Thailand. Paradise. Tourist and destination wedding location-of-choice for thousands of westerners every year. But this wasn’t always the case.

I know what you’re thinking, what does natural gas have to do with the paradise known as Thailand? The beautiful beaches and rich blue water with islands towering out of it have always been there. But we haven’t always flocked there in droves. In fact tourism growth in Thailand didn’t take off until the early 80’s, more than six years after the release of the James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun starring a dashing Roger Moore against the spectacular backdrop of Thailand’s island coast. Regardless of your personal travel preferences, the tourism industry is dominated by resorts. Resorts rarely spring up in remote, undeveloped nations which is where gas comes in.

 

In the early 1970’s Thailand’s energy came primarily from fuel oil. This expensive and frankly ugly energy source was holding back economic development in the country. While Thailand still has political issues to work through, it has come a long way over the past 4 decades. Stifled growth does little for political stability which in turn isn’t great for tourism. Little did they know that they were sitting on vast reserves of natural gas.

 

“What’s natural gas?” was the response from the government official when Tom Fisher, my guest in this episode of Crude Conversations, presented them with an idea. He was working for Unocal. They had discovered significant gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand but had no one to sell the gas to. His job: establish a market.

 

He quickly discovered that the initial reaction he received to gas was not the norm. There were some very smart people in the Thai government who recognized the benefits gas could have for their country. Along with his colleagues at Unocal, Tom set out working with them to establish the foundation for their future energy. Every nation on earth requires energy abundance to prosper, and Thailand is no exception. Today, 75% of their energy comes from natural gas and the rest of us know the country as a tropical paradise.

 

This episode features Tom Fisher who was Senior Vice President of Commercial Affairs for Unocal before retiring in 2004. During his career he had an instrumental role in commercializing the gas markets of Indonesia and Thailand, among many other achievements.

 

He’s a Reservoir Engineer by training, like myself, and we get into the engineering weeds a little bit at the start of the interview but stick with it as he has some great insights in the second half of the conversation.

 

Notably he reflects from retirement on what defines success and you might be surprised by his answer. We finish up our chat with the importance of having fun and what Tom believes is the biggest problem America faces today.

 

Thanks for listening and thanks for being part of the conversation.

Rohan Irvin

What we cover during our chat

Why Reservoir Engineering is the best kind of Engineering
How he got into Natural Gas
Indonesia: Being a double agent – helping the local company do their analysis of Unocal’s proposals
How to balance representing the interests of both sides in a negotiation
How to put yourself in someone else’s shoes
Negotiating: how to figure out what the other side’s priorities are
Negotiating with governments
Upstream vs Downstream
Discovery in Thailand right after the 1970’s energy crisis
Thai Government had an appetite for cheaper ideas
The politics in Thailand
Being in Thailand during political instability
Market place haggling applied to gas contract negotiations
Commercialising Thailand’s stranded gas in the 1970’s
Predicting high inflation of the 1980’s
The key to strong business relationships: respect
Networking: Be interested in people – everybody has a story
Advice from mentors in his early career
Asking the right questions in an interview to find people with character and integrity
Why GPA doesn’t necessarily correlate with success
What Tom looked for in an employee
The key to being successful
The importance of curiosity
When to decide to make a change – when you’ve stopped learning
“If you’re not having fun, maybe you’re not doing the right thing”
“That’s why they make coconuts and banana’s…”
What Tom defines success by
The biggest problem facing America today

Books

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Titan – John D. Rockafella by Ron Chernow
The Prize by Daniel Yergin

People

Harry Truman
Will Rodgers

“I met a lot of people I didn’t like, but I never met a person that couldn’t teach me something.” – Will Rodgers

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