Late father’s sacrifice provided blueprint for Serian boy’s success

Simon (second right) during a Management site visit at Miri Crude Oil Terminal (MCOT) in early 2019.

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WHEN Simon Ilus, 57, finished primary school at Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Tian Murud, Serian in 1976, he thought that was the end of his formal education.

Despite having an aspiration to attain high education and to explore the world, he was resigned to the fact that his parents, who were both farmers, could not afford to let him continue his studies.

“We were so poor I was prepared to stop schooling and start a new life as a farmer,” Simon recalled.

But his late father Ilus anak Kaun had a plan.

“He was determined that the family’s hardships will not stand in the way of his children getting formal qualifications.”

Simon (standing-third from left) with his Standard 6 classmates at SRK Tian Murud, Serian in 1976.

Simon’s father sold his only piece of inheritance—a plot of native customary land at his village Kampung Tian Mawang in Serian district—to finance his children’s education.

“At that time, we were living hand-to-mouth. We did not have enough food to eat or clothes to wear. My brothers would pass down their worn out shirts and trousers to me,” he added.

With proceeds from the land sale, Simon was able to continue his lower secondary education at Sekolah Menengah Kerajaan (SMK) Tarat in Serian from 1977 to 1979 and his upper secondary education at SMK Serian from 1980 to 1981.

After completing Form Five in 1981, he continued his Form Six at Kolej Tun Abdul Razak Kuching (formerly known as Dragon Secondary School).  Despite being young and still studying, Simon knew of his family dire needs and planned to supplement his family’s income by getting a job of sort.

Armed with a Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia certificate, Simon started hunting for work. As luck would have it, he chanced upon an advertisement by Petroliam Nasional Berhad (Petronas) in a local newspaper.

“They were looking for suitable candidates to become Field Assistants, so I immediately applied.”

About a month later, he was interviewed by Petronas for the job.

“I had a hunch that Petronas would call me. True enough, they sent a telegram to my aunt’s house in Serian, asking me to attend an interview at Petronas’ regional office in Kuching.”

About three months later, Petronas’ Sarawak Regional Office recruitment officer Datin Mary Sadiah Zainudin personally delivered the Petronas offer letter to Simon.

“I was walking to the bus stop in Serian town when a green Toyota Landcruiser stopped behind me. A female passenger lowered the back window and asked me for direction to my aunt’s house. She instantly recognised me and told me I have been selected to work for Petronas and that I would need to undergo technical training before I could start as a technician in Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd (PCSB) in Miri,” he recalled.

Training Time: Simon (left) with fellow trainees during the Wireline Training session at SSB Tudan-1 Well in 1985.

Simon spent a year in Kuala Terengganu and Kertih as a Petronas trainee and another year of attachment at Sarawak Shell Bhd in Miri before his first assignment.

“My first post was at the North Sabah Operation on secondment to Sabah Shell Petroleum Corporation (SSPC) from 1986 to 1988.”

In 1988, he returned to Sarawak and was assigned to the Baram Delta Field offshore in Miri. Two years later, he joined the start-up team for the Baram Delta Gas Gathering Project (BARDEGG).

After 15 years as a technician, he was promoted to Junior Executive in 2001. It made him realise that there were endless possibilities for him to grow his career in the company.

“After my promotion to executive level, I started to dream of working in Petronas’ overseas operations,” he said.

While waiting for the opportunity, he continued to improve his competencies and capabilities including taking an off-campus degree programme in Human Resource Development at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) from 2001 to 2004.

“I had always wanted to pursue my degree after I started working, but the urgency became greater because of my dream of working overseas. Host countries might require all expatriate workers to have a degree qualification. If I didn’t have one, I would be hitting a brick wall.

“Studying for my degree was very challenging as I had to juggle work commitments, family and studies. It also required many sacrifices from my wife and children. There was a time when I wanted to give up but I remembered the sacrifices my parents made, so I soldiered on.

“I brought my late father to my convocation at UPM Serdang in 2004 to fulfil his dream to witness my graduation ceremony. He was very proud of me that day.”

First degree: Simon graduating from UPM.

After more than five years, Simon finally gathered his courage to speak to the then head of PCSB in Miri about his desire to serve in Petronas’ overseas operations.

“I told him about my aspirations, career objectives and strong desire to be posted overseas. I said that I had done my degree in case it was a requirement. He was very pleased.”

Three months after the meeting, Simon was told to get ready for a two-year inter-region stint, which was a pre-requisite for staff who have been shortlisted for overseas posting. In 2008, he was assigned to Bekok C/PM9 as a Platform Superintendent.

Having fulfilled the requirement the following year, he was sent to work in Petronas Carigali Vietnam operations as a Field Superintendent for Ruby Field. He served in Vietnam until the end of 2012.

“My main responsibility was to ensure our platforms were operating safely on optimum mode to secure enough cargo for the planned lifting of Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO), which was under Petrovietnam.”

Vietnam assignment: Simon (left) with a PTSC staff on FPSO Ruby Princess (with FPSO Ruby-2 at the background) during switchover phase of the two FPSOs in 2010.

While in Vietnam, he also pursued an off-campus master’s degree programme in Occupational Safety and Health Management at University Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) which he completed in 2012.

In 2013, he was posted to Iraq to head the production operation department for the Garraf Field which was still in the commissioning phase at that time. His team was tasked to ensure that the facility would be ready for start up in August 2013. After over four years in Iraq, Simon headed back to PCSB in Miri to head the Terminal Department.

To get to where he is in the organisation, Simon had to overcome many challenges including two work related incidents that occurred under his watch. The first was in 2004 when a fire occurred at an offshore facility in Miri waters and the second was an oil spill from a platform in Vietnam in 2010.

“I was disappointed with myself and took full responsibility for what had happened. I picked myself up again and move on.

“I had to persevere and be resilient. In the face of adversities, I drew my strength from the lesson that my late father taught me when I was young: He never gave up or lost hope in his quest to give us education and a better future.” — DayakDaily

Second Degree: Simon graduating with a Master’s Degree from UTM in 2012.