How I got where I am today: Serena Arif

What did you want to be when you were young?

I always knew I would do something science-based. At school, I liked maths and chemistry but it was difficult to know exactly what I wanted to do. I knew teaching might be an option but it wasn’t something that appealed to me. I think it’s important to educate school children on the range of careers available to them, particularly if they have an aptitude for the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

What are the main career stepping stones you have taken?
I trained in chemistry and first enjoyed a number of positions in the plastics and paper industry. My first role after graduating was as a production engineer and I believe this was significant as it steered me slightly away from chemistry and guided me in the direction of what I do now.  

I first joined the oil and gas industry when I spotted the opportunity to develop equipment to be used downhole out of plastics as opposed to traditional materials. I co-founded a technology company called PolyOil and led the development of its product lines before selling it to a Norwegian company in 2008. Now, as subsea business director of Aubin Group, I am driving the commercialisation of our developing subsea products as well overseeing our integrity division.   

Serena Arif

Are you scared of making mistakes?
No, I’m a natural risk taker. Like most people I’m sure throughout my career I have made lots of mistakes. However I can confidently say I believed that my decisions were the right thing to do at the time.

Best achievement so far?
I think founding PolyOil and making it successful was a big achievement but perhaps the biggest challenge was selling the company. Taking the firm to an exit point was more challenging than starting it and this was a massive achievement.

What do you want to achieve in the rest of your career?
I want to remain motivated in everything I do. At Aubin I think we have some fantastic technology and I am committed to seeing some of our developing products in regular use in an operational environment offshore. On a personal level I would like to keep learning new things that keep me interested.

What’s your idea of the perfect retirement?
When I retire I think it will be important for me to continue to contribute to society and so I would look into volunteering or a way to give back when I have more time on my hands. I would also spend more time partaking in lots of leisure sports.  

I have been scuba diving for more than 25 years and find it a tremendous stress buster. I have been on a number of diver liveaboards – a designated diver holiday boat – both in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. They are such a great way to switch off as there generally isn’t phone reception.

There is a lot of pressure to always be connected but I think it’s really healthy to unplug from time-to-time if you can. I also enjoy skiing holidays with my family and aim to do that every couple of years at least. I’ve also recently taken up horse riding which I really enjoy so I would spend time doing more of that too.

Is the “career for life” a thing of the past?
I would be tempted to say it is a thing of the past but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are lots of opportunities now. It might just be perspective but it feels like the workplace is a lot bigger than when I first started out in my career. It’s a lot easier for people to reassess what they want to do with their lives and change career path if they so desire. Having a multi-skilled workforce is also good for employers, particularly for small companies who might want staff to multi-function across roles.

What have you actively tried to avoid in your career?
I’m not a great person for small detail and I don’t enjoy anything that involves spending time on a spreadsheet.

What’s the best way to motivate others?
I’ve been really lucky to have always worked with excellent, self motivated people. At Aubin we are an incredibly motivated team, which helps a lot. I think it’s about communication and ensuring everyone is on the right page.  If you remain energised yourself, those in your team will feed off your energy. Likewise if you have the right team they will keep you energised.

What’s your best career advice?
I think it’s important not to lose sight of your goals or get bogged down and stuck in a rut. I’ve got two teenage daughters and I always tell them not to try and be something they’re not and to believe in themselves. You also have to be disciplined and focused to go after what you want, rather than waiting for it to come to you. I used to go by the motto “work hard, play hard” but now I think a balance is preferable.

Is there a time in your career you miss most?
I tend to try and not look back and am grateful for all of my experiences.

What’s your dream job?:
Whenever I see people on TV working among wild animals in far flung places like Africa I think they must have an incredibly satisfying job.  Not only do they have the opportunity to be outdoors but also doing something interesting and worthwhile.

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