Interview: Roberto Casula – Eni

We were recently offered a chance to interview Roberto Casula, Eni Senior Executive and a well-respected business leader in the global energy arena to discuss innovation in the oil and gas industry, talent management and mentorship at Eni.

Roberto Casula is presently engaged in open innovation and corporate venture capital at Eni.

From 2004 to 2005, Roberto Casula held many managerial positions in Eni E&P, including the role of CEO of EniMed SpA before being appointed Managing Director of Eni in Libya in 2005.

In July 2007, Casula became the Senior Vice President of operational and business activities in sub-Saharan Africa. In December 2011 he was appointed as Executive Vice President of Eni E&P Division, extending his managerial responsibilities to the whole of Africa and the Middle East, including the program for the development of the Mamba and Coral discoveries in Mozambique.

Roberto Casula served as Eni’s Chief Development, Operations & Technology Officer between June 2014 and September 2018.

Roberto Casula has also served as Chairman of the Board of Versalis SpA (Chemicals) from January 2017 to April 2018 and as Chairman of Italian Petroleum and Mining Industry Association from May 2016 to April 2018.

What interesting new projects are you working on?

I am currently setting up a venture capital vehicle, an idea I have been working on for a while.

Traditionally, Eni’s innovation efforts have been organic and driven by our internal R&D function. In the past, such a model has been pretty successful and has led to the development of outstanding technologies, especially in our core O&G business. Over the last years, though, the global innovation paradigm has totally changed as a result of two main changes: first of all, the innovation pace has dramatically accelerated. Secondly, as Eni has was embracing its strategy of energy transition, we felt the need to expand the perimeter and the scope of our innovation efforts to encompass technologies that do not necessarily apply to our traditional core O&G business.

Keeping up with all these changes, I felt we had to start leveraging more and more on open innovation strategies and tools, strengthening our existing partnerships with research centers (such as the one we have with MIT), but also looking for new solutions and models. On top of that, I realized it was getting more challenging to translate the research we were doing within the laboratories into viable commercial products, ready to be used in our industry and operations.

Thus, we decided to set up a CVC vehicle to invest in disruptive startups, which will hopefully change the energy market industry in the years to come. This is an enormously challenging and stimulating task for me. First of all, venture investing in tough-tech requires exceptional open-mindedness and understanding to figure out the impact innovative startups and technologies can bring to the energy industry, as well as gauge their probability to succeed. Secondly, I have to deal with the cultural challenge of conducting an activity that is very far away from the usual procedures and way of doing business in the O&G industry.

I guess that ensuring the strategic fit between the CVC activities and Eni’s overall strategy and, so to say, balancing the needs of the Eni of the Future with those of the Eni of today will be the key to success.

What strategies do you use at Eni to retain top talent?

Oil & gas has always been capital intensive, and know-how a critical success factor. Nowadays, this sector is facing a dramatic transformation and oil and gas companies are changing both business scopes and models. New technologies are emerging, and in particular, the digital revolution is bringing new skills and a new way of working.

That’s why Eni has developed a specific plan for attracting and retaining Top Talent while spreading a talent management culture within the company.

The first action is to identify highly skilled resources and prepare them to manage and win the challenges that the company will face in the future. Then these resources are provided with the tools to better express their potentialities and skills. Career paths are designed in a way to fast-track their career progression by means of international exposures (such as overseas assignments), participation to cross-functional project teams, taking over responsibility for organizations and teams, temporary cross – functional mobility.

Top Talents are also included in specific programs aimed at developing their soft skills as well as their cross-functional knowledge through coaching, mentoring, and masters.

All of that is not enough without the right vision. Our CEO not only meets on a regular basis with the senior management, but he’s also very keen to talk to the youngest colleagues in order to transfer the company’s vision toward efficiency and resiliency and by encouraging them to be leaders in carbon neutrality to have a positive impact on society.

Have you had a mentor throughout your career? What did you get out of this experience?

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to start a mentoring program, of which I was initially highly skeptical, because my working days were quite intense, my calendar always tight, including weekends, and my mind fully occupied with difficult business and operational issues. Secondly, I was not inclined to expose myself much, including my professional life, to unfamiliar people.

Before our first meeting I received her profile showing various Chief Executive Officer positions in several different entities, author of books about business leadership and innovation, speaking engagements in different events organized by corporations, associations, and universities, and, last but not least, her TED talks were seen by over nine million people. In short, an impressive background!

In effect, starting from the very first day of our interactions, I remained surprised by her empathy, her effective way to share expertise and understanding of the complex dynamics within a corporation, such as Eni, totally unknown to her beforehand.

We had several meetings that turned to be open and frank, brainstorming on personal and professional goals, problem-solving, and planning. She was a great help in improving the understanding and managing of people and how to resolve certain organizational hurdles related to my new job.

Eventually, we developed a trusting relationship, reciprocal admiration, and on occasion, even moral support.

Furthermore, these meetings became an opportunity for personal introspection and self-awareness, an aspect sometimes left neglected.