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Powering equality – Q&A with Andrea Istenesné Solti, Country Chair of Shell Hungary

Energy revolution cannot happen without women. This interview is published as part of a campaign launched by the Women in Energy Association (WONY).

Andrea Istenesné Solti, Country Chair of Shell Hungary and member of the Women in Energy Association shares how a major international company like Shell coped with the challenges of the pandemic. She also speaks about the ambitious plans and strategies that will drive the sustainability agenda of Shell in the next decades and explains why it is important to take the lead in promoting a more diverse and inclusive working environment.

A year ago you have been appointed as Shell Hungary’s new country chair, which is the highest country representative of the parent company in Hungary. 2020 was full of unprecedented challenges that required quick adaptation and innovative solutions. What were the biggest challenges that you faced during this year and how did you cope with them?

2020 was a year like no other. At the start of the year, my priorities were to grow the business and to advance through the energy transition, but that quickly changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We all had to contend with significant challenges and changes to our way of life personally and professionally. My main priority was to ensure the health and wellbeing of all our employees, particularly those that were providing vital services to customers at our stations during the peak of the pandemic. We ensured that we provided a safe environment for our colleagues and customers, complying with the strictest safety standards and keeping our stations open as we kept those essential services on the move by providing essential goods and services to our customers across the country.

At Shell, we have always played an active role in the community and during this period we all felt strongly that we should do what we can during this challenging period to support our essential workers, therefore we set up a number of initiatives to show our support and gratitude to those that we’re working tirelessly during this challenging time. Initiatives included offering free hot drinks to health care workers and first responders or launching an auction to support children at one orphanage. We utilised our digital capabilities to start offering home delivery of groceries and supplies for the first time partnering with NetPincér GO. We managed to progress also with our shop upgrade programme and opened a new shop format called Shell Minishop all over the country. I am incredibly proud of how colleagues from across the country have come together to support each other and the community during this past year.

Despite the challenge of the pandemic, we’ve also been able to move forward with some of our commercial objectives reaching some significant milestones in 2020.  As part of our energy transition journey, we’ve started to build our electric vehicle charging network in the country. We have launched our own charging brand Shell Recharge where we have 50 kW charge points now available on highways M3 and M7. We also joined collaboration with IONITY, which is targeted at the future by providing 350 kW super-fast charging points, which are available on three sites on M7 and M0 highways.

We also signed a long-term gas supply agreement with MFGK which will help diversify the country’s energy supply, which is one of the key priorities of the Hungarian National Energy and Climate Strategy.

2020 was also the year when we celebrated the 95th anniversary of Shell presence in Hungary. Over this period, we have grown to become the largest international energy supplier on the local market, with almost 200 service stations nationwide. Our Hungarian operations are part of Shell’s growing Central and Eastern Europe business, which plays an important role in its European operations.

Working responsibly, innovation, customer and employee centricity are the core values that our legacy has been based and those also remain the key for a successful future.

What are the big challenges and opportunities that you see ahead in the energy sector?

In countries all around the world, mobility is changing in a multitude of ways. Rapid urbanisation, a growing middle class, rising incomes, increasing aspirations, access to greater and faster convenience, enhanced digital solutions and decreasing costs are all creating new demands from customers for improved mobility options.

Shell recently released an updated business strategy which sets a new course for the company through the energy transition. As part of our new strategy, our mission is to help the millions of brand-loyal customers we serve every day – from large businesses to individual consumers – decarbonise.

The strategy is aligned with our ambition to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, in step with society and our customers. Through this strategy, we aim to provide more and cleaner energy solutions in a responsible manner – in a way that balances short and long-term interests and that integrates economic, environmental and social considerations.

We’re already taking concrete steps towards a net-zero emissions future and examples include the announcement of our ambition to operate 500,000 EV charge points worldwide by 2025 from around 60,000 today. This includes 30,000 EV charge points on Shell forecourts globally and new locations such as EV-only mobility hubs, destinations and on-street charging.

Becoming a net-zero emissions energy business means that we are reducing emissions from our operations and from the fuels and other energy products we sell to our customers. It also means capturing and storing any remaining emissions using technology or balancing them with offsets.

Shell is keen to give the customers what they want and offers a mosaic of choice. If they are ready to avoid emissions, EV charging and hydrogen are available. Shell globally wants to increase the number of its electric vehicle charging points from 60,000 to 500,000 by 2025, and double renewable electricity sales to 560 terawatt-hours per year by 2030. LNG is a solution to reduce emissions. Natural gas can act as a partner for intermittent renewables and will continue to play a critical role in sectors where demand is anticipated to grow, such as the long-distance transportation of people and goods.

Shell offers also nature-based carbon credits to offset the unavoidable CO2 emissions generated by the extraction, refining, distribution and use of the Shell fuel they buy. This offer is already available in some European countries and Canada.

Historically, the energy sector is one of the least gender-diverse sectors and big companies have a huge responsibility in changing this. How does Shell incorporate the principle of diversity and inclusion in its corporate strategy?

Embracing the energy transition is critical for our planet and our future and progress needs to be made in step with society. In this journey therefore we need to build and sustain a workforce and leadership that reflects it. As a female leader of Shell in Hungary, I believe a business should be representative of the society it operates in. We need to draw on all talents to deliver a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future for all and that actions and decisions that are based on diverse views and taken by diverse leadership are powering our progress towards the net zero-emission.

Shell in Hungary has a long journey in building a diverse workforce and leadership. We adopted our diversity charter in 2002 and have set annual diversity goals since then.  Currently, we have a 50 per cent female-male board and more than 40 per cent of our leaders are female which is unique in the energy sector in Hungary. Visible leadership has been a key factor in this journey.

Our HR policies and processes support diversity and inclusion as we believe it is important that both female and male colleagues benefit from these developments (for example, flexible working policies) as the progress needs to take place jointly, in co-operation with male colleagues.  We provide training on various aspects of diversity which help us to recognize and appreciate the differences and enable us to co-operate more effectively internally and externally. Hiring decisions are made by diverse panels and leadership development program and mentoring are all important elements of the supporting structure.

We are happy to share our experiences externally and Shell Hungary is the main supporter of the award-winning Hungarian Business Leaders Forum Xmentor programme which exists to support female leadership development through a xcompany and xsector mentor scheme.

How do you see the role of the Women in Energy Association in closing this gender gap in the energy industry?

Like many sectors, there is much more that the energy sector can do to become more inclusive. The creation of associations and programs like WONY is an important element in this change journey. WONY helps to introduce role models, provides a forum for networking, opportunities to learn from each other and introduces initiatives like mentoring for the young generation. It is also a great forum for networking, experience sharing and professional development. The WONY student mentor programme which was launched to support the new generation, I believe will go some way to make a real impact on future generations in this industry. I really appreciate Andrea Panczel’s dedication to driving the WONY agenda.

What advice would you give to women who want to succeed and make their careers in the energy field?

The energy industry is an industry that has an impact on everyday lives everywhere. From the way we travel, how we heat our home to the food we consume; therefore it is an exciting and inspiring industry to work in. It is an industry that needs and wants a diversity of opinions making it a great place for those who want to make a real positive impact on the future generations and at the same time can power lives and livelihoods through new and innovative energy products and solutions.

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