Here’s what Phillips 66’s CEO told chemical engineers in New Orleans

Phillips 66’s mission will require constant change, President and CEO Mark Lashier told a gathering of more than 1,000 chemical engineers in New Orleans last week.

Delivering the keynote speech at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Spring Meeting and 20th Global Congress on Process Safety, Lashier said that change should be seen in the context of what a recent Harvard Business Review article called “regeneration.”

“While regeneration is part of natural life, it often feels unnatural in business,” Lashier said. “That shouldn’t be the case. We should think of change as something that we’re part of, not something being done to us.”

The comments came as the company navigates its relationship with activist investor Elliott Investment Management. Lashier told Reuters last week the investment firm has accepted the performance improvement plan that U.S. oil refiner Phillips 66 laid out to boost shareholder returns and share price. “They’ve bought into our plans that we already had in place,” he is quoted as saying.

Elliott sent a letter to the company’s board last fall, disclosing a $1 billion stake in the company, and calling for additions to its board of directors and a focus on improving its oil refining business.

To achieve the energy “trilemma” of security, affordability and sustainability, Lashier told the New Orleans gathering the industry must take a two-track approach: make fossil fuels cleaner and develop renewable energy in ways that make economic sense.

“We have to push the bounds of alternative energy while lowering the carbon footprint of the energy we need today,” he said.

None of this will be possible without safety, said Lashier. “Creating the future of energy and fostering a culture of problem solving and resiliency won’t happen if our processes and policies don’t keep people and our planet safe,” he said.

Lashier said a culture of safety must empower people to do three things: be aware when something isn’t safe, stop work and bring forward solutions. Indeed, he said, an engaged and empowered workforce is critical not only for safety, but also the energy transition.

“Let’s harness our collective energy and create meaningful change,” he said. “As I like to say to our employees, full speed ahead.”