Stacie Farrell worked her way up to build a career in fuels and petrochemicals

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.

What does a Texas girl who was raised in the country, taking care of horses and rodeoing, do when she grows up?

Well, if she’s Stacie Farrell, she goes off to college, gets an MBA, and winds up as Vice President for Human Resources Operations at Valero, a Fortune 500 company. And she still rodeos too. More on that in a moment.

Farrell is a “lifer” in the fuels industry, but when she got her first job in the business, she was thinking about something else altogether:

“I grew up with a single mom and two siblings, and I watched my mom work three jobs and raise us. I knew I wanted something different.  She wanted something different for us, too. So, college was important to me.”

“I went through college working, and after graduation, I knew I needed to get my MBA. But I had a big student loan to pay off, so I wanted to work somewhere close to home and somewhere that had tuition reimbursement. That job turned out to be with Unocal (an American oil company that merged with Chevron in the 2000s).”

Energy also turned out to be a good match, because she’s been working in the business ever since, the last 12 of those years at Valero.

Farrell worked her way up through the ranks, including five years at Valero’s Three Rivers Refinery (and for you Steeler fans out there, that’s Three Rivers, Texas — not Pittsburgh, Penn).  And like other women we’ve profiled in this series, once you’ve worked in a refinery, no matter how much you like your next job (and Farrell likes her job now. A lot.), you miss being where the production actually happens.

But with 15 refineries, 14 renewables plants, plus pipeline and terminal operations under her wing, that’s a lot of human resources. So these days, she either travels or works behind a desk, at Valero’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. And from behind that desk, her work is mostly helping and supporting her staff, who are almost all out in the field.

She loves to work with what she describes as “her very capable HR staff out in the field.” Farrell gets calls daily, asking for her perspective on the interesting challenges that pop up. “I love that they value my opinion, and I enjoy helping them any way I can to make their job easier.”

When we asked how it felt, starting out, as a woman in a field that gets labeled ‘a guy’s world,’ she told us a funny story. “When I started at Unocal, I was an administrative assistant.  I was up on the 10th floor, an executive floor, and my mom told me, ‘You’re gonna have to clean up your mouth before you start there.’  But after Farrell had been there a bit, she told her mom, ‘I fit right in- I didn’t have to change a thing!'”

Looking back, Farrell says the experience has been rewarding for anyone who worked hard, delivered results and treated colleagues right. To a young woman today, wondering if this industry might be right for her, Farrell answers with a confident YES. Be ready for a challenge, she said, and don’t be afraid of anything.

And now, back to the rodeo – Farrell’s lifelong passion. Her favorite event is barrel racing — and yes, we asked her to describe the experience:

“There are three barrels set up in a triangle, and you run a clover leaf pattern around them.  The winner is the fastest time, and if you knock over a barrel, that winner probably isn’t going to be you because they add a five-second penalty.”

As a kid, Farrell made it to the National High School Rodeo Finals, and in her racing days (then and now), she’s brought home some 20 saddles and countless belt buckles, which are the winner’s trophy in many races.

While she still rides, there’s a new boss horsewoman in the house these days: her daughter. Farrell says she always knew her daughter would beat her one day. She just thought that day would come a little later, like when her daughter was a teenager, not a 9-year-old!

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