Alumni Profile: BP's Keisha Wilson Tanner
Area Team Lead for BP’s Thunder Horse Rises to Challenges
Keisha Wilson Tanner has rarely feared moving outside of her comfort zone – from volunteering for unfamiliar career opportunities to living for a year on an oil-and-gas production/drilling platform.
Tanner – area team lead for BP’s Thunder Horse facility in the Gulf of Mexico – says, “Your career is not going to be as successful as you’d like if you’re comfortable all the time. You have to embrace change and accept new challenges.”
Inducted into the College of Engineering’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni in spring 2016, Tanner says she took on a major personal challenge even enrolling at Georgia Tech.
A native of Nicholls, Georgia, she barely knew anything about the Institute before making a last-minute switch from attending Mercer University to accepting a Georgia Tech scholarship after a persistent bid to recruit her.
“I thought that if they were going to put this much effort into recruiting me, I was going to give it a shot,” Tanner remembers.
However, the academic challenge was initially a shock for her. Soon after she started, a family friend told her mother that she should bring Tanner home because she was surely “in over her head” having come to Tech from a small-town high school.
Tanner then posted the saying “Keisha is in over her head” on her dorm room wall, not as an admission of defeat, but as a challenge that she would emerge from successfully. “It was exactly what I needed to hear. I’m a little competitive, so it was on!,” remembers Tanner, who found time to be a cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons, dance for the Georgia Tech band, and serve as Miss Atlanta 1994.
“My time at Tech taught me that there’s not anything I can’t do. You can drop me in the wilderness, and I’m going to get out. Drop me into an ambiguous situation with no obvious solution, and I’m going to figure it out.”
An internship at an Amoco chemical plant affirmed her decision to switch her major from chemistry to chemical engineering. When the company recruited her for another internship in the offshore business unit in New Orleans, she responded, “I don’t know anything about oil and gas, so sign me up!”
BP acquired Amoco in 1998, so Tanner has effectively worked for the same company for her entire career to date.
One of Tanner’s favorite positions was the year she spent as an operations engineer on a tension-leg platform.“I’m a hands-on person, and the experience really helped me understand how an offshore facility runs and learn how to communicate with the operators,” she says.
These days, Tanner spends most of her time on dry land in Houston, Texas, as the area team lead for Thunder Horse, BP’s largest facility (the size of three football fields) in the Gulf of Mexico. She is responsible for integrating drilling and completions, operations, and major project activities to inform business strategy and deliver value.
She says she prepared herself to take on team leader roles by volunteering to accept duties, such as allocations, that weren’t part of her job descriptions. “Always deliver more than your defined responsibilities. Stretching yourself can open up opportunities you never knew you were seeking.”
This is the type of career advice she offers to undergraduate engineers as BP’s Georgia Tech Campus Champion for job recruitment.