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Oil and Gas Investor

[Editor's note: Influential Women In Energy 2021 is a supplement to the May 2021 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine. Subscribe to the magazine here.]

Starlee Sykes’ first energy-related job was as a reservoir engineer intern for Mobil Oil in its Midland office, where she worked the North Central Levelland and Salt Creek fields. There, she focused on well testing and implementation of staged CO2 injections and waterflood. 

Today, she’s risen to top management at one of the largest energy companies in the world as senior vice president, Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and Canada, with BP.

“The Gulf of Mexico and Canada business that I lead is one of the largest oil producing businesses in the BP portfolio, and [it] will play a big part in how we deliver BP’s strategy by focusing our efforts in the basins we know best using existing infrastructure,” she said. “Our resilient, focused hydrocarbons are not just a core pillar of our strategy; they will enable the whole strategy and fuel our transformation.”

“Always stay curious—learn by asking questions, and lean in when you see opportunities to contribute.” 

She added that the exciting part about her role is that given BP’s scale, she sees GoM and Canada as being places to try new ideas, such as the application of agile ways of working and new technologies and digital techniques that will continue to identify business opportunities, drive efficiencies and enable the delivery of major projects. 

Standing out 

“When it comes to being a woman in the oil and gas industry, it can be hard, because you stand out as you are usually the only one in the room. But equally as much, because you stand out, you have the opportunity to make a positive difference. At one time, I was the only woman on a pipelay barge with 350 men and people paid attention— they noticed if I did a good job and if I made a mistake. But I used this as a strength to be comfortable standing out and being noticed so that I could make a difference.” 

Memorable milestone 

“The one that stands out the most is working on the Atlantis project in the Gulf of Mexico as the flowline and riser project manager. At the time, this was one of the most cutting-edge deepwater projects with the deepest risers in the world. This was an incredible experience working with the team to develop and do something new.” 

Achieving goals 

“A few years into my career, I aspired to run the Gulf of Mexico business; I am now living my dream job. My goals are to continue to learn, excel and develop good relationships with people that are around me. This is very important as there are people that I worked with 23 years ago and still work with today. It is critical to maintain those relationships, as it is a small world, even if it does not feel that way sometimes.” 


“Some of the best advice I received was from Mark Bly, a former BP executive. He shared with me a great deal about leadership. He told me that my role as a leader of a team was to make my team so effective that they did not need me. That way I can focus more on being strategic and helping my team when issues arise and focus less on day-to-day management of the team. 

“I am an energy industry leader with 23-plus years’ experience in a variety of disciplines and locations. I have core skills including executive leadership, project management, operations, facilities engineering and finance.” 

Advice for others 

“I was once told by someone to look at your mentors as your ‘board of directors.’ It is important that they have the right diverse backgrounds so that they can best advise you on different aspects of work and life as well as technical and business challenges. 

“But it’s equally important to have perspective and strive for a balanced life and make sure you are living your life deliberately every day. It’s important that you are making choices rather than having things happen to you. 

“Two of my favorite quotes are ‘Be the change you want to see in this world’ and ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’” 

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