Dilizhan Mirzoev: Design engineer’s way

March 2011, the interview was taken by Vladislav Korneychuk
Published in the corporate Gazprom Magazine

Dilizhan Mirzoev

Small motherland

Mr. Mirzoev, where were you born?

In the village of Salakh, not far from the Armenian city of Dilizhan. That is why my parents chose this name. Sometimes, I joke saying that it was vice versa and it is the city that is named after me. Last time, I visited Armenia in 1975, but actually I had lived there for nineteen years after my birth. Then, after doing military service in Riga, I had been a Baku citizen for three years of studying at Polytechnic Institute, and in 1965 I moved to Moscow.

Is it the Dilizhan, the hero of Frunzik Mkrtchyan mentions in the Mimino movie, saying that the water there is the purest in the world after the one in San Francisco?

It is! You can drink purest well-water from a tap in a street. The air in that region is magic as well; I remember even the All-Union Tuberculosis Sanatorium being situated there. The nature in Dilizhan is a sort of a miracle! My wife is also from Armenia, and every summer she used to leave for our small motherland together with our children: a son and a daughter. Besides wonderful nature, all people there regardless of their nationalities were friends then. What happened later and where the enmity came from – that I can't understand.

Speciality

Dilizhan Mirzoev in his youth

Dilizhan Mirzoev in his youth

How did it happen that you turned to the issue of offshore oil and gas fields development?

I graduated with honors from secondary school, but after that I had to work as a tractor driver and then leave for the army: I served as a driver mechanic in the tank corps. Then, I entered the Department of Hydrology at Baku Polytechnic Institute. I had been a student there for three years and had become a Lenin Scholarship candidate, when all of a sudden Viktor Samarsky who was in charge of continental shelf issues at the USSR Ministry of Oil Industry visited us. He was looking for students for the first admission. At that time, there was a strong lack of specialists in the sphere of offshore oil and gas hydrotechnical facilities (offshore operations were extending further off the shore, to greater depths).

According to Viktor Samarsky, Sabit Orudzhev (future Minister of Gas Industry) said at a meeting dedicated to this issue: “We have drillers, and technologists we also have, but who will build ‘stools’?” that's the joke name Mr. Orudzhev used for fixed platforms. The meeting focused on the choice of an institute for training oil hydraulic engineers. “If we take civil and industrial engineers, they seem to know how to construct, but they haven’t seen the sea and are afraid of it. If we take sailors, they do not know how to construct such facilities and know nothing about oil... Moscow Institute of Civil Engineering (MICE) has the Faculty of Hydraulic Engineering Structures with all the necessary departments and professors. “Let us set up a specialized group there,” Mr. Orudzhev offered, “The professors will give lectures on structures, stressing and other construction courses, and the oil and gas part I will take upon myself. The main thing is – the ‘stools’ should be constructed by professionals.”

And it’s true that MICE made a great contribution to the development of hydraulic engineering structures for offshore oil and gas production. As for me, I made my choice then: I went to Moscow to continue my studies, though not all of my relatives supported my decision. In particular, we were given lectures by First Deputy Minister Sabit Orudzhev, Professor of the Department for Water Economy and Sea Ports. For this purpose, we attended his lectures at the USSR Ministry of Oil Industry. I remember well the view of the Kremlin from the window of Mr. Orudzhevʼs office. What lectures they were! Mr. Orudzhev didn’t let us put them down. He was saying: “Sit here and listen attentively. If you don’t understand something – just ask.” The lectures were put down by his stenographer-secretary Elena (later she worked for Mr. Chernomyrdin as well) and after quickly transcribing them soon after the lecture she was handing out the copied notes. At the Institute, they were poking fun at us: “The Ministry group do not even put the lectures down, it’s only the Ministry car that they need more.”

Prirazlomnaya platform

Prirazlomnaya platform

Social work

It was also a dormitory that you stayed at in Baku. Moreover, you had already done your military service. An austere life of a non-resident student didn’t fright you away, of course, did it?

