The start of the subsidiary was mostly a story of mutual trust. We had to gain the confidence of our partners. The Bruneians insisted that Elf should start the operations quickly. Things went fast during the last term of 1986. In January 1987, tickets and visas were ready. We were a team of five and we met for the first time at the departure hall of Roissy Airport near Paris. We had had no time to introduce ourselves before! The only thing we knew about Brunei was what we had read in Fortune magazine: the Sultan was the richest man in the world. Management had tested me in previous years in a country delegate position for Nigeria, and this is how I got my first job as a Managing Director.
At Bandar Seri Begawan, we were staying at the Sheraton Hotel where our local partner met us. Offices were reserved for the Elf team on the second floor of the RBA Plaza Building. We first recruited a dozen people locally: secretaries, accountants, technical staff etc. Then we had to find accommodation for the expatriates, a condition that had to be met for the arrival of their families. During our first months in Brunei, we had to establish a good relationship with our partner. Bob Harrison, a former American Philips employee, was the technical advisor to Pengiran Dato, our local partner. It was essential to find ways to work together for the best interest of the Joint Venture. We also had to work with the local authorities, especially with the Petroleum Unit that we had to keep regularly informed of the development of our work.
In the beginning, we had to come face to face with some local customs : for example, in order to give good fortune to the first exploration campaign, our Malay partners wanted to sacrifice a buffalo on the drilling platform. We managed to make them change their minds by replacing the buffalo with a chicken! During the first years, one of the many challenges we had to deal with was this new cultural environment. We felt far from everything. I set up Malay courses for the expat employees and their wives, in the office. Our partners were very touched by our interest in their language. On November 23rd, 1989, the signing of the new PMA took place in Paris, giving us the opportunity to invite our partners in France. This agreement on block B offered us new challenges for our offshore operations. To me, the Sultanate of Brunei remains a very rewarding professional experience. When I left, we filled an application for production with early contract negotiations with Shell. The Dutch company had to agree to give us some space in its liquefaction plant. The local government wanted to welcome us as a new producer, but Shell “made a face”. Our past and present achievements have shown that we have managed to make a solid place in Brunei.