At MyPlus Students’ Club, we’re proud to recognise disability-confident leaders in the industry. Today, we speak to Mark Brunton, senior business architect for manufacturing in BP‘s IT&S strategy, architecture, and planning team, to find out more about his career journey.
I would describe myself as being thoughtful and someone who values relationships with people, especially with my family, friends, and colleagues. I am fascinated about finding sustainable solutions to big, complex problems and the role that technology can play in that.
I believe there is real value in diversity too and not least in diversity of thought. I’m someone who tries hard to see beyond my own preconceptions and biases to recognise and value difference, as I believe that doing this creates more balanced, more equitable and ultimately better outcomes. I believe this is key to sustainability and resilience on every level.
Finally, I like to think that I am an eternal optimist too. Life can be pretty tough at times, so I strive to be someone who will always look for the opportunities that life’s challenges create.
On a personal level, spending time with my partner, my family, and my friends is what I am really passionate about. I’m from Yorkshire and my family still live there, but I work in London, so I do try to go back on weekends and spend as much time with them as possible.
I also enjoy hiking, being outdoors – whether in the UK or in other places and just generally trying new and interesting things.
I have recently got into open water swimming and am currently training for the swim leg of a team triathlon as part of the Superheros Triathlon series which BP is sponsoring – this is an event for people with disabilities and their friends / families / colleagues. I’ve always loved water sports, from swimming to jet skiing and everything in-between and I managed to qualify as an open water diver one handed two years after my accident.
Whilst I was studying a GNVQ advanced in engineering, I did a placement at BP chemicals in Hull. I had offers to go to university to study Electrical Engineering, but I put in an application to the apprenticeship programme just as another option. It’s probably one of the best schemes in the country, and it’s seriously competitive to get a place. It’s a long process of 3 to 6 months to go through an application and various rounds of interviews. I was offered one of the 18 roles which was fantastic. The apprenticeship included a lot of study and the funding to get education through to a degree level as well and I took the view that in engineering experience is key, so I went for the apprenticeship.
I still want an opportunity to study a degree full time, so this is one of the things on my bucket list for when I retire!
I joined BP in 1997 as part of the quartz apprenticeship programme at BP Hull and trained as an instrument technician, which involved working on the devices and systems which monitor and control our plant operations safely and reliably.
In October of 1999 at the age of 20, I was hit by a car after taking my bike out on a Sunday afternoon. A car travelling in the opposite direction on a national speed limit road cut across my path and hit me nearly head on. The result of the collision was devastating, leaving me with 18 fractures and several shattered bones. My left dominant arm was ripped off and my left leg was also very seriously injured.
I spent two months in hospital and had numerous surgeries to put my body back together, although much of the damage, particularly to my left arm was so severe that it would leave me with life-changing injuries.
It was only when I returned home from hospital that the gravity of the incident hit home. I had gone from being a relatively fit 20-year-old, embarking on a career in engineering who enjoyed rebuilding engines in his spare time, to someone who could barely put butter on a slice of toast.
On a practical level, one of the biggest challenges was that I was left-handed before the accident. I was in hospital for a couple of months and at home for a couple of months just recovering, and BP was massively supportive during that time. I was only starting to learn how to walk again and learning to write as well – with my right hand now. That had a lot of implications. My studies really suffered during that time. For writing, luckily the job that I was on, which involved a lot of inspection paperwork, offered a lot of practice. Even today I can write just fine, but I have to think about it.
Another big challenge was in 2012 when I decided to do an MBA and BP supported me in that. That was about unfinished business because I wanted to go back to studying. There was a big gap on my CV. I had interrupted my studies for a very good reason, but in terms of career prospects over the next ten years I had to up my game and stretch myself academically.
At this time, I was in the middle of the Upstream systems standardisation project and I was travelling overseas a lot and actually, it didn’t fit. There was not enough time. So I deferred my studies and I went back in 2014 to study part-time. I was at university every other Friday and Saturday. Doing the MBA was a massive challenge, but hugely rewarding and something that has really equipped me well. The MBA, though, was more of a personal than professional challenge in many ways.
On a professional level, the biggest challenge in my career is that I’ve been working on areas that transform the business. We’re doing some pretty hard stuff. Taking the 38 different maintenance and reliability systems and standardising them into one, I mean, leading that change, it’s difficult. The technology is the easy bit. It’s about getting the people on board, owning the process and driving it. The transformation programmes I am working on are hugely rewarding but at the same time very challenging.
