Business Development Manager
by the p2i Network
Update: Since the interview, Inês Cecílio changed roles and is now Business Development Manager at Celsius Energy. Inês is responsible for the product strategy of the company’s digital energy management family of products for geoenergy and low-carbon building heating and cooling.
Could you give us a snapshot of where you are now and what led you to pursuing a career in industry.
My current role is digital and automation manager for a strategic unit of Schlumberger called ‘New Energy’. Schlumberger is a company with nearly 100 years of history in technology innovation in the oil and gas sector. At the start of 2020, the company created this strategic New Energy unit to create a portfolio of new businesses in strategic sectors of the energy transition, thereby developing new avenues of growth for the company outside of the oil and gas sector.
I am part of this team and I am responsible for supporting each of these new businesses to develop their digital road map and digital products definition.
I had started my PhD already with a sense that I would pursue a career in industry rather than an academic career and I joined Schlumberger right after completing my PhD. I still saw a career in industry being very closely related to technology development and where I could leverage the competencies that I developed as part of my research for my PhD.
What attracted me to an industry career path was the challenge of real world problems. These problems are the future big questions for that particular industry and knowing that I could channel my research and development efforts with a very concrete application in the industry to address these real world problems.
Is there a recent achievement you are especially proud of?
I would say actually that I’m really proud of being appointed digital and automation manager in this new strategic unit two years ago. The initial team that formed this Schlumberger New Energy unit was quite small and agile and the members that formed this team were hand-picked so - most of them had many years experience in the company- I was the most junior. It really felt like a unique opportunity to have been trusted to have a significant contribution to the creation and acceleration of these new businesses in the company.
What has been the biggest challenge you faced and how have you overcome this challenge?
In a sense, when you're given this type of responsibilities, it comes with challenges. I am taken out of my comfort zone, I'm having to learn new things, I'm having to contribute outside of the area of my expertise. That makes you a bit nervous and is a challenge. I think the way I've always overcome this is to try to do the best job possible; listen and learn, be professional and dedicate myself to try to achieve good results.
In your experience, what are the similarities and differences between academia and industry, in respect to mind set and skills?
I think both academia and industry seek innovation but in industry innovation has to be aligned with market requirements and therefore the goals when you're doing research in an industry are much more stringent. In a sense, for industry, innovation is really a matter of survival. It's the means to stay ahead of the competition, to aggressively gain the market or remain the partner of choice for a customer.
What were the skills you already had as a researcher that helped you with your current career and what skills did you need to learn?
I would highlight three things that you develop as part of a PhD research project: project management skills even if you don't follow any standard methodologies, self-motivation and communication skills. At the start of your PhD, you have to understand what the problem is, you need to understand the landscape. Often this problem is quite vaguely defined to begin with, so you're having to go through this period of problem understanding/ problem statement and then define the why/how/and what you're going to do. You need to set out your plans, your deliverables, you need to manage your time - so you're really developing all these skills when you are doing a PhD research project.
When you join industry - irrespective of the role you move into - you need to develop some level of business acumen and understanding of the market. You need to be able to grasp what is the business value of the scientific contributions you are working towards. That's really quite important because sometimes as a researcher in academia you can think of the society value in a general sense but in industry it has to lead to some form of product or service that solves a problem in the market.
Another skill I needed to learn is managing people. In the company, I started leading teams quite soon after I joined, so I needed to learn on the job how to manage people, how to recruit efficiently and this is not as easy as it seems actually. You really put a lot of effort and you're making an important choice. If you make the wrong choice, you’re wasting efforts on your side but you can also be compromising the person you've hired so it's not easy.
Another skill to learn is how to deal with topics outside your core expertise. When you're leading a team, you work with multiple disciplines - one of these might be your core expertise but the other ones aren't. Being able to understand how these disciplines interrelate in the project, to know a little bit of everything to make sense of the big picture is quite important as well.
What/who gave you the confidence to transition from academia to industry and how did you get to your current position?
When I did my PhD, I already had in mind that I wanted some connection to industry. When I applied for a PhD, I chose a supervisor who herself had connections to industry and who arranged placements of her PhD students with industrial research centers.
So in a sense I didn't feel afraid of that transition, I was looking for it.
