Vivienne Wan Ying Shen was one of the first women to join the BP graduate trading program and become a trader in Singapore.
Now, she works as an LNG trader in Integrated Supply and Trading, mentoring other traders to help them succeed.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I grew up in China, but then moved to Singapore to study electrical and electronic engineering at university – I’ve lived there ever since. While I was at university, I realised I didn’t want to follow a career in engineering. I’ve always been more interested in the commercial side of things, so I joined BP’s graduate trading program. After the three years on the program I was assessed and qualified to be an LNG trader, here in Singapore.
My day to day as a trader is varied and fast-paced. I pick up the phone, talk to my counterparts in the market, find out what supply and demand looks like for the day, and come up with a view on how the market will move. BP then takes a trading position based on this view. I love the excitement that comes with my work. You can analyse the world and then chase profit. It’s probably a nature thing, but I like that trading moves fast.
I also negotiate deals and manage BP assets. It’s a big part of what makes trading at BP stand out – it feels like I can make a contribution to the world by buying and selling energy products, rather than just trading things on a screen. We have our own long-term productions to manage and so BP traders decide what the most efficient way of moving cargo is and what long-term positions we should take.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I never sat down and planned my career as such because I never knew exactly what I wanted to do when I was in school. I always knew that I was interested in the commercial side of things, even when I was at school, but I studied electrical and electronic engineering at university, so could have ended up as an engineer rather than a trader.
I’ve always been interested in finance, in particular, and after graduating I started to look for a job in this area – if it weren’t for my current role, I think I’d likely be in the banking industry. It was the opportunity at BP that led me to where I am today, rather than any specific career plan.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
The first is that trading is a hugely competitive world. BP’s programs have a great reputation, which means that they are particularly hard to get onto. Because they’re the most popular in the industry that was a big challenge that I had to overcome.
Culturally, trading has in the past been quite a male dominated industry. Initially, this was the greatest challenge for me, but I’ve had immense support from BP and the culture here has definitely become more balanced, so I suppose what I initially thought would be my biggest challenge has been minimised by the culture and support I’ve received.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I’m proud that following my time on the graduate trading program, I was one of the first female graduates who passed the Assessed Trader Course to become a trader for BP in Singapore. It was a real marker of success and also an indicator of what I found so attractive about BP’s culture in the first place. BP is making great steps in improving gender diversity in trading, and making its culture balanced and inclusive.
After spending four months in London, I also had more responsibility added on to my role as a paper trader – this means that I will be the first trader in the LNG book in Singapore to develop a paper market. Whereas a physical market involves moving cargos around the world, a paper market is a financial centred product that does not take delivery – it’s done on-screen or via brokers. Until last year, we didn’t have a liquid paper market in Asia, but now I’m going to start developing a paper trading market in Singapore. While in London, I was given the opportunity to develop the skills I need to do this, so I’m proud that I can bring this back to Singapore and add value to the trading team here.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I would say that the support and training that I’ve had throughout my career so far. BP is really supportive and the people I work with are inspiring. The culture is great, and this helps to make the workplace fun. On the trading floor, I don’t feel afraid to speak out if I see something that makes me uncomfortable.
BP really invests in people, and I think that the training programs are really indicative of the culture of support here. The company is focused on developing their own people rather than just hiring in new talent from the market.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I really believe in mentoring, and the impact it can have on people’s careers. I’ve been lucky to have a mentor in my current boss. He’s been at my side since I first joined BP and came up through the trading development program six years before me. He’s always been an inspiration to me and supported me in understanding how I can grow. I have a lot to thank him for.
I am mentoring some of the junior traders who have come out of the development program and into a trading role. There’s always a steep learning curve to climb in trading and it can be stressful at times. Because of this I think it’s important to pass on the support that I have received from my seniors in the past to juniors in the team and help make sure they have the skills to be successful.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I believe in a balanced approach when it comes to Gender Equality. Women should be given equal and non-biased opportunities in their career development, but in the end it should be about meritocracy.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I would say, explore your interests earlier. I don’t think I really considered doing that much when I was studying. I was always very drawn to the academic side of things and that’s why I studied engineering without really liking it. I would encourage people to explore their different interests and try different things. Different internships can be very useful in helping you understand how to develop and grow.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I love what I do and I find myself challenged daily. In future, I really hope to take my career to the next level and be one of the best traders in the industry.
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