Career story

From Rotterdam refinery to Chicago trading floor, Tera Brouwer shares her varied career story

“I like freedom. For me, that means having options. As a teenager growing up in the Netherlands, I had to choose a path in school between languages and humanities (Alpha) or maths and science (Beta). I made a conscious decision not to limit my options and that has been a thread throughout my career.

I chose Beta because it gave me the flexibility to study technical subjects later. I wanted to read mathematics but decided it was too abstract. I was looking for tangibility and technical skills, so I chose chemical engineering.

After graduation, I felt I had two options: research or the corporate path. To find out what full-time research was like, I did a post-graduate programme in New Jersey, US. I loved it. My research on blending plastics was published and I presented to conferences around the world: factories have been built in China based on our work.

But there was one downside. It was very individualistic. Weeks could go by without me having to speak to anyone other than my professor.

That helped me to make my decision. I decided on industry, and I wanted to be part of generating vital energy.

My career at BP started as an engineer at Rotterdam refinery. I didn’t know the exact career path I wanted. I needed the freedom to explore what would fit best with me as opposed to a rigid management traineeship set in stone for the next 20 years. That’s what BP offered.

Looking back, I was more ambitious and impatient than I realized in the first few years of my career. I imagined that I’d be developing and implementing new and improved techniques: that’s not how it works. It’s not a research centre! 

There is a fine line between impatience and ambition. It’s good to aim high, but I was told early to choose your course carefully, and follow it through. That’s good advice. Dare to say no, too. That was something I found difficult to learn, but it’s essential for productivity and work-life balance.

When I find myself being impatient, I channel my energies into other interests. I like to write and run. 
Make sure you talk to people who you are sincerely interested in. I don’t mean in an artificial networking way: be yourself. That’s very much valued in BP. Build your knowledge of what’s possible, open your horizons, and learn what fits you best
Tip from the top, Tera Brouwer
In BP, there are opportunities to grow. I wanted to work in the department where decisions were made, so I moved into production planning in the refinery. After that, I moved to London, to the trading floor and, with my knowledge of linear programming models, advised traders on which crudes to buy.

After two years, I decided that if I could advise, I could trade myself. I passed the course and started work as a trader in 2004, where I remain.

It’s not a standard route, but it’s not uncommon. My engineering background and technical experience give me a different perspective on the business. The numbers aren’t just numbers to me; I can visualize what’s happening. I can almost see the ships, see the refinery. I like that."

Curriculum vitae

1992 - 1998
Chemical engineering at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, and Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, US.
1999 - 2002
Chemical engineer and production planner at BP Rotterdam refinery.
2002 - 2004
Asset economist, London.
2004 - 2007
Asset trader, London.
2007 - 2012
Fuel oil trader, London.
Maternity leave.
2013 – 2014
Fuel oil trader, London.
2014 to date
Book leader, fuel team, Chicago.

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