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Budapest Affiliate Plays key Roles in ExxonMobil’s Energy Operations, Transition

Interview

Byung Kim, lead country manager of ExxonMobil Hungary.

Prominent on a purpose-built tall office block and in bright red letters, the name ExxonMobil greets thousands of travelers leaving the Dózsa György út metro station in Budapest every day.

ExxonMobil is a corporation the public may associate with “big oil” and images of donkey pumps and tough-looking workers wearing hard hats and protective industrial clothing. But there is nothing of the sort in the entrance hall of ExxonMobil’s one-year-old Pillar Building, where employees passing through are typically in casual business dress, and some of whom, it turns out, are involved in the energy transition to a net-zero future.

“We talk about powering ExxonMobil’s global business from ExxonMobil Hungary,” Byung Kim, lead country manager for the operation, tells the Budapest Business Journal in an interview.

It’s a bold statement, but the 43-year-old American, in charge of the U.S.-headquartered multinational’s operations in Budapest for almost a year, is eager to back it up. True, he admits that for the first few years after ExxonMobil’s Budapest Business Support Center was established in 2004, work focused on “traditional” back-office services. But nearly two decades on, much has changed.

“For example, we have opportunities in supply logistics, pricing, and analytics for regional and global operations. We support cyber security activities from here,” he says.

So, while a large portion of the 2,000-strong workforce remains dedicated to accounting services, invoicing, and financial statement preparation, much of the talent deals with more complex tasks.

“This is no longer just a back-office operation: We’re actually involved in running the business. We are doing roles that impact business results, and also the measurement of business performance, here in Budapest,” Kim asserts. Budapest is well placed to do so, being roughly halfway between ExxonMobil’s Asia-Pacific operations and those of the United States, meaning, in terms of time zones, it is ideal for supporting global operations.

But to grasp the whys and wherefores behind all this, one must understand ExxonMobil’s corporate objectives in meeting society’s evolving energy needs and playing a leading role in the energy transition.

Byung Kim addresses students during the Sci-Tech Challenge competition ExxonMobil Hungary hosted this year.

The Energy Trilemma

“We have the energy trilemma [...]; we want to progress in the energy transition, be a leader in that space, but we also understand that modern society needs more energy supplies that are both reliable and affordable. It’s not easy; you need innovative solutions to get there,” he says. To achieve its goals, ExxonMobil is today organized into three main value chains.

“We have the Upstream, which is focused on more traditional oil and gas and LNG resourcing. Then we have Product Solutions, which is taking our fuels, lubricants, and our chemical businesses and creating one company that delivers innovative solutions for customers,” Kim explains.

Finally, the Low Carbon Solutions business is part of the corporation’s drive to become a leader in the energy transition.

“This is focused on carbon capture and storage, bio- and low-emission fuels, and hydrogen. These are areas that, given our history and our competencies, we can do at scale and help society on that transition to net zero; we aim to play a leading role in the energy transition,” he argues.

Not that there are any chemistry boffins running around in white coats waving pipettes in the Pillar.

“We don’t have any physical operations in Hungary, but the activities that don’t require you to be next to the ground [...] we can do from here,” Kim says. Naturally, these operations need intelligent, focused employees.

“You need to be able to solve problems, so whenever there are supply disruptions, getting logistics to take the right products to the right customers at the right time, it’s very critical,” says Kim. “You can’t just be operating a process; you need a problem-solving mindset. Some of these challenges are very complex.”

This, in turn, means scouring the universities to find the right talent, with new starters usually requiring at least a bachelor’s, if not a master’s degree.

“We hire from some of the best universities in Hungary,” says Kim. “We have targeted approaches to look at how we attract the kind of skills and capabilities that we need. But there are very good universities that generate a good pipeline of talent.”

But ExxonMobil Hungary isn’t only targeting students; it is also hiring experienced professionals for the most complex roles.

“We are also passionate about supporting science and technology-related education and raising awareness of energy challenges. As part of our commitment to supporting students, for the second year, we hosted the Sci-Tech Challenge competition in Hungary, inspiring students to use their STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] skills to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges,” Kim says.

“After the national competition held in our office, this year’s final challenged high school students from Hungary, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands to develop a product or service that supports sustainable plastic usage and waste management at the upcoming 2024 Olympic Games in Paris,” he adds.

Career Development

The varied activities in ExxonMobil’s Budapest operation, coupled with the company’s proactive approach to career development, mean employees have a breadth of opportunities in a rewarding career.

“We hire people for the long term. Our vision is ‘Where can we get those people by the end of their career?’” says Kim. “It’s not about this job; it’s not about the next job, per se. You have to look at those things because you must continue developing, but we take a long-term career view.”

To back up his assertion, he points to employees who have been with the Hungarian affiliate since it was founded 19 years ago.

“We have managing directors that are local employees who have been with us and have seen all types of assignments. Many of them have had opportunities to go overseas, to the U.S. and Belgium, as part of their development,” he notes.

Kim, who has been with the company for 20 years, says he believes in leading through direct contact and building relationships with personnel.

Indeed, engagement has been the highlight of his first year in charge. Meeting people and understanding them, regardless of their time with the company, is “really such a powerful tool to be able to connect and help collectively move in the same direction,” he says. “That to me has been a tremendous learning [experience], and I’m sure that’s part of why they’ve sent me here, to understand how to be effective in those areas.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 14, 2023.

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