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Meet Tomell deSilva Ceasar: A multinational view on compliance

Tomell deSilva Ceasar, Head of Compliance at Careem in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Tomell deSilva Ceasar (tomell@stanfordalumni.org) was interviewed in June by Adam Turteltaub (adam.turteltaub@corporatecompliance.org), Vice President, Strategic Initiatives & International Programs at SCCE & HCCA.

AT: To say your compliance career is atypical is an understatement. You grew up in the US and went to school here, but right after college, you headed for Dubai. What led you there?

TC: Graduating from Stanford with degrees in international relations and Spanish opened my mind and imagination to the world. Because of my studies, I cultivated a deep sense of wonder and desire to experience life beyond the US borders. Consequently, when an opportunity arrived to work in Dubai through a leadership program called Management Leadership for Tomorrow (of which I was an alumnus), I jumped at the occasion.

At the age of 22, I packed two suitcases and set off 7,300 miles to the Middle East to a country and city completely unknown to me. It was a real shot in the dark, so to speak; however, I thought the worst-case scenario was that I would simply return home if I did not enjoy it. Ten-and-a-half years later, I could have never anticipated or imagined that the UAE would serve as the foundation for my career in compliance.

AT: You started your career at Total, the French oil and gas conglomerate, where you had a wide range of responsibilities. How did your career evolve there?

TC: I was very lucky to have encountered this opportunity at Total, as it was very much the case of being in the right place at the right time. In 2009, Total’s Middle East operations were growing at an exponential rate and needed a strong compliance and governance department to secure that growth. Surprisingly, however, they had no local department or personnel tasked with this mandate. This was a particularly significant role, as their affiliate, Total Middle East, housed what was then the group’s second largest oil-blending facility and functioned as a critical part of the global supply chain for their Middle East and northeastern African operations.

It was in this context that I was initially hired as a financial business analyst due to my previous work experience at Citibank in their Financial Institutions Risk Management department. However, seeing this opportunity in governance, I proposed to management that I fulfill this role, and with their blessing, I was promoted to the role of internal controller. Over several years the company continued to incubate my growth, and I ultimately ended my tenure there as the head of corporate governance.

AT: As the head of corporate governance for the Middle East, what were your responsibilities?

TC: By the time I became head of corporate governance, I had quite a substantial remit within the organization. I oversaw the internal audit, investigations, enterprise risk management, compliance, ethics, governance, and process improvement and efficiency functions for Total’s downstream operations throughout the Middle East. I was particularly proud of this, as I had to build out each of these functions from inception, and by the time I was 27, I was the youngest head of a governance/compliance department at Total. I have a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the company’s management team, whom, despite my age at the time, entrusted me with significant responsibility.

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