By Billy Thinnes
DALLAS -- Jim Stump has worked in all sorts of roles at
refineries. His wide array of experience served him well as he
evolved from being a young engineer, wet behind the ears with
much to learn, to his present position as HollyFrontiers
senior vice president for refinery operations. During his 21
years of service with Frontier (this time encompasses pre- and
post-merger with Holly), Mr. Stump has worked in operations,
marketing and management. He has been in his present role since
Mr. Stumps career progression offered him the perfect
perspective to deliver a keynote speech on the subject of
leadership and safety. One leadership challenge he faced early
in his career was gaining the trust of a seasoned refinery veteran. For the sake of
this example, Mr. Stump referred to this person as
Norm. Norm taught him how crucial it is to
help your guys.
The second thing I learned
was to be present, Mr. Stump told delegates at the
AFPM Q&A and Technology Forum at the Sheraton
Dallas. These days it is easy, with emails and technology, for engineers to sit in
their office and do 90% of the job there.
He emphasized that engineers should get out of the office
and collaborate with the rest of the refinery staff. During
startups, shutdowns or upsets, our engineers should be present
for these activities to make sure operators arent missing
important data, Mr. Stump said. I can remember
watching a cat cracker startup. Sitting back [and] looking at
data, everybody felt things were stable, so we started
introducing feed. Although we kept providing more feed, the
temperature wasnt changing. We werent flaring much,
Since Mr. Stump was present for the startup, he was able to
troubleshoot the problem and come up with a solution.
Without having an engineer present, that could have
proceeded into quite a disaster, he noted.
Mr. Stump also believes that leaders should be there,
but not [be] in the way. He encourages team leaders to
make sure their corporate support engineers have gold status in
frequent flier programs. This was stated somewhat as a joke,
but the point that even the corporate guys need to be at plants
and have relationships with the workers there, was quite
Ask, dont tell. A key point in downstream leadership
is to work collaboratively and not boss people around. Ask
questions until team members can find a solution on their own.
They will leave feeling good, and will own the
outcome, Mr. Stump said.
The HollyFrontier VP learned this lesson while working at
the companys El Dorado, Kansas refinery, which has a crude oil
throughput capacity of 135,000 barrels per day. Two months from
a catalytic cracker turnaround, the fractionator would
We had too much gas oil inventory, Mr. Stump
said. Nobody could figure it out, so I had to figure it
out. Instead of giving orders, I sat with the unit board man
and made some moves with him, and we concluded that we had a
hole in the chimney tray. The great thing was that we solved
the problem together. That was the first time I met Dan
Anderson, the board man, and to this day, he will call me to
talk. That three-hour afternoon in El Dorado made us lifelong
Practice humility. There is nothing noble in acting
superior, Mr. Stump said. A lot of us engineers can come
across as arrogant. Success in leadership is not about knowing
everything. I love that I work in an industry where not one
human being can know everything.
Mr. Stump worked as a superintendent in the Cheyenne,
Wyoming plant. It was his job to discuss survey results. The
employees said he was arrogant, but he did not believe them.
Fortunately, some operators were in the room and they said to
him, listen to yourself. They dissected Mr. Stumps
leadership skills, and it was a productive conversation.
The way I was coming across was very arrogant,
he said. Arrogance in our business is a death kiss; you
will never have others follow you like you want.
Learn from mistakes. Refineries are target-rich environments
for mistakes. Instead of issuing blame, people should work
together to find the true cause of a problem, and not fixate on
Investigate what happened without laying blame,
Mr. Stump advised. I met Carolyn Merritt when she was the
chairwoman of the Chemical Safety Board. She told me that when
they first set up the board, they hired scientists and experts
because we were investigating incidents.
After a year of investigating, however, they realized they
hired the wrong people. It was human behaviors, not technical
issues, that were causing problems. Find a way to be
humane to our people when discussing mistakes, Mr. Stump
He also advises engineers to not attempt to be a hero.
I see motivated young people that want to solve our
problems and get credit for doing that, he said.
Our refineries are too complex for any one person to
solve problems. Leverage coworkers, request help and accomplish
more working as a team.
Mr. Stump recommends calling and consulting colleagues.
Get some help, he said. We are not in this
business to grab the limelight.
See it, own it. Another bit of advice was if you see a
problem, you need to be the owner of the problem. Do not assume
someone else is taking care of it, and do not write a procedure
and assume an operator will read it, he said.
Mr. Stump concluded his remarks by encouraging the audience
to be courageous. You have every right to question a lead
operators decision, he said.