Helen Ross

Diversification brought this British engineer to Texas.


Helen Ross

I earned my master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Nottingham in England. The coursework was certainly challenging but very rewarding and helped pave the way to a career in chemical engineering with ExxonMobil Chemical.

For me it all began at ExxonMobil’s integrated Refining and Chemical Plant in Fawley, Southampton. This is one of our largest petrochemical plants in Europe, processing about 15 million tonnes of crude oil each year. Starting out as an intern, I held several different manufacturing roles across the complex. My early graduate roles were as a development and operations engineer in the chemicals complex, where I provided technical and operational support for several processing units, including getting hands-on experience during a complete unit turnaround.

In 2011, seven years after starting out at Fawley, I moved north to Scotland to work at our Fife Ethylene Plant, where I held several positions before becoming the Plant Technical Manager. The plant produces ethylene, which is the building block for a huge range of products spanning packaging through to construction and automotive components. It was a great opportunity to work at a smaller site with a fantastic team, understanding the importance of our partnership with upstream feed supply from the North Sea. Also an exceptional fit for me, professionally as well as personally, as I ended up marrying a Scot!

My family and I crossed the pond to move to the new Houston campus in spring of 2015. In Texas I oversee improvement activities covering our global feedstock and optimization group. In a nutshell I look to identify and deliver new feedstock opportunities for our sites, working with our partners in Refining and Upstream and third parties. I love working with the regional optimization and site manufacturing teams across the globe, improving the understanding of chemical business drivers to make sure we’re getting the most value out of our units by running and optimizing the most economical feeds. We buy thousands of barrels every day and, simply put, my job is to help make sure we make the best use of every single drop. That’s what optimization is.

In addition to working on general-interest business opportunities, I also get involved in employee development initiatives. That’s part of why I became interested in supporting the Women’s Interest Network (WIN), which strives to strengthen employees through mentoring and professional development, creating teams that benefit from diversity of thought across the organization.

When I learned how WIN could improve the teams and organizations I worked in, I volunteered to help establish the program first at Fawley and then at Fife. WIN isn’t just about women – it’s about empowering and developing employees, regardless of gender. Now here in Houston, I’m involved in the WIN program and mentoring activities. I also support the Chemicals Women’s Leadership Team, a group established to grow and retain female talent across the organization, helping to better support and develop employees to senior levels.