At the time of our last instalments of this series exploring some of the female movers and shakers within the gases industry, the world looked very different. Coronavirus was a relatively unknown word, a technical term used to describe the common cold and several other strains of virus that had long since been prevented against.
Today, however, coronavirus is in the everyday lexicon of us all and the world looks very different, however temporarily. It’s a time for strong, empowering and inspiring leadership and, if the sentiments of our latest interviewee here are anything to go by, potentially something of a female lead.
“I believe women provide unique perspectives, experiences, and work styles as compared to their male counterparts. The addition of women to any team can enhance care and deliberation,” says Özlem Sivrioğlu, CEO of Arıtaş Cryogenics.
“Women’s communication styles tend to be more participative, process oriented and disciplined. These stylistic differences may bring some different taste for decision-making processes by encouraging a wider range of strategic options.”
One could argue that such qualities are never more pertinent than during these very challenging, unprecedented days of crisis and disruptive working patterns. For Sivrioğlu, and so many others, they have always been key to individual and collective success. “The definition of ‘successful’ differs between people and organisations, sometimes it is a hit in terms of a financial target, it is an appreciation from your manager or a high retention rate during tough times in an uncertain environment. Being ‘dynamic’ on the other hand is your capability to execute things, and execution with a fast pace after good planning is crucial to being and staying competitive.”
Sivrioğlu has strived to practice all of these qualities throughout her career, ever since studying Materials and Metallurgical Engineering, strongly influenced by one of the university selection guides defining ‘Materials Engineering’ as the ‘art and science of materials’. It’s an influence and approach to leadership that has served her well, right through to her current role as CEO of cryogenic equipment innovator Arıtaş Cryogenics, as she explains here to gasworld.
“My dream world at the time was full of art workshops, hands-on arts and crafts activities with a strong will to develop a co-working environment to allow such group of similar profiles in one innovative space and engineer that to a mass production,” she says of her early days studying materials engineering.
“I had to study engineering for sure. Becoming an engineer, that side of my dream, happened and I am one of the lucky materials engineers performing for 25 years in exactly the field I studied – however, as you may guess, the ‘art’ side did not ever show up! Instead, I have been practicing the art of manufacturing processes and business leadership in industry all over the world, which I am very glad for.”
“I started my career part-time in a very small company – in the field of coating and chemical surface treatment processes for aircraft engine parts - as the one and only engineer trying to cope with challenges where 15 workers were literally consuming the young engineer. It was a great experience which built the correct muscles to be used later. I was helping the owner in all means during my university study, and I respect everything he taught to me – not only engineering and business, but about life, for example parallel parking!”
“Then it turned out to be a full-time job of five years until I joined General Electric Aviation. As one out of 10 ‘first wave’ engineers as they called it when GE opened its Turkish engineering hub to oversee all manufacturing and quality operations, I was traveling all over the world to certify suppliers for GE and develop the processes together complying to GE aircraft engine process and part specs.”
This is a role that also taught Sivrioğlu much, but geared more around the management and leadership side of learning. “I would like to mention that my role models in GE at the time perfectly managing global teams, identifying talent and investing on potential in people. I was assigned by them to be the global technology leader in my area of expertise, leading that technology and virtual teams working from all over the world for that technology.”
“As Jack Welch (November 19, 1935 – March 1, 2020, RIP) says, ‘Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that a leader can do because then they will act’. There is no doubt he ranks as one of the most praised executives of his era and when my role models essentially demonstrated that and smoothly pulled me from the technology lead to people lead career path, I could not resist – even if my internal voice was shouting at me to stay in my comfort zone.”
“The rest was all different leadership roles to achieve organisational performance, objectives, quality, speed, flexibility and cost, planning the resources vs budget to get those done, monitoring the progress and compliance to operational plans and improving continuously. R&D and innovation were there. This was regardless of the company, sector or industry until the day I got a call from one of my former managers, whom I respect and owe so much, asking me to join Arıtaş to help with the ownership change and integration of engineering operations.”
“This is my fifth year with Arıtaş Cryogenics, now as the CEO and with 100% Broadview Energy Solutions ownership.”
That bookmarks a good point to bring us up-to-date with Arıtaş Cryogenics today.
Broadview Energy Solutions completed the acquisition of Aritas Cryogenics in July 2019, against a backdrop of increasing use of LNG as a transport fuel and a resulting requirement for the cryogenic equipment to match. The company has been thriving under this new start and a sense of new direction ever since.
And it is one of Sivrioğlu’s proudest achievements in her career to date that she has maintained leadership and performance at the company in spite of three different shareholding structures in recent years. “Leaving aside the mentality that we should stay away from pride as best as we can, I am really proud performing in this same business lead role in spite of a three consecutive shareholding structure change in the company,” she says.
“I believe this is mostly due to my hands-on involvement to my team’s daily effort – the required level of detail of course – involving them to our strategic decision-making processes, assigning them the responsibility and by this way letting them achieve and making them feel involved and motivated. Strong teaming makes you strong and you can only achieve if your team achieves…”
Aritas Cryogenics is certainly achieving. Today, the company manufactures cryogenic equipment ranging from predominantly storage tanks, semi-trailers and ISO containers through to vaporizers, LNG and LCNG filling stations, LNG dispensers, and LNG fuel tanks for marine applications, and operates from a large manufacturing facility in Bandirma, Turkey. It also provides worldwide maintenance and after-sales and services, while its footprint spans export to more than 75 countries around the world.
