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Kelli Fereday spearheads global well tech deployment at BP

This engineering leader found BP early. The two have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship based on a foundation of support, people and opportunities


Kelli Fereday is director of discipline capability for the global wells organization at international oil and gas company BP (London, England; Houston, TX). She’s focused on the development, assessment and deployment of technical staff for drilling and working on the company’s global wells portfolio.

“My core discipline is wells engineering,” Fereday explains, “but I’m part of a group of technical professionals seconded into HR. We are a centralized but geographically dispersed team. Communication is incredibly important, and we find modern tools like instant messaging and video conferences make us feel more connected than e-mail or phone calls.”

Fereday values that connection with the people she works with. “In general, my role is putting the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time,” she says. “BP has many challenging roles that require highly technical and specialized skill sets. I work with everyone from new hires to the top of the leadership of the BP wells organization.”

She explains that the tactical part of her job might involve quickly moving someone to a new role in response to a newly approved project. “And on the strategic side, I’m working on a transformational program for competency assessments, and some long-term programs to build capability for scarce skills, such as in deepwater subsea wells.”

It’s all about people
Currently, Fereday leads a team of about thirty people, but at times the team has grown to nearly 100. With any size group, she believes the key to management is being a good listener. “Valuing the input and opinions of everyone on the project and then combining that with the technical data and legacy knowledge enable you to make strong decisions as a leader,” she says.

“I think it’s important to let everyone on the project have a voice. I was very fortunate to have been given a voice by my leaders early on, and I strive to do the same. I also try to develop people through job experiences. This may mean stretching people out of their comfort zone, but it is very empowering for them.”

Her entire career has been spent at BP. “In school, I thought chemical engineering was a very universal degree. I knew I would have many career options and would never be bored. I was initially focused on environmental engineering, and through my summer internships I realized that there was lots of opportunity in the oil and gas industry.”

Early influences
Fereday grew up in New Orleans surrounded by oil and gas industry professionals, though none were in her own family. “They probably don’t know it, but the fathers of my childhood friends really inspired me,” she recalls. “They were very high-tech, working in interesting and challenging locations around the world, and seemed very passionate about their work. They were also able to provide financial security for their families.”

Her parents, she says, were “amazing” role models at balancing work and family even amidst changing roles. “My mother unexpectedly had to re-enter the workforce after a family medical issue, which meant my father was in the very unusual position of being a stay-at-home dad in the seventies,” she recalls. “They stressed the importance of having a challenging career and financial independence for both their son and daughters. A career in engineering gave me many avenues and opportunities to pursue these goals.”

Easy decisions for college and career
Fereday attended the University of Houston (UH, TX), earning a degree in chemical engineering in 1994. “I chose UH for several reasons. I enjoyed the rich diversity of Houston in general and the university in particular. It’s an outstanding college with all the benefits of a major university and the feel of a small liberal arts college. It has a top-ranked chemical engineering program, and a strong career center that has relationships with local and national employers.”

She had summer internships with companies that included Conoco-Phillips, but “I was drawn to BP by its global presence, entrepreneurial spirit and technical edge,” she remembers. “I had a thirst for adventure, and when they came on campus, I knew I had to talk to them about their operations on the North Slope of Alaska. I had a passion for work, environment and adventure; I knew this was a truly unique and perfect place for me.”

Networking and empowering
Fereday is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE, New York, NY), the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE, Richardson, TX) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE, Chicago, IL). “One of my favorite activities is recruiting at the SWE conference,” she says enthusiastically. “There is such positive energy, and it’s a great source of talent.”

She also spends time networking with peers. “Recently, I participated in events sponsored by McKinsey & Co, aimed at increasing gender diversity in the C-suite. I think any time you can network and connect with other professional women in your industry, it’s beneficial, and as you move up to larger roles, it is important to network with women executives regardless of industry.”

She is active in working toward gender diversity within BP. “BP has supported many initiatives aimed at increasing networking opportunities for women,” she notes.

“I enjoy connecting with other women in my field and developing professional and personal relationships. It’s an opportunity to provide support during challenging times and to allow opportunities for people to stretch themselves in a safe setting. I think it is also important for affinity groups to be very inclusive, which is a best practice at BP. While affinity groups may identify issues, activities aimed at addressing those issues need to be open to all employees.”

A varied career
What’s kept her at BP, Fereday says, is the diversity of experiences the company has given her. “As my professional career needs and personal situation change, BP is very willing to accommodate my interests and desires. It also offers flexibility and support for life changes, such as starting a family. For me personally, the onsite childcare and flexible working schedule have been invaluable enablers to my career. When I’ve been approached about opportunities outside the company, no one has been able to match the challenge, opportunity and personal flexibility I’ve found here.”

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