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Powering equality – Q&A with Krisztina Petrényiné Szabó, Group Downstream Business Development Director at MOL Group

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

Krisztina Petrényiné Szabó, Group Downstream Business Development Director at MOL Group and member of the Women in Energy Association shares how the COVID-19 outbreak impacted the operations of MOL Group, leading oil and gas company in the CEE region, including the progress of strategic projects and the transformation of the Downstream segment. She also speaks about the Group’s long-term vision in the energy transition and the role of women shaping the future of the energy industry.

Oil and gas companies experienced a big shock in the past year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The downstream segment is also under pressure. What are the key structural challenges that you face and how do you plan to respond to these challenges?

COVID-19 has definitely a major effect on our lives and therefore on our businesses as well. The pandemic brought in a new aspect of safety, now we have to protect our colleagues from a virus on top of traditional risks of a hazardous operation. So far, we are performing well in this field. Decreasing demand also has economic consequences. Last year we have seen extremely low oil and natural gas prices and refining margins as well. The petrochemical segment was fortunately less hit, somewhat stabilising the 2020 EBITDA generation of the petchem integrated players, including MOL Group. Still, cost reduction and CAPEX rescheduling were unavoidable last year to keep the 2020 cash flow of Downstream in the positive range.

So, all in all, the pandemic is a serious challenge but on the longer horizon, we see even more complex issues to be solved. We all feel on our skin that climate change has to be stopped and the EU is especially ambitious in this regard. No one knows exactly how we can get to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, but this is the goal set. And climate neutrality is the only long term solution to ensure a bright future for ourselves, therefore we have set this as an ambition for MOL Group as well, in our recent strategy update. We are preparing for a future with a drastically declining fossil fuel demand since 2016 already, but we see that the green transition has accelerated even more than we expected back then. Therefore, we have to speed up the transformation of MOL Group as well. A key item of this is to transform MOL Group Downstream profitably towards a highly efficient, sustainable, chemical focused leading downstream player. We would like to significantly decrease the fossil-based intake, also the traditional fossil fuel output, and produce chemical products instead. In the meantime, we would like to decrease the CO2 emission from Downstream by 20 per cent until 2030. This is our goal and at the moment, also our biggest challenge.

MOL is building a vast new chemical complex in Tiszaújváros, a strategic investment that will make MOL the only integrated polyol producer in Central and Eastern Europe. What is the status of the project?

MOL’s largest organic investment, the Polyol Project – as all major investment projects – faced the challenges caused by COVID-19. Despite the challenges caused by the external environment, the program has not been stopped and we can say progressing well. The overall project progress reached 75 per cent. The engineering phase ended and the procurement is also almost at the finish line. We have reached an important milestone in 2020 by shipping all the critical equipment to the site on waterways and road shipment. The construction phase is ongoing has also reached 50 per cent and we will gradually step into the commissioning phase.

How do you see the role of women shaping the future of the energy industry?

Women’s participation in the energy sector is below that of the broader economy. According to a research made by IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) despite making up 48 per cent of the global labour force, women only account for 22 per cent of the labour force in the oil and gas sector and 32 per cent in renewables.

It is vital to unlock the potential of gender diversity for driving the energy transition. Women bring new perspectives to the workplace, accelerate collaboration while the diversity of leadership styles can contribute to more effective decision-making. Increased cultural sensitivity and insights from diverse perspectives may offer a competitive advantage for companies aiming to transform the energy sector. Why not unlock this huge potential of gender diversity?

However, there is another challenge: according to a McKinsey research most men and women seeks top executive positions but 25 per cent of women believe it is likely to become one. I think we need women role models to encourage employers to give the chance to female leaders to prove their potential. Moreover, we need role models to inspire women to say I can do it!

How does MOL Group incorporate the principle of diversity and inclusion in its corporate strategy?

MOL Group has 25,000 employees from 4 generations and is present in 30 countries from the UK to Pakistan and we see diversity as a key value. MOL Group is in a business transformation, moving from a traditional industry to a diverse portfolio, so generational diversity is both a given and a very important focus area in our D&I strategy. 

In the recently published long term strategy, a comprehensive sustainability framework sets targets along four pillars: People and Communities; Health and Safety; Integrity and Transparency; Climate and Environment. MOL sees Diversity and Inclusion as one of its key values and strategy enablers with targets to increase female participation at all levels, reaching 30 per cent in managerial positions, keeping at least 40 per cent in the Growww fresh graduate program and focusing on broader employee wellbeing and health along with the 2020-2022 Diversity & Inclusion framework key areas: Age, Gender, Wellbeing and Disability.

From the recently conducted Diversity & Inclusion survey on the Group level, we have a clear benchmark about how special employee groups perceive the company from D&I perspective, and we keep focusing our actions on the most critical areas.   

How do you see the role of the Women in Energy Association in closing this gender gap in the energy industry? How do you benefit from being part of this initiative?

As I mentioned before to unlock the potential of gender diversity we need role models to showcase women power and to inspire females to have the courage and self-confidence to make such moves. WONY – besides enhancing the visibility of women in the energy sector – provides a great platform for female leaders to build a community where we help and encourage each other by sharing experiences, success stories, lessons learnt but also discussing the key challenges of the energy sector. Being part of this initiative I have the chance to get to know inspirational energy professionals, be part of insightful discussions about the transition of the energy sector and via mentoring young ladies I can contribute to a more diverse and inclusive future.  

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