After Delft

Foto: Sam Rentmeester

Foto: Sam Rentmeester

At the age of fourteen, Gerald Schotman (53) already knew that he wanted to study civil engineering. He was completely fascinated by the work of the Dutch engineer Cornelis Lely. ‘Reclaiming land from the sea, making sure people had dry feet, conquering the elements, all those macho ideas made a great impression on me.’

Name: Gerald Schotman
Place of residence: Oestgeest
Marital status: married, three sons
Studied: Civil engineering (1979-1984)
Association: Delftsche Studenten Bond

Now, as Research and Development Director and Chief Technology Officer at Shell, he sometimes wonders how he could have been so confident. ‘I just love the world of engineering, it’s so much fun. In my job, I feel like a child in a toy shop. The future is not a matter of luck, but it’s all about the choices you make. That way of seeing things is deeply engrained in me and it’s a goof fit with civil engineering.’

At Shell, Schotman is responsible for all the technological choices. Those choices may relate to drilling deeper wells more cheaply or making fluids flow through pipelines more easily, but also to the role of solar energy, wind energy and biofuels. His budget for this is $1.3 billion. But he did not learn about finance in civil engineering: he followed some courses in economics in Rotterdam and developed his knowledge over the years. In fact, the combination of pure engineering and economics has been a unifying theme throughout Schotman’s career: three of his ten jobs at Shell have had an economic aspect. Not that Schotman had ever given any thought to working for Shell. The multinational approached him shortly after he graduated in soil mechanics. ‘At that time, I calculated that it should be possible to install piles for the North-South line in Amsterdam without causing structural damage to the the city’s famous facades. I was working on the phenomenon of dike deformation for the Deltadienst, when Shell was looking for someone with my expertise.’

Schotman did lab work looking at the foundations of platforms in the North Sea and then, in Brunei, he worked on the movement and design of platforms. While in Brunei, he also solved business problems: it was his first strategic position. The next was in Aberdeen in 1995, where he was project manager for a North Sea platform. Six years later he travelled to Oman, where he was head of strategy and planning and was part of the management team. After fifteen years abroad, he returned to The Hague as head of global strategy for identifying and extracting oil. ‘And my current job is the best job there is at Shell.’

When he meets his old student friends for a drink, they sometimes reminisce about the project-based teaching of which they were some of the first recipients at TU Delft. ‘I found it all a bit vague. What does that mean, “thinking out-of-the-box”? First you had to formulate your goals and parameters. I always did my best, but to be honest if I’d had the choice, I wouldn’t have bothered with it. But what we didn’t understand as eighteen-year-olds was that it would stand us in very good stead after our time Delft.’

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