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Jon Platt - thirty years in the making

Release date:
December 2019
Head and shoulders portrait of Jon Platt
Amanda Jones takes time out with Jon Platt, Air BP’s CEO, to reflect on three decades of working with BP and a career that spans working with chocolate, gold, petrochemicals and aviation fuel. She also reveals some rather surprising facts about him


30 years is a long time to work for one organisation. In that time the world as we know it has completely transformed. We all have access to the internet, broadband, laptops, tablets and sat nav. DNA testing and sequencing/human genome mapping, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and microprocessors are all commonplace. In the world of aviation eticketing, ePassport gates, the 787, low cost carriers and nonstop flights to far flung locations such as Australia have revolutionised our airport and flight experience.


Jon was brought up in the UK. He’s an East Anglia lad, from a sleepy farming community called Stowmarket. Surrounded by beautiful rolling English countryside, it was where his love for the outdoors, particularly gardening and hill walking started.


His local community was home to the ICI factory where its paints and resins business was based. It was there Jon had his first taste of work. “As a school boy I had a work placement during my O-levels. Seeing how processes worked and how things are industrialised gave me the inspiration to go into chemical engineering.” Jon went on to study this subject at Bradford University. He chose a course that allowed him to have three industry placements during the four-year course. As a young man who had never travelled, his four years at university were life changing. “I worked for Hoecsht in Frankfurt (Germany), then Cadbury Schweppes in Bournville (UK), and finally for a mining consultancy in Reno Nevada (USA).”


As a student, working in a chocolate factory is probably most people’s idea of a dream job. Jon remembers, “I literally lived and breathed chocolate for six months. One of the great things was that they had a policy that you could eat as much chocolate as you liked off the production line, but after two weeks you never want to eat chocolate again!”


After eating too much chocolate, Jon then went on to work for a gold mining consultancy in Reno Nevada. It was quite a transformation working with gold from chocolate.


The BP journey

He joined BP in September 1989, but it could have been a very different story Jon says. Being out of the country on a work placement in Reno Nevada, USA meant that Jon would miss many of the UK graduate interviews. Jon remembers “I wanted to work for BP right from the outset. There was something about BP. The brand positioning at the time was ‘on the move.’ It just felt like it was on the way up. I had lined up other interviews with other companies such as Exxon and Mobil (this was before their mega merger).” Jon interviewed for BP based in Grangemouth and was offered a job the same day. He was also offered a job at Mobil and had to make the tough call on which company to join. But the decision as we know is history.


“I flew out of Reno on the last few days of August and started with BP at Grangemouth on September 4th. It was a massive contrast going from a desert to Grangemouth.” He continues “I have fond memories of Grangemouth. It was a great place, you really felt like you were in the centre of things. At the time my ambition was to be a plant manager. To be one meant you’d made it. After seven years there I had my eyes opened and saw the opportunities of the commercial world outside manufacturing. To this day my most challenging and rewarding role was a nightshift supervisor. I was part of a team that had to make this thing called a ‘Gas Cracker’ work. I got to start up this $400 million machine. You learn a lot about yourself on a nightshift. You have a huge amount of responsibility. You learn a lot about how reliant you are on other people and how knowledgeable people are that work for you. That has stayed with me to this day."


Jon’s career working with BP in its petrochemical business spans 20 of his 30 years across three continents: Europe, the US and Asia. A significant role in his early career was working in BP’s central strategy team working on the BP Amoco merger when it was a secret project.


“I went to Chicago and spent four years there,” he says revealing his youngest child was born in the US. This was followed by a move back to Europe and then Hong Kong in 2005, where Jon was instrumental in setting up a satellite trading facility. This, he offers, was possibly the most frustrating point in his career to date. “We had worked incredibly hard to get everything in place in terms of the people, systems and processes. Then the bombshell was dropped that BP was selling this business to Ineos and we had to move all the trading operations back to Singapore. It was hard undoing something I had worked so hard to deliver,” Jon recalls.


