Stop planning and start doing, and other advice from an engineer at Flint Hills Resources, a Koch company
Submitted by Koch Industries
By Stephanie Boyer, Business Manager, Flint Hills Resources
There’s nothing wrong with mapping out a career so that you always know what the next steps are. The problem is there’s nothing much right with it either.
It may seem strange for an engineer to say this. We have a reputation for being methodical people who thrive on pragmatism. But I don’t think that carefully forecasting exactly what comes next is a great way to live your professional life. It’s essential to do the job you’ve signed up for, of course. But if you’re curious, open-minded and willing to stretch yourself while remaining true to who you are, you’ll find there are experiences waiting that you never dreamed existed.
For me, a flare lit the way to this revelation. In the late ’90s, I was working at the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery in Minnesota. Back then, flaring, a controlled burn to eliminate excess process gases, was routine. Even though the flaring was compliant with regulations, to be better environmental stewards we wanted to reduce flaring. I wasn’t a flare engineer; the project wasn’t even taking place in my part of the refinery. But it sounded interesting, and I was eager to learn and contribute. That’s why I volunteered to be on the team that ultimately solved the problem — eventually reducing from multiple flaring events per hour to a single digit number of flaring events per year. We now have an operating site that is not only a better steward of environmental resources, but also safer and more efficient.
I didn’t understand at the time how unusual having the flare project added to my responsibilities was, given my lack of actual flare experience. At Koch, which owns the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery, we’re told from day one that part of our job is to find out what we do best, find out what fulfills us and go do it. That mindset is why senior engineers and my supervisors championed enthusiasm and passion in lieu of project-specific experience. Too often, we feel we need an entirely new role to get new experiences, but there almost always are opportunities to expand within your current role.
The thought of trying something entirely new to grow professionally may seem intimidating. But when the possibility for change is woven into the corporate fabric, you have the entire organization’s full support to grab on to a challenge and switch directions, or even careers. That makes it easy to follow your curiosity into something new.
For employees who aren’t sure where to begin, I’d suggest talking to your supervisor.
The driving agent for change is always the individual, but supervisors often know of needs that align with your interests — or where to find them. I am fortunate enough to work at a place where the spirit of partnership and collaboration defines the supervisor-employee relationship. We mentor our people because we want them to stay at Koch Industries, become self-actualized and be fulfilled by their work, not because we need them to be fixed in their current jobs. You do have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and be contribution motivated. But the rewards can be worth every risk.
I am sometimes asked what advice I’d give young women who are drawn to a career in engineering. My advice is simple and straightforward: As long as you are willing to do the job, you can be yourself. I don’t wear khakis. I have pink hair. And, like all my colleagues, I’m comfortable with the fact that I might get dirty doing my job. I once surprised my male colleagues by insisting that we personally inspect a problem at the refinery…in the rain. “But you’ll get wet.” Well, yes, we all would. But to do it right, that’s what the job required.
Whoever you are, you can’t hold yourself back. And neither should you allow the job to change you in ways that aren’t true to who you are. When she was promoted years ago, a friend of mine was told she’d have to get comfortable shouting at people to be an effective leader. She didn’t, and you don’t. One of the operators at a Koch facility used to joke that I’d given him the worst dressing-down of his life, without ever raising my voice. Yet he remembered the problem and never made the same dangerous mistake again. I got through to him without changing me. You cannot be effective long term if you aren’t true to yourself.
Decades have passed since my time at Pine Bend. I now manage people and continue to sing the praises of change and following your passion at the Corpus Christi refinery. Over the years, I’ve added some verses about responsible leadership to that song. My golden rule for supervisors is to never ask others to perform a task you wouldn't willingly take on yourself. If you recoil from the thought of doing something, ask yourself why. There’s no more efficient way to determine if a task is appropriate than to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re asking to perform it.
I can’t see the next change on my horizon, and that’s OK. A hyperfocus on planning every step means we have blinders on. I never want to miss unexpected opportunities because I let fear of change distract me. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that encourages its people to embrace novel collaborations and unexpected choices. I won’t waste the chance to seize on whatever my next adventure turns out to be.
Creating value. Transforming life.
Our life’s work is to help people improve their lives by making and innovating products and services our customers value. Our focus is on delivering mutual benefit: Win-win outcomes that make life better for customers and employees alike.
Based in Wichita, Kansas, Koch Industries is one of the largest private companies in America. A diverse set of businesses and industries across the world, we work together to keep improving and exploring new ways to make life even better.
Koch companies are involved in manufacturing, agriculture, pulp and paper, packaging, consumer products, building materials, glass, automotive components, refining, renewable energy, chemicals and polymers, electronics, enterprise software, data analytics, medical products, engineered technology, project services, recycling, supply chain and logistics, global commodities trading, and investments. Since 2003, Koch companies have invested more than $150 billion in growth and improvements. With a presence in about 60 countries, Koch companies employ more than 120,000 people worldwide, with about half of those in the United States.
Stewardship in all we do.
Our approach to Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) is different than most. We believe in people and seek a system of equal rights and mutual benefit where individuals succeed by helping others succeed – and where people are empowered to improve their lives and their communities. It’s why we focus on empowering individuals to improve their lives and communities through bottom-up solutions rather than top-down imperatives.
Consuming fewer resources, minimizing waste and constantly innovating to improve our manufacturing processes and performance is essential to the way we do business – benefiting our customers, employees, investors, communities and planet.
Five environmental stewardship priorities.
With more than 300 manufacturing sites across the United States – and about 100 more globally – we’re one of America’s largest manufacturers. Every day, across those sites, we strive to create more value, using fewer resources than the day before. We do it through constant improvement and innovation – both in the products we make and how we make them, and by managing our resources in a way that benefits our customers, employees, partners, community members and society.
Philanthropy. Health and safety. Diversity and inclusion. Meaningful, rewarding careers and community outreach. These are just some of the vital priorities of social stewardship that empower each of our employees to develop, contribute, self-actualize and create value for the world while supporting communities in which we live.
Our management framework, Principle Based Management™, is based on proven principles of human progress and a deep appreciation for the dignity of every individual. Our private ownership, shared Vision, Values, compliance standards and oversight all help us focus on long-term value creation.
More from Koch Industries