Michele McNichol, the first female CEO of Wood Group Mustang, fell in love with chemistry and math in high school. Encouraged by her father, she pursued a degree in chemical engineering even though as a young girl she imagined herself as a doctor.
Michele graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University and began her career with Amoco. Serving as a process engineer on a gas processing facility, Michele worked alongside a project manager and immediately knew she wanted to fulfill this role. The idea of being involved with every aspect of a project intrigued her.
Early in her career, Michele received some advice which still guides her today. During training, an experienced mentor saw her potential and energy and cautioned her, “Don’t ever lose your engineering curiosity." Michele says she can still hear the words and it compels her to ask herself, why are we doing it this way, how else could this work, and are we challenging ourselves?
Alongside this mentor, there were a few key leaders who really inspired and influenced Michele. In her twenties, they saw a young engineer who loved learning and had plenty of energy, jumping in to any challenge with both feet. They invested in her, providing stretch opportunities and helping her succeed in new areas of responsibility. They said, "We'd rather reign in a wild mustang than have to kick a stubborn donkey” because what she lacked in experience she more than made up for with enthusiasm and ambition.
When asked what advice she has for aspiring young women, Michele encourages everyone to “state your goals. When you put your goals out there, you set an expectation. If you don’t state your goals, you can’t be disappointed when the opportunities aren’t offered.” She stated her goal to become a project manager. Unfortunately, she was told by someone in a very senior position that her goal would never be realised, simply because she was a woman and wouldn’t be acknowledged as a leader. So the second piece of advice is to never be deterred by negative responses to your goals. “State them, and go for them!” At age 30, Michele managed a $95 million lump sum engineering, procurement and construction project, and eventually managed the world’s largest semi-submersible production facility, BP Thunder Horse. From there she became the upstream business unit president and eventually the executive vice president. Last month Michele stepped up as chief executive officer and plans to continue applying her engineering curiosity to the challenges and opportunities facing Wood Group Mustang, the organisation she has served for the past 14 years.