MIRI (Bernama) – Life can be tough growing up deep in the interior of Sarawak, which is devoid of modern amenities and basic infrastructure and where it’s easy to fall by the wayside due to a lack of opportunities.
But none of these handicaps stood in the way of Isrom Udau who was born into a farming family in Tinjar, Baram, a remote district in northern Sarawak known for its treacherous rivers, bird’s nests, Mulu caves and the hospitable Orang Ulu ethnic group.
The long house where he grew up, Long Sepiling, is located along the mighty Tinjar River in the interior of Baram which is completely cut off from the outside world. The only way to reach the Longhouse is by express boat and the journey from Miri would take about six hours.
Isrom, who has come a long way from his jungle foraging days, is now the managing director of Miri-based Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd (PCSB), Sarawak, a position he achieved two years ago at the relatively young age of 44.
The father of three, who joined the PCSB in 2004, said that all his life he had to be persistent and resilient in the face of adversity.
“I never blamed my fate for being born poor. On the contrary, I appreciated him more because I became who I am today through all the hardships,” he added.
Expressing gratitude to his predecessors for their support and guidance, he said they helped him build his career at Petronas as well as grow within the company.
“I would do the same to develop young leaders (in the company), especially those who work under me, because I want them to flourish and become more successful than me.”
CHALLENGING EARLY LIFE
Isrom is testing a water pump for extinguishing fires on an offshore platform.
Recalling his early life in Baram, Isrom said his family and their fellow villagers depended on rainwater for drinking and cooking. They bathed and washed clothes and dishes in the Tinjar river full of crocodiles.
“In those days, life was a constant struggle. We survived on food from the jungle,” he said.
He said his parents Udau Along and Puyang Lah, now deceased, had a farm in the jungle and used to stay there in a temporary hut so they could look after their crops.
“They only came home on weekends. On weekdays, my three siblings and I had to fend for ourselves. We were forced to be independent, we learned to cook and do housework,” he said.
Isrom still remembers his eldest brother Eden Udau, then 11 years old, going fishing to the nearest river after school and returning late at night with a catch for dinner.
“And when we ran out of fish and vegetables, we would just eat plain rice sprinkled with a little sugar,” he said.
In 1981, Isrom’s family moved to Subis, Miri in search of greener pastures. There, his parents worked as laborers on an oil palm estate, and later on a cocoa plantation. They earned minimum wages, and their housing units did not have basic facilities.
Family difficulties also forced him to delay his entry into primary school for a year as he had to look after his younger sister Lahong and do household chores while his parents were at work and his two older brothers went to school.
Seven years later, Isrom’s family moved to a squatter area near Pujut, Miri, where his parents grew crops and rice on a piece of government land in the upper reaches of the Miri River, a three-hour boat ride from Miri town.
He was 10 years old then and studied at Sekolah Kebangsaan Pujut Corner Miri, which is about two kilometers from his house.
“At that time, my two older brothers were studying in boarding schools, so my parents entrusted me with the responsibility of taking care of Lahong, who was only seven years old,” he said.
“In the squatter zone where we stayed, there was no electricity or purified water. We relied on oil lamps to study at night. We used rainwater for bathing, washing and cooking. During the dry season, we would go to the nearest fire hydrant, which is about two kilometers away, to get clean water for domestic use.”
OPPORTUNITIES ARE KNOCKING
Isrom Udau (standing, second from right) with his parents and siblings.
Despite the challenges, Isrom scored excellent marks in the Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) and Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SRP) examinations.
In fact, after finishing sixth form, he was offered a scholarship to study at STAR College in Perk. After completing Form Three, he received offers to study at MARA Junior Science College Balik Pulau, Penang as well as Kolej Tun Datu Tuanku Hj Bujang Miri.
Unfortunately, he had to turn down all the offers because he had to take care of his sister. So Isrom continued his secondary education at SMK Bar Miri and SMK Dato’ Permaisuri Miri.
He later pursued his tertiary education at Universiti Sains Malaysia with a scholarship from the Department of Public Service (JPA). He graduated in mining and engineering of mineral raw materials in 2000.
Six months later, Isrom landed his first job at SOSMA Sdn Bhd (later known as SCOMI) as a production chemist and was stationed at the Miri crude oil terminal.
The job gave him the opportunity to work at various onshore terminals and offshore platforms in Malaysia, including Sabah and Terengganu.
“I led the company to secure several high-value contracts and established ISO 14001 certification for them. However, because of my passion for reservoirs and drilling, I joined Sarawak Shell Bhd on contract in 2003 as a drilling engineer,” he said.
PROGRESS WITH PETRONAS
Isrom Married with his wife and children.
In 2004, PCSB Sarawak offered him a permanent job as a field engineer at the Miri Crude Oil Terminal. Nine years later, he was promoted to Field Operations Manager for Bintulu Water.
“When I first became a manager, my daily work was tiring. I had to oversee all production and operational affairs at Bintulu waters, including engagement with our new production partners. It was physically and mentally exhausting, but the autonomy and power given by my superiors gave me extra motivation to carry out my duties,” he said.
In 2015, Petronas transferred him to Kerteh, Terengganu, as the asset manager for the Dulang and Sepat fields in its Peninsular Malaysia Operations (PMO), and the following year he managed the Angsi platform and the Besar field in Terengganu waters.
Isrom was brought back to Miri in 2017 to lead the team in the Baronia, Baram and BOBELA fields.
In March 2020, he was promoted to General Manager Engineering at PCSB Sarawak. Two weeks later, the world was hit by an unprecedented health crisis, namely the COVID-19, which caused a slowdown in production and mobility around the world, leading to a significant drop in global oil demand.
The pandemic has also caused delays in oil and gas projects, and Petronas has not been spared.
“During the Movement Control Order period, we were asked to work from home and I had to manage my new team virtually. In response to the drop in oil prices, I had to lead a series of cost-cutting exercises and re-prioritisation activities. With a limited budget allocation, we had to ensure that security, asset integrity and production were protected,” Isrom said.
In August 2021, Isrom assumed the role of General Manager of Specialized Maintenance at PCSB Sarawak.
His responsibilities include overseeing all maintenance activities related to the company’s specialized disciplines such as metering, piping, construction, rotation, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation.
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