KOTA KINABALU: At a glance, Rokiah Sulaiman seemed like your typical working-class lady in her 50s – friendly, humble and motherly.
But just a few years ago, this 58-year-old Sabahan who is the sixth in a family of seven, was made head of production planning at Garraf Oil Field Operations in Iraq.
Petronas sent her to the war-torn country for a three-year stint where she lived within a camp and put up a daily 10-hour or more working days with other expatriates.
“I always wanted an international posting from the company. I am really thankful the company gave me this chance to work in Iraq,” she said.
Her international posting was a culmination of years of experience in the industry, of spending long hours in the office to clear jobs, and of resilience in the face of challenges.
“I was attached to operational excellence (upstream) segment in Kuala Lumpur prior to the Iraq move.
“But I already applied for the posting while I was still working in the Sarawak operations and it took me two years to get the job,” she said, explaining that the host authority would prefer to limit expatriates as they preferred to have their locals employed.
Her task as a team leader of the service providing company to the first commercial production plant required her to deal with the Iraq’s host authority which was mainly a male dominated agency.
“I learnt to allow the host authority officials to decide,” explained Rokiah, saying she would lay out options that would help them make decisions on production business-related matters.
“As they found themselves making the final decisions, we ended up working well,” said Rokiah, who described her stint in Iraq as very exciting and challenging.
The mother of four said she would get alternate months off, which she used to visit her family here in Malaysia.
Rokiah said there was no real direct terrorist risk in the camps and they were not exposed to the fighting that occurred in other parts of that country.
Currently, she is in back in Kota Kinabalu as the head of Petronas Sabah and Labuan, Group Strategic Communications.
Rokiah has grown through the ranks, from working at the oil fields to management and she attributed her rise to her supportive husband and family.
“I am encouraged by my husband, a workaholic himself, who asked me to take ownership in life.”
Rokiah’s husband was a former marine captain who now works for a group shipping company as chief executive officer.
In her early years, she recalled studying in Arizona, United States, with her brother, pursuing a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering Technology degree.
“To support myself, I worked part-time at the university, though I was able to depend on my brother for food and necessities,” she said, adding that on her return to Sabah in 1990, she joined Sabah Shipyard Sdn Bhd in Labuan.
Her break came when she was hired by Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd in 1992 when it took over the Samarang oil field from Shell.
Rokiah trained as an oil well programmer, where she gained her experience. Meanwhile, she ascended the ladder in the asset planning area in the Sarawak operations until 2006.
“Then I moved to business planning. This stint was tougher as you start to deal with people, and this tested my endurance,” she described.
Through her peers in Petronas, she learnt the ropes and met the challenges in business planning.
“I started a goat farm during this time which helped me release stress during weekends,” said Rokiah.
Despite her position in the national oil company, Rokiah remains humble and always remembers her family roots.
“My father is from Labuan and my mother is from Miri, but I was born in Brunei, as my dad had worked for an oil and gas company there.
“So being able to return to this country and state was ideal for me. Petronas gave me a chance to develop my own personal skills and now I am returning the favour by serving my home.”