Then a bit of serendipity came into play. Towards the end of my PhD, the department organised a day where PhD students who would finish that year could present their work to an audience which was a mix of academics and people from industry who have some ties with that department. I presented my academic work and it caught the attention of actually quite a few of the people from industry and then it was really the classical example of communicating and networking and they encouraged me to apply to their companies and it went from there.
My moves within the company to get to the current position so far have been
proposed to me by managers or people elsewhere in the company who have come to know my work and who trust me. So I feel I have been given opportunities to develop based on doing the best I can in the various roles I have held in the company.
Can you list a few aspects (mindset, skills and competencies) you have observed in yourself after participating in the p2i online course: Empowering researchers to innovate?
This course was my very first structured analysis of what entrepreneurship is and it introduced me to a series of tools and the process to follow if you're considering taking a certain idea to the market and these were new things to me - these tools and process. Personally up to that point I had been really exposed very little to this type of career path and I was quite afraid of embarking on such a journey because of the risk that I perceived associated with it. There is risk of course, but my fear was also down to not knowing, not understanding this path. The course changed my mindset significantly because it gave me the confidence that if I ever was to develop a business, that I knew the kind of process and the type of tools and process that I would start with to validate the idea and develop the business.
Colleagues at Schlumberger recommended that I took part in the course - other employees before me had already been encouraged to take part.
How have these skills helped you in your career in industry?
The opportunity to participate in the p2i online course came very timely as it was around a few months before I joined this new team “New Energy” within the company that is developing new business ventures in strategic sectors of the energy transition. I can observe that the p2i course opened my mind to this type of endeavor. And it's true that although ultimately, I learn on the job - especially from the more experienced team members that I work with - but the p2i course gave me the fundamentals to be able to follow this team and to be able to contribute alongside this team.
If you had to pinpoint a few things what would you say were your key messages or takeaways from the p2i training that have stuck with you.
I think the idea that we can all be entrepreneurs and that as researchers we are already to some extent entrepreneurs because we are innovating, we are bringing new ideas together to solve a problem.
In addition, the understanding that there are tools and there is a certain logic, a certain process to follow to be successful as an entrepreneur. So these notions I felt were quite important for me.
Would you recommend engaging in entrepreneurial activities to other early career researchers? Can you explain why?
I think ultimately this depends on each individual's aptitude or appetite. I feel that especially in early career, it is the time to take risks and in that sense there's a lot to learn by engaging in entrepreneurial activities. I think what might be important is to give early career researchers the visibility of what type of entrepreneurial activities they might be able to engage in. This type of awareness I don't think is very common at universities.
What are the top skills you would encourage an entrepreneurial postdoc to develop, regardless of their career path?
So I think analytical thinking first and foremost. I think being able to analyze value of a certain technology but not just in a qualitative way but analytically with numbers; able to analyze the size of the market opportunity of the technology. I think that type of critical analytical thought process is extremely vital.
Business acumen - understanding the value that a certain idea, a certain product, a certain technology can have in the market by what type of problem it is solving.
Then also networking and communication skills - I think those are really crucial.
Is there anything you would have done differently in your career trajectory - in hindsight?
My career has not at all been linear academically- I chose not to specialize and I delved in quite a few distinct topics and then transitioned to a position in Industry. I've taken roles that require quite distinct technical and scientific competencies as well as soft skills and often this has put me quite out of my comfort zone. When you're out of your comfort zone, there are moments when you think indeed you know should you have taken this, should you have done a different career move. But in each of these moves, I was determined to do the best job I could and I put my dedication and my professionalism into achieving good results. In the end, I've searched for moves that offered me challenges to expand my competencies and maybe other trajectories might have given me different opportunities. I don't think there's much merit in sitting around wondering “what if” if you're doing okay and you're enjoying it.
Is there any advice you would give to postdocs who want to explore or want to pursue a non-academic career?
The best information comes from those that have pursued such careers. I would advise researchers to go and talk to people in their network who are either doing research in industry or who have started a startup or joined a startup to get their views on the pros and cons of these careers. Ultimately, it's a very individual decision but hearing this type of information from people who have gone through it, helps researchers make their own decisions about their career. I think ultimately these different career paths - academic- industrial - start up- they can really offer very exciting (scientific) problems. I certainly found that in the industry I'm in. The thing for each individual to analyze is that the context that frames these scientific problems is quite different in these three worlds and you need to evaluate if that type of context suits you or not.
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