhanov: "The decisions we make impact the future of Kazakhstan"

07 September 2021

Kalybek Mukhanov could work for a large oil company abroad but preferred to stay in Kazakhstan and become one of the leaders of the oil and gas industry in his country - Tengizchevroil LLP. He worked his way up from an employee of Financial Department to General Manager of Strategic Planning. He believes that in order to reach one’s goals, you need to work hard, constantly learn and be ready for new professional opportunities. 

Kalybek, you are General Manager of Strategic Planning. What exactly do you do at work? 

At TCO work is divided between different departments. Our department is responsible for development of TCO strategy, for establishment and coordination of business plans. Accordingly, all reports, key performance indicators go through our department. Another function is to support TCO General Director, including his preparation for all reports and meetings with government and shareholders. We coordinate TCO activities so that the management sees all information in a timely manner and hence could make the appropriate decisions. Also, our department coordinates implementation of the strategy to achieve competitive performance and fulfill optimization processes. 

Why did you choose TCO?

My choice was probably predetermined - I was born 30 kilometers from Tengiz field, in a small village called Sarykamys. The community later relocated away from Tengiz field. The majority of the population of Sarykamys worked in Tengiz. I started my career at TCO as a graduate of Atyrau State University. I was 21 years old. I didn’t speak English that well, I didn’t study abroad. Similar to many of my colleagues, I had to constantly work on myself and improve my skills.  It should be noted that TCO has all the opportunities for this: constant trainings, new appointments and internships. All this gave me opportunity to realize myself professionally and achieve some progress in my career. Using my example, you can see that everyone has the opportunity to achieve success. Work, dedication, daily application of their knowledge and strength allows them to be represented in the company - the largest taxpayer in Kazakhstan. And this mission is fraught with responsibility. It’s one thing to succeed in TCO, it’s another thing to carry this responsibility further and provide opportunities for other talented Kazakhstanis.

But there are a lot of companies concentrated in Atyrau...

TCO has a developed corporate culture, it also supports the development of workforce. Teamwork is welcomed. And one more point – TCO is a very large company in Kazakhstan. And the work we do is very important. There is an understanding that the decisions we make ultimately impact the economics of Kazakhstan, the future of the country. After all, we are the largest taxpayer. Therefore, we must work efficiently, as this supports the taxes, salaries, and the welfare of residents of Atyrau oblast and Kazakhstan. I understand that job at TCO facilitates the creation of additional 40 jobs in related industries. 

It is said about difference in working conditions between expat and Kazakhtani personnel. Are these conditions really different? 

When I joined TCO in 2000, there was little work elsewhere.  I became an analyst in Financial Department in Tengiz, worked on a rotational basis and seemed to be in another country. I remember the environment most of all at that time - a lot of expats: leaders from around the world with a variety of experiences, unique skills and ways to solve problems. Now I see the attitude “we can do it; we know everything ourselves.” I believe we didn’t have enough knowledge and experience at that time. We had to study at work and learned from our foreign colleagues. At the same time, foreigners learned a lot from our experienced specialists. The expats were very much needed by Kazakhstan. And now. the oil industry is a global industry, and the operation of such a unique facility as Tengiz requires skills of the highest world standards. To hire and retain such professionals, TCO offers competitive payment for both Kazakhstani and international labor markets. We want local employees to become better, so that they develop and replace expats, but cultural diversity provides many opportunities: people from different cultures learn from each other how to respond to difficulties, how to solve problems, how to establish processes. These differences, uniting, make us stronger. We also need to understand that our colleagues have opportunity to work in the USA, Australia, and Europe under Chevron development programs. Then they return to Kazakhstan and apply their knowledge and experience at home.

Did the company send you for assignments? 

Yes, I spent two years in San Ramon, USA. It was a program to train in finance and business planning executives. And you know, this program is aimed not only at development of professional knowledge, but also at development of leadership skills. After completion, understanding appeared that there is nothing supernatural in a leadership position. I came back to TCO Marketing and Transportation department, where there was a lot of change at the time. We launched new terminals, negotiated with railway operators, agreed on production of railway tank cars for sulfur, even signed a contract for construction of a granulated sulfur plant, which, by the way, in April this year began to function in full capacity, as a fully domestic production. During these three years, I examined myself as a professional, defined the boundaries of my own capabilities, and most importantly, I always remained true to my goals, which I set at the beginning of my career.


So, if your nature requires you to move forward by career ladder, why are you still in the company? General manager of Strategic Planning. What is next level?

My choice is based on understanding that a career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you have to think in the longer term. Even when I started out as a specialist, I was open to new opportunities. Once I was offered to work with information systems and I decided to try, although I was not ready. It helped me learn new things. And when we began to introduce information systems everywhere, this knowledge was useful to me. And if I refused then, someone else would have mastered it. I want to say that there are always opportunities to learn and gain experience. And in my personal understanding, if a person has opportunities, experience and knowledge, they can apply them here in Kazakhstan. We have many foreign companies, joint ventures that can offer competitive salary, at international standards. Why do I say that? Because many people dream to go abroad. But I lived there for a while. And believe me, there is a lot of competition, there is also a need to constantly develop and prove that you are worth something. We will see what opportunities will be in the future, but I know I'm still in the middle of the road.


Returning to expats. After all, there is a stereotype that they are the ones who “rule” TCO.

I would add that this is the most popular stereotype (Smiling), however six general managers in the company are Kazakhstani employees. My opinion is that we need project managers and technical specialists who have previously implemented projects like Future Growth Project - Wellhead Pressure Management Project (FGP-WPMP) who have sufficient experience and knowledge to move large projects forward according to plan. At the same time, nothing prevents Kazakhstanis from achieving high positions, gaining experience, going to study in different countries of the world, Chevron programs provide such opportunities. When I worked in Marketing Department, my job was related to logistics, transportation, establishing relationships with the administrations of the CIS railways system. And I do not think that a foreign specialist could do this work as effectively as a Kazakhstani.

What interesting aspects are coming in the coming years? What will Kazakhstanis get from the activities of TCO? 

We are currently executing FGP-WPMP, the largest capital project in the global oil and gas industry, which will additionally increase production in Tengiz by 12 million tons of oil per annum. Accordingly, this will provide new opportunities for the national economics, and for employees - stability and growth, opportunities to gain experience in Kazakhstan and abroad. According to a study by IHS Markit* from 2010 to 2019, our activities stimulated aggregate local purchases worth more than $48 billion, and also created more than 140,000 jobs. If we continue to grow, it will help our country and our region to develop further.
*IHS Markit is a global leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for key industries and markets that drive economic development worldwide.