Meet Isabelle Bela; her curiosity drove her to study engineering and now it’s driving her mission to help customers navigate their energy transition.
Spend five minutes chatting with Isabelle Bela, and the reasons for her swift rise since joining Baker Hughes as an intern in 2017 are obvious. She’s articulate and clear-thinking, with a passion to make things better; something she’s been pursuing as Business Development Manager for Brazil for energy transition solutions since November 2021.
As Bela explained, in Brazil there’s some pressure to decide your study path when you’re still quite young. “I chose engineering without knowing what I was going to do with that qualification, but it ended up being the right choice,” she says. “I like understanding how things work and I was always very curious about processes and how things are made.”
She is not someone to accept the status quo without understanding it. “People will say, ‘it’s like this because it has always been like this’, but I have always been the type of person to ask, ‘But why? This is not enough for me! Why does this exist? Why do we do this?” She thought studying industrial engineering – at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro – would help her find answers. “In practice, it taught me how to ask good questions, because finding solutions is not always straightforward. There’s always room for improvement and engineering taught me that we need to be aware that we can always do things differently – and you can always be better.”
Learning through teaching
From her second year studying at university, she was also a tutor, first for engineering students and then for programming. “One of the best ways you can make sure you understand things is by teaching,” explains Bela. “I was always one of those people who would study a subject and then sit with my friends and try to explain it for them. Programming was a subject that people struggled with, and it came naturally for me, which was lucky, and made me think I could help. I like programming – even though I don’t do it these days – because it was very logical and rational as opposed to more subjective subjects.”
Bela’s effusive nature meant that she was never destined for a solitary future in programming, no matter how good she was at it. “While I like the logic and methods in engineering, at the same time I really enjoy interacting with people and learning from people,” she says. “Tutoring was my first opportunity not only to share my knowledge, but also to understand people better and work out how to make it easier for them to understand complex things.”
Bela started her internship in GE Oil & Gas while still studying for her degree. “I was very excited about being part of a company that provides technology that impacts our lives,” she says. “Resources drives our economy in Brazil, so being in an industry that is so central to everything was something that really inspired me, and I wanted to be part of something that can really make our lives better.”
After two years as an intern in sales operations serving Latin America, Bela had her degree and joined the Baker Hughes ASPIRE program, a two-year rotational development program for early career graduates. She did four separate rotations as part of the program. She started in Rio de Janeiro in flexible pipes, then with global key accounts with top customers in Houston, USA, onto operations delivery manager for oilfield services in Aberdeen, Scotland, before finishing up in global sales back in Houston.
The crucible of a leadership program
“It was a very intense program; each rotation lasted between six and eight months,” says Bela. The expectations of the people chosen to go through it are high. “They push you hard to make sure that you have a real business impact within that time frame, which is very tight. We’re in entry level positions, yet our role is to bring value to operations.” The experience and pressure of solving that conundrum successfully boosted her reputation within the company – and gave her the confidence to lead when she returned to Brazil in the role of operations delivery manager for subsea services.
“I was given the challenge to try to think beyond what we were used to,” says Bela. “Our standard services for the subsea production systems were mostly maintenance, repairs and spare parts for our installed base.” Bela was tapped to look for opportunities to grow the service portfolio within the Latin America Brazilian market.
“The Aspire program trained me to be able identify good opportunities and present them in a way that makes sense to the leadership team, as well as those that were not ones to pursue. We ended up getting two contracts in Brazil that were meaningful. It was my biggest achievement so far.”
Thinking outside the box to do better
By again kicking goals beyond expectations, Bela was promoted to her current role, identifying how Baker Hughes can best lead the way forward for energy transition for oil and gas and other industrial customers in Brazil. “We want to understand what our customers need in terms of solutions, how we can add value in this space to their projects, and who our new customers are.”
We are talking about a suite that includes some new technologies, and many existing ones, applied in a new way. “Baker Hughes is a big company, but in this new market with players not from oil and gas, sometimes they’re not aware of everything we can offer. My approach has been to make sure customers understand our extensive portfolio and to realize it’s not just oilfield services, equipment, and our growing digital portfolio. When people get to see the full picture of it, they’re impressed at our breadth of solutions.”
But people-loving Bela isn’t resting on the technologies. “Once they know what we do, the key for building any trustworthy relationship is transparency,” she says. “I see my job then to make sure they understand what Baker Hughes is great at now, and these are the areas we’re reaching for, and this is how we’re going to get there. Then I ask them: ‘Is this what you’re looking for, does it make sense that we should work, or do you think there’s no match? This is the base of any good relationship. If you know what the person – or company – want and you understand what the person or company can provide, you don’t break any expectations. Transparency is how I start.”
By the end of this year, Bela will have been in the role for two years, but she says she still has lots of work to do. “I’m still building this trust with new key customers,” she says. She has a clear vision for the role Baker Hughes can play in the energy transition and a commitment to making it happen.
“I want Baker Hughes to be as relevant in the broad energy generation sector as it is in oil and gas,” says Bela. “In Brazil, we have a very diverse energy matrix, with a lot of biomass and renewable sources, so if Baker Hughes can be an equipment and service provider – and reference technology – in those other energy sectors, that’s one way we will take energy forward. I want to make sure that we take energy forward for Brazil as well as the rest of the world.”
“Because the second part of understanding how things work is putting them into action.”
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