However as one door closed, another opened and Jon took on the role of CFO for the Petrochemicals business BP has today and eventually to CEO of BP’s global Liquid Petroleum Gas business.


It wasn’t until 2016 and after a further few years in BP’s head office in St James’s Square, that Jon made the leap over to Air BP.  “I’m very inspired by Air BP people. It’s one of the most people orientated businesses I have worked in. Our people are passionate. There is a real sense of purpose, where people fill the white spaces. By that I mean, you can have the best processes in the world, but you need people to take ownership and solve the problems. The other thing I have been struck by is people here want to innovate.”



The challenges ahead


Jon talks challenges. “The ongoing challenge is the operational safely of our industry. There are no laybys in the sky. What our airfield team do before the fuel nozzle goes into an aircraft is about ultimately keeping people safe, and it’s something we’re very good at”.


From an industry point of view Jon talks sustainability. “Sustainability is a big priority. We’re doing a lot; we’ve been investing over the long term and we’re working very hard, but it’s early days. We’re seeing climate change; activism and flight shaming. People are being criticised on social media for taking long haul holidays. The reality is that the carbon footprint of an aeroplane is significant verses other forms of transport. The industry must address that.” Solutions such as hydrogen-fuelled and electric aircraft are not at scale yet and are certainly not commercially available. “Fuel, however, is something that has an immediate impact,” says Jon “especially sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which can be used as a drop-in fuel and requires minimal modifications to be made to aircraft engines or airport infrastructure.”


Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) gives an impressive reduction of up to 80% in CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel compared to fossil jet fuel, depending on the sustainable feedstock used, production method and the supply chain to the airport. “We have supplied more than 15 locations with SAF so far and counting,” offers Jon.


“In 2016 we unveiled a strategic partnership with Fulcrum BioEnergy with an initial investment of $30m,” says Jon. “Fulcrum will produce sustainable transport fuel from household waste. Through the partnership Fulcrum will supply us with over 50 million US gallons of SAF per year.”


In 2018 Air BP also signed an agreement with the leading renewable fuel producer, Neste, which produces SAF from non-palm based used cooking oil, as well as other wastes and residues.


Sustainable solutions


Carbon offsetting, as part of a broader carbon reduction approach is another area in which Air BP is reducing its carbon footprint. Jon explains how the business is using this process to compensate emissions by funding an equivalent amount of emission savings elsewhere. Jon does warn though that “it’s vital to check the offsets you purchase comply with the requirements of the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance’s (ICROA’s) code of best practice.” The standards set out in the code ensure a project’s emission reductions are real, additional, permanent and unique. BP Target Neutral – BP’s carbon offsetting programme – adopts these standards.


“We recognise carbon offsetting is not a long-term solution,” says Jon. “But it does mean that we can act immediately while the production of SAF increases.”


Leading by example, Air BP’s own operations are carbon neutral and that’s something the business plans to continue investing in. “We’re helping customers to offset their carbon and our employees to offset their travel. BP employees will also be bonused on reducing their carbon emissions.”


Reflecting on his own ambitions, Jon admits that he’s a big advocate of supporting talent in the team. “Nurturing the talent that is coming through the organisation and helping people become successful. I take huge pride in seeing people become successful.”


And given the nature of the industry he’s in, has Jon ever thought about becoming a pilot himself? “In a nutshell, no! It would scare me to death being a pilot. Although I do have a favourite aircraft and seat,” he says. “I’m a fan of the 747-400 and I always opt for seat 64K because I can look out the window and see the two engines and wing movements. I’m an engineer at heart,” he says giving me one of his warm smiles.


With his Air BP journey still just at the start, Jon says he can’t predict what 2020 and beyond will hold, however he’s ready to face the future with a strong team behind him. “When you’re climbing a hill, you can only see the hill you’re on. You always think it's the biggest. But once you’re at the top you will see there’s always a bigger hill,” he concludes.


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