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Oli Weerasuriya - Legal Counsel at Shell

Alumni spotlight

Oli Weerasuriya

Commercial Development Lead – Renewable Natural Gas at Shell

If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. Alumnus Oli Weerasuriya is living proof of the adage: between expecting his second child and becoming the new Eversheds Sutherland Alumni Co-Chair, he was recently appointed Commercial Development Lead in Shell’s Renewable Natural Gas team.

It’s a big shift after three years as Legal Counsel at the energy giant, not least because his new role means a relocation from London to Houston, Texas. As Oli explains, a stint at the coalface is no bad thing.

What can you tell us about your new role at Shell?

It’s based within the Renewable Natural Gas team whose purpose is to develop, construct and operate renewable natural gas production facilities in Europe, the US and further afield. In this new role, my focus will be on the commercial development of our biogas portfolio and pipeline; making sure our processes are fit-for-purpose and that they are meeting our stakeholders’ needs, as well as exploring and implementing collaborations and joint ventures across the biogas value chain.

The role touches many different stakeholders, all the way from farmers to developers and off-takers of the gas itself. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the opportunity to develop and further new and existing collaborations.

How did this opportunity come around?

I initially joined Shell’s New Energies team as Legal Counsel, advising numerous renewables businesses on, for example, the deployment of hydrogen as a fuel for transport and related fuelling solutions.

When you go in-house, your aim is to get closer to the business. That sometimes means stepping away from conventional roles by providing a more holistic view as to what's going on and taking accountability for commercial decisions.

The more I was encouraged to lean in as a business partner, the more I discovered an interest in building the business. This is an ever-evolving space for the Shell Group and I’m looking forward to the next step of my career.

There seems to be more appetite for in-house lawyers to be involved in commercial decision-making.

I think there are two elements to that: increasingly business colleagues are recognising that greater value can be derived from the legally-trained mind, in how we can address strategic challenges.

There’s also a realisation for lawyers who go in-house that to enhance their development, a lot can be learned by exploring one’s blind spots. Part of that can be the commercial spot, where you can really grow those skills that have been brewing indirectly or, in some cases, accidentally.

Speaking of moving outside your comfort zone, how are you feeling about relocating to the US?

I’m excited by the chance to experience a different culture and, quite frankly, more year-round sunny weather! Joking aside, it was great the role afforded a transatlantic switch as I’ll be closer to stakeholders of the projects I’ve worked on as Legal Counsel.

It’s also recognition of Shell as a great employer that those opportunities are available to help its people grow as individuals by exploring other parts of the world.

Before joining Shell, you qualified into our Corporate group. What impact did the firm have on you as a lawyer?

The number one attribute I developed is the ability to separate a legal issue from the commercial ramifications, and aligning those aspects to produce the right results. Beyond that, Eversheds Sutherland made me confident and personable thanks to a supportive environment and extensive contact with clients.

Who do you remember most from your time here and why?

Everyone was approachable and easy to work with – that was the best thing about the firm. Special mention goes to Corporate Partners, Jason Lovell and Stephen Hill, each very talented lawyers and outstanding mentors. We worked on a few “sticky deals”, to coin a phrase, but they always inspired high-quality work and maintained a fun atmosphere, making them both natural leaders.

How would you describe the in-house transition after leaving private practice?

Dealing with clients in private practice was like dealing with a friend – you might put up a screen when delivering advice. As in-house counsel, it’s more like a family so you can be blunt, but also creative, in your approach.

Given in-house counsel are more closely involved in the day-to-day running of the company’s strategy, values and drivers, it’s easier to react quickly and effectively. In-house teams are often the first port of call, whereas in private practice, the client might contact you as a last resort when they're thinking "now we need external lawyers".

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

That confidence and transparency are key to helping people build trust in you. I think confidence comes from the accrual of experience, belief in one’s capabilities and a feeling of comfort with who you are as an individual.

What motivated you to be the new co-chair of the Eversheds Sutherland Alumni Network?

I’m proud of my association with the firm as I know others are too. The Alumni Network helps cement that identity of being part of the Eversheds Sutherland story, providing a platform so members can celebrate our common heritage and continue to collaborate in their subsequent roles.

There are some fantastically talented, grounded and well-placed individuals in this community. Building relationships and sharing ideas with that calibre of character is an enriching experience. As Alumni Co-Chair, I look forward to facilitating those social and professional links for as many as possible.

If you would like to add Oli Weerasuriya to your network, you can connect with him via LinkedIn.