At a very practical level when you only have one working arm, this makes things challenging. But I have always been quite a logical person and this has given me patience and determination. A lot of the work is challenging. Doing that in a measured way, with patience, playing a long game, if you like, are things I consider to be my strengths.
I would also say humility: it took me 10 years to come to terms with the fact that I have a disability, and more importantly the fact that having a disability does not make me disabled. There’s a distinction between having a disability and being disabled. Thankfully I very seldom felt disabled, certainly at BP. I mean humility in the sense that it really brings home to me that it’s ok to recognise that we all have allowable weaknesses in some areas and actually it is about focusing on strengths. We all bring to work lots of different strengths and weaknesses. You need to be mindful of all of them.
Pretty much everyone comes to work to do a good job. So it makes me much more mindful of focusing on people’s strengths rather than making judgments about my perceptions of people’s weaknesses.
The MBA on a personal level is my proudest achievement. But on a professional level, it’s the part I played in the Upstream backbone programme and the standardisation of our maintenance, procurement, finance, and supply chain processes. That’s a huge achievement when you think of the scale and complexity of BP. To have played a key role in driving and leading that change makes me really proud.
I also came up with an idea to start to manage our turnaround process using mobile computers to track completion of activities in real time around 2002, which was groundbreaking at the time – not just for BP but for the industry. That was a huge achievement because it significantly improved the safety and reliability of our quality assurance process in what can potentially be very hazardous operations. And it also resulted in a significant efficiency gain by reducing the duration of turnarounds by two days. When you think about the commercial impact of that, it is huge. These big plants process hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day. So two days worth of production is a big gain.
I would also add that last year I participated in an ultramarathon as part of a BP team in support of Paralympics GB. I had to walk it rather than run due to my knee injury, but managed to complete the 54 mile course in 25.5 hours and raised £3000 for our GB Paralympics team in the run-up to Rio 2016. Probably one of the hardest things I have ever done and an achievement that I am really proud of.
My job today is working as the Senior Business Architect for Manufacturing. So effectively I am the chief IT architect for our global refining and petrochemicals businesses. It’s all about setting the strategy and the roadmap for how we are going to invest in technology in our refining and petrochemicals facilities across the world. The whole modernisation, digitalisation, transformation of BP is obviously fundamental to that.
The main transformation for BP and the general industry is that we’re moving from an area of decentralised, locally driven technologies, to more modern, global technology platforms that drive value from our information across the entire business. One of the key projects I am working on at the moment is a reliability programme across our refining business. It involves putting in place a technology platform across all our refineries globally, to bring together all the data about safe, reliable operations within our assets. By becoming much more data-driven, we can use those technologies to drive greater reliability and availability of our assets. We’ve been looking at the reliability of our equipment across the world to understand the criticality of our assets and proactively identify and address opportunities for improvement.
Generally, it’s great to work in a company and industry that plays a critical role in delivering energy to the world. We also, as an energy company, play an important role in transitioning to a low carbon future.
As for my specific area of expertise, it’s an amazing time to work in this area at the moment. There are huge transformations taking place right now: digitisation, modernisation of the energy industry. Working with technology to drive these outcomes in safety, efficiency and productivity transformation, I think, is really fascinating.
The responsibility we have for each other’s safety. When I started at BP I was 18 and the first phase of the apprenticeship was intensive HSSE training. This involved learning about the processes we operated on site, the controls that we have in order to deal with the potentially hazardous nature of our business, and learning from incidents or ‘near misses’ which had occurred, both at the site through its 90+ year history and in industry more widely. At BP safety is our top priority. It’s the first thing you learn about and it stays with you – so you make sure you always follow the systems and processes in place to manage the risk.
I had taken a site tour as part of the interview process before being offered a job, and I remember the difference I felt the first time I went out on plant with a deeper understanding of the nature of our business and the responsibility we have to operate safely and reliably. When you realise that there are thousands of tonnes of very hot, highly flammable materials under high pressure moving around and the implications if something went wrong, you know there is no room for taking chances.
I’ve been really fortunate to have had some great line managers.
