Armand Lumens studied international management in Maastricht University’s early years. Back then, Problem-Based Learning was brand new, an unknown entity, and he and his fellow students were pioneers. “My teachers were young and passionate; I learned to solve problems and to work with others.” As it turns out, his time at UM kicked off a fantastic career: the Limburg native is now a top executive at Shell.
Chief Internal Auditor and Executive Vice President of Risk Management, reads his visiting card. It sounds important. “It’s certainly a very special job”, Lumens smiles. “I manage a team of more than 200 specialists who assess the risks that Shell runs worldwide, what our weaknesses are and how the company deals with them. Are we vulnerable to a cyber-attack? What financial risks do our projects face? Are our investments sound? How risky is it, drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic? Nothing is sacred, because a company like Shell cannot allow an oil disaster or a financial scandal. Society won’t accept that, to say nothing of our shareholders. My role is very independent; I advise the board and report to the Board Audit Committee on risk measures and strategy.”
Lumens calls himself a thorn in Shell’s side. “Shell carries a huge amount of responsibility. It has more than 100,000 employees, and is a sizeable economic force: its turnover is sometimes higher than the gross national product of the countries it operates in. Projects for gas and oil extraction can last 20 or 30 years. And every year, Shell invests some 30 billion in new projects. You cannot and should not leave anything to chance. An oil spill, like the one BP had a few years ago, could destroy the company. Risk management and auditing are therefore of the utmost importance.”
Lumens may enjoy a great deal of autonomy in his job, but it is clear the company has his full support – and has done for more than 20 years. He found himself at Shell through an international internship programme and never left. “I’ve had every opportunity. I’ve worked in the oil trade, retail and acquisition of small and large petrol station chains and gas companies in Rotterdam, in Paris and across Europe. The best job was constructing a gas plant in Bulgaria. It wasn’t easy, but within three years the plant was up and running and we were breaking even.”
Growing up in Landgraaf, he never imagined taking on the role of construction boss. “No, I studied finance. But at Shell that’s not all that matters. They like testing people, finding out what you’re good at. After Bulgaria I moved on to improving supply chains, specifically establishing alliances. Collaborating with other parties is vital for Shell, even with competitors like Exxon, BP and governments. Shell has the technology and the expertise; countries have the gas and the oil. Oil corporations are indispensable when it comes to acquiring and exploiting raw materials in a responsible manner. We need each other in the world.”
In recent years Lumens has been climbing the Shell ladder, solving the ‘reserve crisis’ and overseeing the merger between Royal Dutch Shell and Shell Transport. Where his rise will end, he dares not say. “CFO? Who knows, there are plenty of possibilities, but it depends on so many factors. What I do know is that, right now, I have a fantastic job that allows me to see the whole world. Shell is very innovative, technology driven. We’re constantly seeking new frontiers with better exploration and extraction methods. In the Arctic we now have hundreds of people, 23 ships and several aircraft. Sure, oil is finite. But the reserves will certainly see us through the coming 100 years. There’s so much gas and oil in the seabed in Africa and South America. And no matter what the outside world may say, we cherish the environment. Risk management, remember?”
Lumens found himself at Maastricht University more or less by accident. “At that time you still had to be placed in a particular city. Rotterdam and Groningen were my preferences, but I was given Maastricht. In hindsight, that was lucky. We were pioneers; Problem-Based Learning was really right for me. And we had those young, passionate teachers, who are now at the top of their games: Luc Soete, Steven Majoor, Jan van de Poel, Laurie Bollen, Geert Hofstede. I learnt such a lot; the international approach especially appealed to me. That’s what makes UM so special. I also had a lot of fun. I come back often and am always amazed how much of the old town survives. The brown cafes, the restaurants. I live near Geneva now, but I consider Maastricht home.”
There is a concrete element to Lumens’s love of Maastricht and its university. As head of Shell’s UM alumni team, he regularly visits the city to give guest lectures and to scout talent for his employer. “Shell has an average of 3000 vacancies. We recruit staff from all over the world, but I always pay special attention to people from UM. The launch of the new science programmes in chemistry is an excellent development: research in biomaterials is very interesting to us.”
Armand Lumens (1968) studied International Management, specialising in accounting and finance, at UM from 1987 to 1993. He obtained his master’s in Finance in London in 2006. Alongside his work at Shell, he is a security adviser to the Dutch police force and chair of the audit committee of the Waterland Hospital in Purmerend.
By Jos Cortenraad
Source: UM Magazine, 5 February 2014