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A life in leadership and advocacy: Cheryl’s story

Published:
22 January 2021

Following her retirement as VP of strategy and portfolio at the end of 2020, January 3rd marked a bittersweet anniversary for Cheryl

Following her retirement as VP of strategy and portfolio at the end of 2020, January 3rd marked a bittersweet anniversary for Cheryl, as “it was 37 years from my starting as an intern at bp, just before my 21st birthday,” she recalls fondly. Coming from a family of lawyers—seven generations to be exact—Cheryl credits her high school physics teacher with inspiring her pursuit of engineering. “I was a science and math geek,” she jokes “and my physics teacher really thought that engineering would be the path for me.”

 

After completing her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Akron, Cheryl began as a process engineer focusing on operational engineering support at bp’s refinery in Toledo, Ohio. Soon after, advancements in desktop computing gave Cheryl the opportunity to run the economic modelling for the refinery, which she did for the next 15 years. 

I was a science and math geek, and my physics teacher really thought that engineering would be the path for me.

“I was the most recent graduate and up for learning the new technology” Cheryl recalls, noting that “it was the first time an engineer at the refinery could do the economic modelling.” Cheryl believes it was the insights she picked up in that role on how business investments were made that served as the “springboard” to her later executive career overseeing investments. Looking back to the highlights of her time at bp, Cheryl recalls how using her acumen for investments lead to the restructuring of bp’s Whiting Refinery in Indiana, which she helped move to a status of ongoing profit. “Being part of something that was that successful of an investment was inspiring” she explains.

 

Another of Cheryl’s passions, which sits among her proudest achievements, is her advocacy for women, and especially those in leadership, which was in part inspired by events in her own life. In the wake of her executive promotion, Cheryl experienced domestic violence that arose from “my husband being insecure with my professional success.” After her divorce, Cheryl began to “talk about the issue of women in the workforce taking leadership roles and what stress occurs in families. It was an issue,” Cheryl notes, “which desperately needed attention.” 

 

 

Many people inside of and outside of bp have talked to me about the fact that women often get up on stage and talk about their terrific careers. They don't often talk about the kind of stress that occurs through that and some of the trade-offs and challenges that they have to make.

 

Cheryl has used her experience to advocate for bp’s Employee Assistance Programme and she also developed a group within the company — Women in Manufacturing STEM fields — to “support the development of women in the STEM field, but also to recognize that there are some unique circumstances for women that are working in manufacturing areas.”

Being a voice for the women that have worked in our operational organizations for the last 10 years is something that has been hugely important to me.

 For her work, Cheryl was recognized with an award from the Manufacturing Institute. She proudly notes that “the culture of having women leaders in bp has enabled the right cultural conversation and the support for generations that have come after us.”Cheryl feels the culture at bp is something to be proud of.  When her son was seeking professional opportunities as a mechanical engineer, Cheryl highlights bp’s wider culture of support and authenticity as a model for what to look for in an employer. 

 

 

I said you can get a job any place but look at the culture of the company that you're working with. The value of respect was at the heart of bp, which is why I was there 37 years later. It's the value of respect that’s so core to our business.

 

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