Of course, it didn’t! The other thing is that in the capital I had to take on social duties. At first, I entered the student dormitory council, and later I became chairman of the campus. The thing is that during military service I joined the Soviet Party, and there were only few students who were members of the CPSU. I was an excellent student and, moreover, the Party member – I just couldn’t refuse social duties! Being the chairman of the campus, I was occupied with many things; on weekends, in particular, I was organizing dances, where I would hardly show up, if it were not a must. But I had to make sure there was no booze or fighting. Well, it’s the young people! Sometimes things happened, of course; there were different incidents. The heads of both dormitories were called for at once, the student council gathered and we worked the situation out. And I had to study, too!

Career development

You turned seventy not too long ago, but you’re still active and work a lot. Could you name the milestones of your career?

After postgraduate school I had worked at the Gazprom headquarters for a year and two months, and then I was offered to head the Laboratory for Offshore Gasfield Operation at VNIIGAZ. The Laboratory was supposed to deal with the fields in the Sea of Azov. Later on, my Laboratory was transformed into the Special Design and Engineering Bureau of the All-Russian Engineering, Research and Development Institute Morneftegaz. Subsequently, it became the leading institute on continental shelf issues. There I worked as Department Head, Deputy Director for Research, Acting Director. In 1995 I was offered to become Director of the Offshore Oil and Gas Fields Center (VNIIGAZ). And in 2009 I moved to my present position and became Deputy Director General of the Central Oil Equipment Design Bureau, Gazpromʼs main agency that designs, researches and deploys packaged equipment for oil and gas enterprises.

For twelve years now, I have been giving lectures at Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas on offshore fields pre-development and development. I have written a two-volume study guide. Even the students from other departments come over to listen to this course.

Viktor Chernomyrdin

Did you get a chance to meet one of the most flamboyant Chiefs of our gas industry who later became Chairman of the Russian Federation Government?

Yes, of course. I actually did respect him a lot. When I was working for the Special Design and Engineering Bureau of the All-Russian Engineering, Research and Development Institute Morneftegaz, such an episode with Chernomyrdin came up. Our institute was designing ice-resistant structures both for the Arctic Shelf and the Far East. At the technical meeting held by the Gas Industry Minister I was reporting on the progress with constructing an ice-resistant platform for the Piltun-Astokhskoye field (now it is part of Sakhalin II). I should say that when Mr. Chernomyrdin respected someone, he often addressed that person informally and without patronymic. It was at that technical meeting, when he said to me: “Dilizhan, how many offices do you sit at?” At that time, our office was situated in six basements. I enumerated our addresses. Mr. Chernomyrdin was indignant: “How can one work on so big and important an issue sitting in six basements?!” He made an arrangement at once that we should be given a Mostransgaz building under repair on Kalanchevskaya Street. As for Mostransgaz, later it was given a new building in the Gazoprovod settlement. This is definitely one of those cases when Mr. Chernomyrdin actually had put on track the institute that later became the general designer for many facilities in Vietnam, on Sakhalin and in the Caspian Sea.

Viktor Chernomyrdin at meeting, 1980s

Viktor Chernomyrdin at meeting, 1980s

Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy, but perhaps not everybody believes that it is possible...

For me, as well as for everybody, happiness primarily means feeling comfortable both at home and at work. And comfort for me is being needed. For now, I feel needed both at home and at work. When I cease to feel it, then my happiness is likely to end. I have four grandsons and a granddaughter. I spend my free time with them. Unfortunately, I do not have much of it. During the day, I’m at my workplace and on weekends I work out tasks for my employees. Going on vacation or business trips, I always take work with me and do something there in free time as well. Of all my articles I personally like most the ones written on vacation. I usually spend it in Mineralnye Vody.

Do you not laze about even on vacation?

I love chess since I was a child. But mostly I play it at the health resort. I need rivals, not only free time! I also take on at billiards. I even have a billiard table and I like competing with my son.

Success

Will you reveal your secret of success?

Maybe, it will sound banal to you, but perseverance and hard work are a passport to success. I’ve been lucky to meet so many wonderful people in my life, but what would have those encounters given to me, had I not worked so much? This will probably sound childish, but today I’m sure it’s really good that I didn’t dedicate too much time to pleasures in youth – I mean, I didn’t go to dances or stuff like that (there were students who liked entertainment more than studies). Later on, it all paid off and had a positive effect. Frankly speaking, I have always wanted (as a schoolboy, a student, Head of the Laboratory and Department, Director of the Institute) to be the first in my occupation. Not to be lauded though. Honestly, I just really didn’t want to be scolded. This fear, as it turned out, may inspire success.