Curiosity is “critical” to some of the big challenges posed by the energy transition, according to BP’s trading & shipping executive vice president Carol Howle

Posting on LinkedIn and reflecting on her career, Howle said she will shortly have worked at BP for 22 years and longer in the energy industry.

“If I had to give one piece of advice to my younger self it would be this: keep asking questions, because the world around you will always be changing,” she said.

Howle, who has worked internationally across the crude oil and chemical products businesses, said: “As head of BP Shipping I learnt more about operational safety and risk, at a time when BP was reviewing its strategy and restructuring our fleet.

“I’ve seen up close that thriving means adapting and evolving, all the time. For me, that all starts with curiosity.

“.. having that curiosity is still critical. Now I’m asking new questions, about how we’ll rise to some big challenges.”

Touching on BP’s ambition to get to net zero by 2050 or sooner, Howle said the major’s Trading & Shipping customers are looking to change and turning to the company for an integrated approach to energy.

“Trading & Shipping is made up of people who are solutions focused, who are commercial, and who want to make a difference,” Howle said.

The EVP revealed that one of the toughest moments she faced was in July 2019 when she headed BP Shipping and the company’s 158,295-dwt tanker then named British Heritage (built 2017) — now the Elisabeth Maersk —was caught up in tensions in the Strait of Hormuz.

“They were nervous hours and stakes were high,” she said.

The tanker was later escorted to safety by a warship.

Howle said a focus on safety, compliance and operating with “absolute integrity” has been critical over the past few months with the “devastating crisis in Ukraine”.

She also touched on diversity noting that women have always been underrepresented in the trading and shipping industry. In 2021 women in leadership roles across the world’s largest commodity traders sat at only around 5%.

“This imbalance has been the backdrop to my career,” Howle said.

She said that while BP’s executive team is made up of more women than men, throughout her career she has worked in environments that have been largely male-dominated.

“When you’re the only woman at the table, making your voice heard can feel like more of a challenge,” she said. “So I’ve always tried to be led by genuine curiosity and enthusiasm, to be in service of our people and our business, and to feel that I’m making a difference…and to ignore the occasional feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’.”

Howle said the landscape is changing and she hopes now to be able to support the “many brilliant women making their careers at BP.”

She spoke personally about the need for support from friends, families and colleagues, revealing she was diagnosed with breast cancer while chief executive of BP Shipping.

“It was a frightening time, but I knew I had the support of my team as well as my family and friends, and it made all the difference.”

Passing on her advice to women entering the industry today, she said: “share ideas, connect with your colleagues, advocate for yourselves and others, ask questions, and make sure you get a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment from what you do.”