Education and qualifications:
MEng (Hons) Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, University of Wales, Swansea
Area Lead – Coker, Hydrotreating and Alkylation
What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
I entered and won a design technology competition when I was in Year 9 at school and I received a letter of congratulations from the education board and event sponsors, who asked if it was now my desire to pursue an education in engineering. As a 14-year-old I didn’t really know what engineering was, so this prompted me to look into engineering as a study choice. I had fantastic A Level Chemistry and Maths teachers, who encouraged me at school, then at university I had a wonderful tutor who really pushed me and helped me to secure a summer placement in Toulouse, France, studying different types of fractionation tower internals, this gave me my first taste of working in engineering outside the UK.
Since I joined Phillips 66 I’ve had various other Chartered Chemical Engineers who have supported me and mentored me to get me to where I am today. Within Phillips 66, the Chartered Engineers helped to coach me on my strengths and weaknesses and to encourage me to take different roles to develop me (such as a role in our Production Planning group and a role supporting our Marketing division, when in the UK).
Please describe your role or position within your workplace.
I am responsible for a Business Team of approximately 100 people including shift personnel, and a large operating area that makes up approximately a quarter of a busy refinery in Oklahoma, USA. This includes responsibility for safe, reliable operation of the area within budget and managing my resources appropriately.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I review the operations logs for the last 24 hours’ operation and then we hold our morning meeting which sets priorities for the day (both mechanically and operationally). I will have meetings to review and manage the budget or to discuss strategic and personnel issues. We also discuss running plant problems such as the diesel going off spec and understanding why, or perhaps a compressor has vibration concerns and needs to be shut down in response to this – and what impact these will have on the rest of the refinery.
Are there any challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
No two days are the same when responsible for a running plant, the plant can and will often dictate the course of the day! Managing the longer-term strategic items between the day-to-day running plant issues can be a real challenge. This is fairly typical in an operations supporting role. Strategic issues could include when is the best opportunity to shut down a reactor to fix a pressure drop issue, or what plant modifications do I need to extend the run length of that particular piece of plant to five years?
What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
I find it enjoyable to apply my engineering background to running my Business Team as safely, reliably, and efficiently as I possibly can.
Is there a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment that you would like to tell us about?
Being offered the job as Area Lead at the Phillips 66 Ponca City Refinery in Oklahoma, USA was a personal achievement and it gave me a huge confidence boost. It was also super exciting to be given a new challenge. It’s been a total life changer; I’ve moved my family to Oklahoma and moved away from close friends and other members of the family to take on this role. I left behind “normal” UK life and a culture I have known for my whole life, to embrace not only a new challenge in work, but also to live in a totally different culture.
What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
At the Phillips 66 refinery in the UK, I had to be Chartered to be promoted to Lead Process Engineer.
In what ways has registration benefitted your career?
Professional registration enabled me to be promoted and ultimately get the assignment I am currently on in the USA.
I started work with ConocoPhillips straight from university, then the company spun off independent energy company Phillips 66 in 2012. Registration enabled me to take the next career step of becoming a Lead Process Engineer supporting our Marketing Division for two-and-a-half years. While with marketing, I received a couple of awards for “operational excellence” and “growth and returns”. After the marketing role, I worked for three years as a Lead Process Engineer at the Philips 66 UK refinery before my US assignment.
How does your employer benefit from your professional registration?
It demonstrates competence to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and ultimately shows my dedication to the engineering profession and allows me to mentor and manage other engineers. I’m lucky to work for a company that values and realises the impact of continual training and development, including professional membership and registration.
Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
I would advise keeping a log as you go through your career to make it easier to remember what you have done. Apply for professional registration as soon as you have the skills and experience. It will only open doors in your career.
Where do you see yourself in your career in five years’ time or what are your future ambitions?
I’d like to continue to progress in a managerial role in Phillips 66, keeping an open mind on further assignments abroad, away from my “home” refinery in Humber, North Lincolnshire.
Outside work, is there any activity you enjoy doing in your spare time that relates to engineering? For example, do you participate in mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
I mentor the Chemical Engineers in my team and when I was in the UK, I supported the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), both at any local events they hosted (including putting suggestions forward for events) and mentoring those working towards Chartered status.
I enjoy hiking, biking, and travelling, so while the travelling can sometimes involve some problem solving it would be a tenuous link to engineering!