Being a Refinery Commercial Manager means there’s never a dull moment for Viva Energy’s Vanessa Kearney. But that’s just one of the aspects she loves about her job. From her university days to her current leadership role at Geelong Refinery, Vanessa has seized opportunities along the way and forged a career path that makes her happy to come to work every day.
Vanessa knows refineries, having spent more than 23 years working around them. She came out of university as a chemical engineer and started at an Australian refinery as a process engineer. “It was seen as one of the prestige jobs in Australia for chemical engineers, but I’m not sure that I even necessarily knew the opportunities that existed,” she says. “I came in thinking this would be good training, and then I could look elsewhere.”
As it turned out, Vanessa did traditional process-engineering roles for about five years, then moved into operations, then eventually found her way into commercial roles. These were the roles that captured her heart. “Once I started in commercial roles, I never considered going back,” she says. “The commercial side of it really made sense to me.”
The draw of oil and energy
“For me, working around refineries – it’s forever interesting,” says Vanessa. “There are always new challenges, things going on, opportunities to bring new ideas and find different ways of improving commercial returns. Refineries are complicated, complex sites, which just means you never get bored.”
It was this sense of excitement that drew Vanessa to Viva Energy. “It felt like an exciting opportunity to join a reinvented downstream oil company in Australia,” she says. “Though it came out of Shell, a large organisation, it feels like a smaller company that’s focused on being agile, smart and outcome-focused. That was particularly attractive to me.”
Looking towards a favourable future
Vanessa is upbeat about the future of Viva Energy and the Geelong Refinery, despite the challenges in the industry. “Refining in Australia is quite tough,” she says, “as evidenced by the fact that a number of refineries have closed down. But it feels like we’re making really good progress at Geelong at setting up what can be a really strong, sustainable business.”
Indeed, there are big plans for Geelong. “We’re making real progress in doing things more efficiently and chasing the opportunities that exist,” says Vanessa. “It’s an exciting time to be here; we’ve got a really good team who are focused on making this very successful.”
The importance of a support system
As a senior manager, Vanessa will play a lead role in helping to drive the company’s success. For her, part of this leadership is working closely with Viva Energy’s on-site women’s network. “Over the years, I’ve gotten used to the fact that I tend to work with a lot of men, so I don’t really notice it,” she says.
But she concedes that in typically male-dominated industries such as oil and energy, it can be pretty tough when you’re a young engineer coming up through the ranks. “So I make sure I’m really supportive of our women’s network… making sure that people – and not just women – have good support networks. It’s important that they understand there are lots of options for them and that they need to choose a path that makes sense for them.”
Advice for following in Vanessa’s footsteps
If you’re looking for a fulfilling career like Vanessa’s, she has a few tips for you:
Find what really interests you:“I focused on the roles that were interesting and challenging to me – what I could bring to them and how I could be successful, both personally and for the business. It’s about finding those roles that motivate you and make you happy to come to work.”
Find an environment you like working in:: “This is the third refinery in Australia that I’ve worked in, and at each refinery, it’s the people who make it so enjoyable. Find a place where the people work together really well. That’s probably why I’ve loved working in refineries in particular, because everyone’s clear about what the goal is. That, for me, is a really good place to be.”
“A career is long!” says Vanessa. By seeking opportunities, challenges, enjoyment and support along the way, you might find a career path that makes as much sense for you as Vanessa’s has for her.
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