Leonie Hillebrecht

Chief of Staff at DEA

Before studying petroleum engineering at the mining university in Leoben, Austria, Leonie completed her high school A-levels as well as certification as a kindergarten teacher. Born and raised in Austria, she sometimes misses the Alps and the possibility to ski and hike at any time. Now, Leonie fills her days with a lot of music, and her two-year-old son keeps her on her feet.

No use in waiting

“Mergers are always tough. And they always come with cost reduction programs and great uncertainty for all employees. In such times, it’s hard for leaders to keep the motivation up in their teams and to lead by example.” Many who have experienced a merger at close quarters will recognize the situation described by Leonie Hillebrecht, and many leaders before her have struggled to lead the way in turbulent times. “To focus on daily business is essential, but I also believe in making the organization fit for the future and preparing ourselves for what will come. When entering the merger and the actual integration, it will be beneficial for us to be a strong DEA with a lot to bring. There’s no use in waiting to drive ourselves forward, or not to position ourselves in the best possible way for this merger,” says Leonie. Leonie, who is originally a petroleum engineer, was offered the new role of Chief of Staff by DEA’s new CEO, Maria Moræus Hanssen, when she returned from maternity leave in 2018.

“It’s clear that diversity in the workforce is a decisive factor for the competitiveness and success of any enterprise. This is why diversity is good business and everybody’s business.”

At this point in time, it had already been announced that DEA was to merge with Wintershall – a process scheduled to take about a year. In the time leading up to the final merger, when a lot of things are by default undetermined, many leaders would have opted for old and familiar ways of running their business. In DEA, however, it was quickly agreed that the best way to prepare for the changes ahead was to introduce a number of new initiatives that would boost the organization and provide the employees with new development opportunities. “The initiatives we are now focusing on, such as diversity, digital transformation and environmental sustainability, are not only topics which are discussed in DEA or in the oil & gas industry. They are discussed everywhere,” says Leonie. “Being able to learn about these topics and gaining experience now will help everyone, whether in the new Wintershall DEA or somewhere else,” she continues.

Swimming in new waters

Returning from parental leave to a brand new position is a challenge to anyone. To do so in the middle of a merger certainly adds an extra notch to the complexity. “My biggest challenge in the role as Chief of Staff was the 360° turnaround in the beginning,” says Leonie. “I had just returned from maternity leave with our first child and it felt like my world was upside down in the beginning. I had such high expectations of myself and didn’t allow myself a lot of time to adjust. But I trusted that I would grow with this new challenge and eventually, I did.” To Leonie, the new role was very far from what she had previously tried her strength against as an engineer in DEA. When she joined the company in 2010, it was as a completion engineer in the production department in Northern Germany. After a stint at DEA’s headquarters in Hamburg, Leonie then took the role as drilling engineer at DEA’s land rig T-160. Just like on offshore rigs, work on the T-160 is done in shifts, so Leonie would spend two weeks on the rig and the next two weeks off. Leonie’s many years in DEA and her shifting roles have provided her with in-depth knowledge of the many different layers of the organization and prepared her well for her new position.

Everybody’s business

A key question facing the energy industry these days is how to meet the future energy demands of the world in a responsible and sustainable manner. With global warming and e-mobility dominating the headlines, how does the oil & gas industry fit into the picture? At DEA, the recent Environmental Sustainability initiative introduced by Leonie and Maria aims to address this complex question: “We want to show the CO2 footprint of all our producing assets and have the information aggregated in a simple and easily understandable manner, available to all employees,” says Leonie. “Every employee is an ambassador of our industry, and having this information at hand and being able to share it openly will help gain acceptance for our mission from society. But we don’t want to stop at transparency,” she continues. Beyond being a transparent organization, DEA aims to become a leading E&P player within environmental sustainability, and the organization is committed to operating in an environmentally responsible way. Leonie mentions the current initiatives carried out at DEA’s flagship, Mittelplate, as examples of DEA’s efforts to find more responsible solutions. “At Mittelplate, electricity is used from the grid and there is a completely enclosed waste-disposal system where even rain and spray water is collected and cleansed onshore. Also, pipeline connections have reduced shipping traffic by more than 2,000 transfers a year,” explains Leonie. Another area of focus in DEA is diversity, and there is a strong focus on the benefits of colleagues having different backgrounds and areas of expertise.

With the nomination of the first-ever female CEO in the company’s history, one big step has already been taken towards breaking old industry conventions, and in 2018, the first ever Women@DEA Summit was held, where 150 female employees discussed how professions and careers can be made more attractive to women. “Diversity and equal opportunities for all employees is an objective that we have set for ourselves and we are implementing a number of measures to achieve it. After all, it’s clear that diversity in the workforce is a decisive factor for the competitiveness and success of any enterprise. This is why diversity is good business and everybody’s business,” concludes Leonie.

Time will tell

The initiatives introduced in Leonie’s time as Chief of Staff have already had an effect on the organization, and they are being discussed frequently. And while some colleagues have asked if this is really the time to push for new ambitions, Leonie is convinced that the initiatives are beneficial to all – whether they will be part of the new company or not. For her own part, Leonie does not know what the future holds, but she hopes to be able to keep pushing the bar in DEA and draw on the experience from all the different parts of the company she is already so familiar with: “To be honest, I don’t know where I will end up,” says Leonie. “Having worked in the core business of our industry in the first phase of my career combined with the knowledge and skills I have developed in my current role, I see myself well-equipped to help shape this new company, Wintershall DEA, to be the leading oil and gas independent.”

DEA is an international operator in the field of exploration and production of natural gas and crude oil, based in Hamburg, Germany. Founded in 1899, DEA now has about 1,100 employees from 40 different nations and shares in production facilities and concessions in, among others, Germany, Norway, Egypt, Mexico, Denmark and Algeria. In 2018, the merger between DEA and Wintershall was announced.