As a child, Selby Bush, head of corporate affairs for BHP, had a passion for politics, so when she ended up working on the staff of a U.S. senator after finishing her undergraduate degree in communications, the path there seemed natural.
Getting into the oil and gas industry, however, was not an inevitability. In 2008, while working for a presidential campaign, Bush made a career pivot when she accepted a position with the Williams Cos. Inc. as a government affairs representative.
She spent the first decade of her oil and gas career managing political strategy over $7 billion in successful pipeline projects that were transformative for the emerging Marcellus Shale. After that, she was selected for a talent development program through Harvard Business School, a program which gave her the tools and insight for an executive role.
“While I was on maternity leave, the head of corporate affairs retired, and the position remained unfilled upon my return. I expected a fairly easy return to work, assuming my old role, which included managing two direct reports, and ‘filling in’ as the informal department leader until a replacement was named.
“Four weeks later, the effects of COVID-19 began to ravage the U.S. It became apparent that the department of 14 needed more than a de facto leader, and that someone had to begin making decisions and empowering the team to make the right decisions in support of the communities in which we operate.
“With no formal authority, I led the North America Corporate Affairs team to create the $2.5 million-dollar Community Relief Fund, which sent funds directly to organizations in need.
“It is up to you to tell your story.”
“This leadership led to my formal appointment as acting head of corporate affairs – North America for BHP and was merely a result of stepping in to fill a gap, making agile decisions and doing what is right for the company and for our stakeholders.”
“As a people leader, my mantra is to ‘step back and lead,’ meaning people flourish when given the tools they need and are not tethered by leadership. I have the utmost confidence in my team members to do the next right thing and to safely seek my guidance as needed.
“I emphasize ‘safely’ because it is critical that we allow our team members to fail. The best lessons of my career have come from disappointments and mistakes, and the same is true for most people … how many times have we performed a ‘root cause analysis’ on a success?”
Focus on wellbeing
“One of the things that makes me love working at BHP is our focus on mental health. As a company, we recognize that most people will experience something that causes their mental health to suffer. [Mental illness and major life events] really can impact our mental wellbeing and how we ‘show up’ at work.
This is something that we, as individuals and as an industry, are not comfortable talking about, but we have to. It is far past time for a cultural shift on mental health and wellbeing, and I hope to see a major shift on this as an industry in the near future.”
Advice to young professionals
“First of all, take risks—every career advancement I have had is a direct result from me pursuing it—even chasing it. It can feel like self-promotion, and it is, but that’s okay, as long as you do it skillfully. I equate it to my role in the industry: If I am not out telling the story of my company (or the industry), someone else is telling it for me, and they’re likely getting it wrong. It is up to you to tell your story.
“Find someone with more experience than you and learn from them—it can be informal or formal, but be sure they’ll invest in you.
“Finally, get involved in your community. The best career growth can sometimes come from volunteer experiences, and our communities depend on people like us to invest our time and treasure to make them a better place to live, work and play for everyone.”