Petronas scholar goes from zero to hero


PETER Majid Tandom was one of the brightest students at St Joseph Primary School and St Joseph Secondary School in Kuching during the 1970s and early 1980s. He always passed his exams with flying colours and earned the respect of his teachers and schoolmates.

But at home, life was a constant struggle for him and his family. They were living from hand to mouth because his father’s salary as a police constable was hardly enough to support the large family.

“My father was the sole breadwinner of the family at that time. He had 10 children to feed. I am the second youngest in my family,” said Peter, who is 56 now and is head of Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd – Sarawak Gas (SK Gas), headquartered here.

He had to work hard to get to where he is today.

During his schooldays, to supplement his family income he helped his parents to sell vegetables from door-to-door during weekends. He also worked as a labourer at building construction sites and at a slipper production factory in Kuching during the school holidays to earn some pocket money.

In school, Peter had to depend on government assistance for textbooks and often stayed back to study at the library or classroom because his parents could not afford to send him to tuition classes.

“Studying was very tough because I could not buy books. I had to rely on free textbooks from the government. I had to learn by myself because I couldn’t afford to pay tuition fees.

“My parents could not read, write or speak English so they were unable to help me apply for book loans and financial assistance. I had to do all that myself,” he recalled.


Against all odds, Peter excelled in his studies and his financial burden lightened after he received a minor scholarship from national oil and gas company Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) while studying in Form Two.

He was the only one in his school to be assisted by Petronas at that time and it was that “minor” scholarship that changed his life for the better.

When he was in Form Five, a team from Petronas visited his school to deliver a career talk on the oil and gas industry and that was when “I started to dream of becoming a geologist at Petronas and wearing their yellow coveralls”.

Peter’s good results in the Malaysian Certificate of Education exam – now known as Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia or SPM – drew three scholarship offers for him to continue his studies overseas.

“I chose the scholarship offered by Petronas because for me, it was the best way to pursue a geology degree,” he said.


Armed with the scholarship, Peter made his way to a private college in Canada for a pre-university programme.

“I had never travelled outside Sarawak before, so naturally I had a culture shock when I arrived in Canada. I also had to acclimatise myself to the weather and get used to the food there. But language was not a barrier because I was taught in English since primary school,” he said.

Later he went to Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada to study Geology. After four years – in 1988 – he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in geology and returned to Malaysia to work for Petronas as an intern at Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd’s Baram Delta Operations in Miri.

“My internship was supposed to be for one year but after three months I was absorbed into the company as a trainee engineer in its Petroleum Engineering Department,” he said.

He was immediately seconded to Sarawak Shell Bhd as a well site petroleum engineer for two years, working on drilling rigs offshore Sarawak. In 1989, he was reassigned to the Baram Delta Operations as its development geologist.

His career in Petronas continued to flourish and in 1995, he was sent to Vietnam to serve as production geologist at Petronas Carigali (Vietnam) Sdn Bhd where he became a member of the Petronas team that delivered first oil from the Ruby field in the country.

“We did it within budget and 10 days ahead of schedule. It was also the first time Petronas produced oil from the granitic basement,” he said.


In 2007, he was assigned to become the head of exploration for Petronas Carigali (Turkmenistan) Sdn Bhd, where “we made one of the biggest oil and gas discoveries for Petronas in Block 1, Caspian Sea”.

Peter was posted back to Malaysia in 2010 as head of Geoscience at Petronas Carigali’s Petroleum Engineering Department (PED) in Kuala Lumpur.

Four years later, he became the head of Sarawak Resource Management in PED, responsible for oil and gas development in offshore Sarawak.

He returned to his home state in July 2019 to head SK Gas, a position he holds until today.

The company manages Petronas’ offshore gas operations in Sarawak and gas supply to local customers such as Sarawak Energy, Shell Middle Distillate Synthesis, Asean Bintulu Fertilizer and other small industrial users.

“SK Gas is set to be the biggest Petronas asset in Malaysia in the next five years,” he said, adding that he was surprised to be appointed as head of SK Gas.

“I am trained as a geologist and subsurface is my core work in Petronas. I have limited experience in production and operations but this role has pushed me beyond my comfort zone. It is a daunting task, but I accepted it with an open mind,” he said.

His mission, he added, is to make SK Gas the leading gas producer in Malaysia and the most attractive company to work for.

Peter hoped that his life story and journey in Petronas will inspire the younger generation, especially those hailing from less privileged backgrounds, to beat the odds and excel in their studies.

“I know it is not easy for those who are less fortunate. But they must study hard and not allow anything to stand in their way in their pursuit of a good education which will lead them to a better life.

“Be humble and never forget your roots. When you are successful in life, give back to your parents, family and society,” he added.