Another way in which Aritas is achieving is in breaking traditional and cultural rules and embracing equality and diversity. Whilst acknowledging that there is always more to be done, Sivrioğlu enthuses, “At Arıtaş Cryogenics we fight to break all traditional and cultural rules and social enforcements and pave the way for young adults, especially for women, and we encourage them to be self-confident, dynamic and rational individuals.”
“We would like to keep the balance of gender in the company for each department including core manufacturing; we follow a non-sexist salary policy and we would like to have a woman in every strategic meeting or decision stage.”
“We are working in a business which has always been led by men and created by men,” she acknowledges, “but we are aiming to overcome this barrier and raise more women in leadership roles.”
On that note, how does Sivrioğlu believe we can get more women into the industry and, by extension, into more senior positions? “Senior managers must help women advance,” she responds.
“There is no point in denying that cultural and physical barriers exist…”
“Those companies that accept their responsibility to make radical change, both in women’s treatment and in family support, can improve their bottom lines enormously. Treating women as a business imperative is the equivalent of creating a unique R&D product for which there is great demand.”
“Most companies ignore childcare and other family concerns. Many companies hire women to ensure adequacy. Women’s ambitions and energies are unique in nature, demonstrating their competence and potential in the best schools and only if given the chance, showing the expected extraordinary performance regardless of the corrosive environment.”
She continues, “CEOs and other senior managers must support their female employees by acknowledging the fundamental difference between women and men; the biological fact of maternity, allowing flexibility for women and men who need it, providing training that takes advantage of women’s leadership potential, eliminating the corrosive atmosphere and the barriers that exist for women in the workplace. It certainly needs to be constituted by constructive actions and orchestrated by structural processes.”
Is this a tide that is turning in the gases industry, gasworld asks? Sivrioğlu says simply, “It is promising but not there yet.” Using the manufacturing environment as an example, she explains, “Although women represent 47% of the total workforce, in the manufacturing environment the percentage drops significantly down to 29% and only 7% of women are working full-time in male-dominated occupations [according to an April 2019 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research]. There are plenty of qualified women in the workforce, why aren’t they in manufacturing?”
“The response varies according to the country, industry and the environment, however, women working in male-dominated industries face a variety of challenges, including cultural expectations and beliefs about women’s leadership abilities, pervasive stereotypes such as that of the ‘caring mother’ or ‘office housekeeper’, higher stress and anxiety compared to women working in other fields, lack of mentoring and career development opportunities and unfortunately, sexual harassment.”
“When it comes to the energy industry, everything from preparing and maintaining food, to keeping warm, travel, maintaining reliable healthcare systems as well as safety and security, means there is an increasing global demand for energy. As the push for cleaner energy and new technology expands, the sector is struggling to keep pace because of the skills shortages in engineering. Encouraging more women into the sector is one way of closing the gap, but the gender barriers mentioned above need to be overcome.”
“Given the complexity of the business environment and the market, organisations need to leverage all available resources to compete effectively. Why would an organisation exclude, intentionally or otherwise, half of the workforce from consideration for open positions?”
Sivrioğlu admits she has experienced prejudice and barriers along the way in her career, like most women, but has always risen to the challenge of that glass ceiling and ‘crashing that glass’. She has always chosen to focus on the positives, coaching herself and others to succeed and demonstrating those unique female qualities we’ve already alluded to. It’s this kind of approach that underpins her advice for her fellow aspiring female leaders out there.
“There is no point in denying that cultural and physical barriers exist. These are not under our control either,” she says. “However, our act and habits are under our control and in the meantime, they are our strengths as women. Empathy, humility, care, discipline, hard work and reliability do not limit us, they strengthen us.”
“Let us recognise our strengths and appreciate ourselves without waiting for others. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves. Let’s be an example, add colour, spread beauty and radiate light…”
It’s on this uplifting note that our interview comes to an end. Sivrioğlu is not one for basking in personal pride, but does rightly admit her success in the face of these barriers is a source of a smile. “Why not? In reality, it is very rare that your hard work, skills and strength pay off and you get the appreciation via promotion to lead a business which you have spent a lot of time and effort to make and keep successful, connected and motivated!”
Her biggest sense of satisfaction, however, comes from the learnings from those barriers, those challenges, and the strength that this can engender not just for Sivrioğlu but all her female colleagues, all of her teammates as a whole and, of course, for successful companies such as Aritas Cryogenics.
“I learned to be thankful for each new challenge since it builds strength, both in me and in the organisation,” she says of the varied roles in her career to date. “You then clearly notice that there are no great people by definition or act, however, there are great challenges where people shine and rise to be great.”
“This is quite linked with my learning and belief that your people are the key to your success, therefore you need to be skilled to select, develop and coach them, at the same time clever enough to assign them the matching stretched roles and invest in them.”