From Physics to the Boardroom: Sinead Lynch shares her career journey


Photo of Sinead Lynch

Sinead Lynch, Shell's UK Country Chair, reflected on her career journey from physicist to the boardroom in Imperial's Athena Lecture.

The annual lecture celebrates the achievements of women in science.  Previous speakers have included Professor Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and Imperial’s President Professor Alice Gast.

Currently overseeing all of Shell’s UK operations and their 6,000 staff, Sinead Lynch is responsible for representing Shell’s businesses in the UK, interacting with valued partners like Imperial as well as government and other stakeholders.

After studying Physics and Applied Maths at university, Sinead joined the oil industry in 1993 with British Gas (later BG Group) as a geophysicist.  She then moved to the commercial side and went on to hold a number of leadership roles, including leading the integration of the $52 billion acquisition of BG Group by Shell.

During the lecture, Sinead shared insights on the value of diversity and how she developed her career in the oil and gas industry, where only 11% of senior executives worldwide are women.

Life lessons

Looking back at her career, Sinead said: “There are three things I’ve learned: First, follow your passion – do something that gets you out of bed.  Second, take risks on yourself and find people willing to take a risk on you.  And third – you need support along the way too.”

You need people who think differently to help you think differently

– Sinead Lynch

Speaking about the value of diversity, she said: “You need people who think differently to help you think differently. Diversity has many different parts – it’s about how people think and operate.” 

Building a career

Sinead spoke about how she became attracted to the commercial side after deciding that geophysics was not for her: “I was advised that the best way to bridge the gap was as an economist, so I trained myself up and worked as an economist from 2001 before moving into a series of senior Commercial and Business Development roles.”

Yet, the prospect of stepping up to leadership remained a daunting one: "I ended up on the BG talent list but I didn't want to be there; I had no interest in a senior role, I looked at the senior team of the company at that time and it was all male, and the culture reflected that. I didn't see myself there."

“I was asked to apply for a new senior role, which I actually didn't expect to get. I was offered the job but was also clear I could not take it as I wanted to work 4 days a week to keep balance in my family life. To my surprise, my line manager was willing for me to work 4 days a week. I was persuaded to take it on, to give it a go for six months. My line manager took a lot of criticism, but he saw strength in diversity and flexibility."

I decided to be the best version of me

– Sinead Lynch

A significant step was becoming Asset General Manager for BG Group's business in Thailand: "It truly was standalone leadership and I quickly realised I was never going to fit the mould of previous leaders; I just didn't think or act in the same way. I decided to be the best version of me. I made lots of changes, establishing a clear set of values which were a key reference point for subsequent decisions."


Returning to the UK, it emerged that Shell was to acquire the BG Group. Sinead was asked to support the BG community through what would be a difficult programme to integrate the two businesses. The merger brought into focus a major theme of Sinead’s career - the balance between work and personal life.

“During the Shell takeover, I made the conscious decision that the balance would have to suffer to do the job properly. I decided the sacrifice for a limited amount of time was worth it to get the planning right. Now in my current role I’m still working on it.”

“For most of my career it has generally been possible, with the right support, to be successful in my career whilst also being part of my family’s life, and seeing friends. My advice would be to be mindful about choices and sacrifices. Say ‘this is hard, but I chose this’.”

Watch the lecture in full

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Main photo credit: Shell


Henry Rothery

Henry Rothery
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