An Interview of Mentor Chuck Coulson by Protégé Sarah Warrington (Henry)
Sarah Warrington (Henry)
BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc.
Where are you from and how did you decide to pursue a career in Alaska?
I am from Iowa originally. I attended Iowa State University and the University of Pennsylvania. I have worked in London, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Anchorage. I frequently travel to Houston and the West Coast for work. The opportunity with BP presented itself in Alaska and I was excited about the opportunity to live in Anchorage.
What did you study in college and was it an easy choice?
I studied chemical engineering at Iowa State University. I obtained my MBA in Finance and Strategic Planning from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Engineering “clicked” with me. I consider myself to be business-minded and picked these fields because I like to analyze how businesses develop and grow. I also enjoy studying the logistics field.
What is your current position? How would you describe your path to your current position? Did you have anyone you relied on for mentorship/solid career advice?
I am the President of BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc. I previously was the Commercial Manager for the BP Midstream Alaska group. I had experience with upstream (exploration, production) and downstream (refining) and subsequently had networks in both groups. I enjoy being part of the team that links the upstream and downstream functions. I have experience in the transportation and logistics side, so the position fit well with both my network and experience. I am also part of the BP Regional Leadership team that oversees all the Alaska assets that BP owns an interest in. My knowledge of how systems interact also helped establish me in my current role.
When did you know you would be a leader?
It’s important to develop expertise prior to being a leader. You have to be able to show that you have a strong skillset, a strong foundation, and are knowledgeable of the industry. I began my career specializing in the technical aspects of the oil industry. From there, I was given the opportunity for informal leadership opportunities, which then led to increasingly responsible leadership opportunities. When managing others, it’s important to note that it is challenging to separate technical skills from the people issues. A leader has to be able to create an environment in which people are able to separate their responsibilities and work with their strengths. Some people are better at being experts with technical data and some people are better at leading.
Was/Is there ever a time when you felt/feel discouraged by obstacles? How did you/do you address that?
In instances where obstacles are related to emotions or people, try to address by showing empathy and support. Coercion or the blunt exercise of positional power seldom seems to work for me. When I’ve tried that, it never seems to yield lasting results. A very powerful framework that has always rung true for me is that a leader needs to provide only four things for his team to succeed: Context, Boundaries, Resources, and Space. Context is “why we need to do a task”. Boundaries are “the rules of the road we must follow”; how we need to work - safety policies, integrity standards, technical specifications, HR policies, etc. Resources are the budgets, staff, training and equipment to get the job done. Space is provided by prioritization of work and by shielding staff from distractions so they can get after what is important. Obstacles crop up in all four of these items and how efficiently you address them determines the success of your team.
Is there a particular person who inspires you? Maybe someone you have read about, someone you know? What do you find inspiring about their story?
Not particularly. For my leisure reading, I often read history. I find it very interesting how leaders of the past dealt with the problems of their times.
It is important and beneficial for CBPP and Anchorage’s business community to collaborate and invest in the next generation of leaders. What do you think should be conveyed to our next generation of leaders?
Yes, it is absolutely imperative to invest in the younger leaders who will eventually replace us. The younger generation will have the opportunity to learn and grow from mistakes we have made. The elder generation needs to reach out with support, guidance, and a helping hand. I enjoy being a mentor because I can have a positive impact on the younger generation by sharing my experiences. It’s a way of giving back.