When I was at BP Chemicals, it was Alex Curry who was the Maintenance Manager at BP Hull at the time. He was driving a really challenging agenda in terms of modernising the way that we worked at BP Hull. The way he led that process was really inspiring. At the same time, he was a manager, a coach, and a mentor.
There was also Andrew Mercer. He was the Solution Director for the backbone programme where I led the maintenance systems design. He was another person who was really fantastic at leading change.
Both were line managers. Both were managers, coaches, and mentors. For them, my disability was always irrelevant in the sense that it was about what I could do, not what I couldn’t do. I was a full, contributing member of the team and my disability never became a barrier in any way.
The thing that has kept me at BP for 20 years is the people. Ours is a high-risk industry and at BP safety is our top priority. As a result, people look out for each other which is really important to me.
The key thing about working with my manager, HR, and occupational health was that we always focused the conversation on my abilities and on what I could do. Yes, we had to work together openly and honestly about the limitations, and any potential risks, but by focusing on the facts, and making reasonable adjustments which worked both for me and BP, there were very few things (such as vertical ladders) which were truly a barrier.
Working with my line manager, HR, and occupation health, I returned to work on light duties after leaving hospital and a further 3 months of recovery and rehabilitation. I received a massive amount of support from colleagues and friends at BP and without this, I do not know how I would have coped.
It was clear that becoming an instrument technician with only one working arm would not be entirely practical, but by making a relatively small adjustment – to specialise further into analyser systems, which require less bi-manual dexterity – I was able to complete the apprenticeship and take up a substantive role working for the analyser maintenance team. When I look back at my career so far, having worked globally in Petrochemicals, Refining, and Upstream, I do not think that my disabilities have prevented me from reaching my potential. For the vast majority of my time in BP, having a disability has not made me feel disabled.
I am proud to be a member of our newly formed Accessibility business resource group. My experience as someone with a disability in BP has been very positive, but coming to terms and dealing with the personal and professional realities of coming to work with a condition or impairment can be isolating and at times lonely. Whilst BP is full of great people who value diversity and work to be inclusive, I think it is great that we are establishing a network of people who have first-hand experience of the practical realities of disability and can work to support individuals and provide guidance to BP on behalf of our diverse community.
I have often asked myself how different my life would have been, had I not worked for BP at the time of my accident. Would I have had the courage to apply for a role with BP and if I did, would I have able to secure a role in the company, especially as a technician? A lot of work continues to be done by our recruitment teams to make sure we are making BP accessible to talented people, no matter what conditions or impairments they bring, but this remains an area where we have work to do. We can continue to reflect on our ambitions in terms of improving BP’s disability confidence as a firm.
I am really proud of the way that colleagues, friends, and BP showed up and supported my family when I was in intensive care and supported me right from day one. They were really clear that my focus had to be recovery and getting back on my feet. They were incredibly supportive to take away any pressures that might have existed around work.
I think professionally the biggest challenges are around managing complexity and finding ways to create paths forward which recognise the complexity, whilst at the same time distilling out the practical steps required to engage and connect with people so that we can move towards our goals.
In terms of my disability, there are very few things, if any which can’t be overcome. I was lucky enough to grow up with someone who was born with only one arm and we used to go mountain biking together! There was nothing that he couldn’t do as well as, or even better than me and that was, and still is, a huge source of inspiration.
On a practical level, I think email is probably my nemesis, although I am always reluctant to blame my one-handed typing for that. I think in business and society as a whole, everyone struggles with the same thing and would continue to do so even if we all had two brains and four hands. I think we are all guilty of using email as a lazy way of reducing our ‘to do lists- from time to time. I do my best to keep up and assistive technology such as voice recognition software is a big help. I try to remember that email is a valuable tool, but has big limitations in many respects, so focusing on the real priorities and reaching out to actually speak with people is the best way to manage the challenge.
I would say focus on your passion and your strengths and what you actually want to do. If you see that there is a role within BP that you think you have the capabilities to do, don’t allow any disability or any factor to influence you and stop you from applying. Focus on your ability and your aptitude for the position you are applying to. And have a conversation, because I think we are really open to adjustments so that people can be successful.
Mark is a senior business architect for manufacturing in BP‘s IT&S strategy, architecture, and planning team. To find out more about a graduate career at BP, read our Open Interview with subsea engineer, Katie Garland.
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