She was only twelve years old at the time, but Naty Figueroa remembers something her mother told her back then as if it were yesterday: “You must grow up to be completely independent. You don’t need to rely on anyone else.”
She also remembers being taken aback by her mom’s words because her parents, both Puerto Rican, who moved to the United States before Figueroa was born, were happily married. But the statement was part of an overarching message about her future, and how she would need to work hard to be successful in life. Both of her parents held jobs at a factory and made a decent living, but they wanted much more for their daughter. “Basically, they told me not going to college was not an option, so from the start I knew I was going to do everything in my power to make that happen for myself and for my parents,” she says.
It was when Figueroa earned a degree in accounting—rubbing shoulders with the Big Five and looking to become a CPA—that oil and gas giant BP came recruiting for its rotational program. “At that time, the energy industry wasn’t even something on my radar,” Figueroa says now.
She took a closer look at the program BP was offering, which allowed employees to spend twelve to eighteen months at a time in various positions within the company to discover their strengths and weaknesses. She quickly became interested in the unique opportunity and decided it held an appeal that the crazy hours and constant traveling of a young would-be CPA couldn’t match.
“BP offered me the ability to move within the company without just fixating on my accounting and finance background. I felt like I was given some freedom to decide what I wanted to do with my career.”
She started at BP fifteen years ago in an accounting role, and spent some time as a credit analyst, before deciding she wanted to be more front-office or commercial.
BP United States
By the Numbers
BP employs 14,000 people across the US
Since 2006, BP has invested $90 billion in US oil, gas, and renewables as well as technology
In the US, BP operates 3 refineries, 15 wind farms, 4,000 miles of pipeline, and 7,000 retail sites
That decision took her into crude oil scheduling—first for BP barge terminals, then Gulf of Mexico deepwater operations, and ending on an international scale. “The thought that I’m responsible for moving oil on a vessel carrying two million barrels is amazing,” Figueroa says. “Or that I’m working with individuals in West Africa, or Latin America—it still floors me,” she gushes. In addition to her operational role, she also manages projects for the Integrated Supply & Trading (IST) commercial development group.
Now, as one of BP’s chiefs of staff, Figueroa aids the chief executive of BP’s IST business for the Americas. IST is BP’s commercial face to the commodity trading markets that focus on crude oil and natural gas. Additionally, IST buys and sells products to meet market and asset demands.
Figueroa helps execute the organization’s business priorities—everything from setting financial goals to creating initiatives that will engage and motivate staff. It may sound like an unusual career path for a CPA, but Figueroa sees herself as one piece of BP’s unique-by-design human resources puzzle.
“We have an array of people here who bring different skills to the table based on their backgrounds. Our people cover all ends of the spectrum from employees with degrees in political science to romantic classics—BP is a diverse environment in that employees support the organization with varied educational backgrounds and levels of experience,” she explains.
In regard to BP’s diversity and inclusion efforts, Figueroa says BP has made strides in fostering a diverse workforce. But as one of the few Hispanic-heritage employees with senior-level leadership in the area, she says there is always room for improvement in this area. “We should be able to look like the [diverse] population of Chicago, where my division of BP is based,” she says. “At the end of the day, a workplace with people from different backgrounds and different cultures that bring forth different ideas: That’s a strong organization.”
Figueroa’s experience in the military—she joined the Army National Guard at age nineteen to pay for college—has contributed to her support for a diverse and inclusive environment. The lessons learned about leadership, stepping up, and being courageous are vital skills that make veterans an appealing hire for most corporate positions. And BP has supported her throughout her military career, including when she volunteered as co-lead of the Chicagoland Veterans Business Resource Group for veteran awareness and education in the Chicago area. “I am proud of the fact that BP strongly supports our veterans,” she says.
Figueroa’s support system extends beyond the organization and into her personal life. The advancement of her career would not be possible without the love and support of her husband, children, and parents. Whether talking about the people who raised her, or the kids she and her husband are raising now, the pride always reverberates to her as a loving support system.
“Sometimes there are a lot of moving parts and things can be stressful, but when I see my kids at the end of the day, I’m reminded instantly why I do what I do,” Figueroa says. “And my husband has always supported me no matter what. My family is my rock, and they make it easy for me to put stressful situations into perspective.”