Cashing in on opportunity: From chemical engineer to trading strategist

Workforce |  3 min. read

In this thriving industry, more women are wearing hard hats alongside their male peers. A perpetual need for skilled workers in the fuels and petrochemical industries long ago nixed the notion that these jobs are traditionally for men. But even today, as men and women work side by side to produce the energy and products that power our world, many of our nation’s women might not fully realize these high-paying careers are awaiting them.

 One way to spread the word? Share their stories. As part of an ongoing series, join us for a look at some of the women working in today’s fuels and petrochemical plants.

A typical day at work for Tena LaRose starts something like this:

She gets to the office (early, of course) at Phillips 66 headquarters in Houston.  She checks the weather — for Houston, on the Gulf Coast, and around the country, looks at the news of the day, checks in with her colleagues across the hall and across the country.  Then she digs into political and financial news on trade agreements, tariffs and such.  Scrolls through screens of data, crunching the numbers on supply and demand for oil.

Once she knows everything that’s going on in the world:  she’s ready to give her recommendations.

That kind of pressure doesn’t rattle Tena LaRose though.  As a gasoline trading strategist for one of the country’s biggest oil and gas companies, that’s her job.  There is something though, that unnerves her (we’ll tell you about that a little later).

She  started her career in a very different job as a chemical engineer — at a refinery.  “I liked engineering,” Tena says.  “I liked the combination of math and science — I just didn’t want to do that forever.  So one day, I ‘raised my hand’ and told them I wanted to get into more of the ‘how do we make money and how do we lose money’ side of the industry.”

Happily for her, Phillips 66 is a company that encourages personal growth and could allow her to make a non-traditional move and try something new.  And happily for Phillips 66, her recommendations generally fall on the “make money” side of the ledger.

Her years with the company have given her some great experience.

Her proudest moment on the job?  “After Hurricane Sandy, when almost everything was down, improvising to get fuel into New York.  We were working the phones, rerouting ships at sea, doing whatever we had to do — so that ambulances and buses, police cars and fire engines and delivery trucks could do what they had to do.”

What would she say to a young woman in college, wondering if it’s really a “man’s world” in the fuels and petrochemical industries?  Sometimes, that answer is yes.  And there have been times when she was the only woman of color.  But Tena says that is steadily changing, for the better, and this is an industry bursting with opportunities for women coming in.

“I wish I’d known when I started,” she says, “how many opportunities there are in this industry.  Not everyone is wearing either a hard hat or a suit.  I started as an engineer, moved to the business side as a trading strategist, and I know there are other directions I can go in — when I am ready for the next challenge.”

So, her advice to young women is — come on in.  And if you do find yourself at Phillips 66 in Houston, find Tena.  Especially early on in her career, mentors in the company were extremely important to her — helping her figure out what she needed to do to be successful. Now, she takes newcomers under her wing and does the same for them.

When she’s not on the job?  She’s part of Houston Angels, the local chapter of a national group that helps support foster families — in a concrete way (she is an engineer, after all), by giving them a monthly “love box”, with the sort of stuff families with kids need.

She’s also been known to “dibble dabble” on the bass guitar and she’s played co-ed soccer, as a sweeper, which makes her the last line of defense before the goalkeeper.  She’s pretty calm and collected there too, just like at work.

So what does rattle Tena LaRose?  A Texas wolf spider.  Ok, a Texas wolf spider and the hundreds of babies they carry on their backs.

As she told us, “Google it,” and we did.  So here’s what happens when you take a broom to a wolf spider carrying 100 babies.

We get it, Tena.  Yikes.