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Mike Johnson of Shell Oil Company: “Never stop pushing yourself ”

The importance of networking and influencers — I was of the belief that my career would take care of itself if I put my head down and worked hard. However, I learned that intent-based effort is necessary to further one’s career. It’s a great idea to become part of the community and network regularly. Find a niche […]

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The importance of networking and influencers — I was of the belief that my career would take care of itself if I put my head down and worked hard. However, I learned that intent-based effort is necessary to further one’s career. It’s a great idea to become part of the community and network regularly. Find a niche that interests you and immerse yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should attend every networking event you hear about; effective connecting happens when you foster relationships in your network through genuine outreach.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Johnson.

Mike’s current role is leading site Electrical Engineering Manager, where he provides technical direction and oversight at the Shell Deer Park Refinery. He is the Deer Park Shell Black Networking Group (SBNG) Leadership Focal Point, Campus Team Manager for Shell’s Prairie View A&M University Recruiting Team and has worked at Shell for the past fourteen years.

At Shell, he has worked in Projects as both the Electrical Technical Lead and Commercial Engineer in the Turnaround group, as well as the Run and Maintain Technical Lead. Prior to starting at Shell in 2003, Mike accumulated over thirty years of experience as an Engineering Manager and Supervisor.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I first became familiar with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) while I was in middle school during a career fair and subsequent science fair where I was introduced to the field of electrical engineering. This opened a new world to me as I became interested in anything related to science, chemistry, math and engineering — both electrical and mechanical. Then continuing to pursue my interest, in high school I joined the Junior Engineering Technical society while simultaneously choosing a rigorous course track heavily laden with advanced science and mathematics, in anticipation of pursuing an engineering degree in college.

Now, along with my role as the site subject matter expert for electrical programs at Shell, I am also the recruiting team manager for Prairie View A&M University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

During a teambuilding meeting hosted by Shell’s engineering group, my colleagues presented me with the Regional Vice Presidents Award for commercial mindset for the tax savings initiative I developed as president of the Shell Black Networking Group (SBNG) at Shell Deer Park. Wanting to develop and tie our SBNG group goals to that of our site business deliverables/goals, my group developed a multiyear plan that yielded over 7 million dollars during the initial effort, while the continued effort yielded additional millions to the bottom line.

The grand takeaway from my impromptu speech was that employees should strive to leave their impression on an organization and not wait for direction from management when they know the right thing to do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I assumed all book calculations and on-paper designs would work as planned in the field. My first pneumatics control design was for a quick dump valve. To my surprise, the modifications we installed did not work at all. After a long struggle trying to commission the system, the technicians turned to me for guidance. We ultimately re-engineered the entire system and got the valve to work. This was my first lesson on the contrast between drawings and field construction. The real thing might be different than what you expected, and that’s important to keep in mind when you’re in the drawing room and in the field.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Shell is committed to improving access to STEM education for all races and socioeconomic classes. Personally, I serve as National Vice President of the Shell Black Networking Group, as well as manager of the recruiting team at Prairie View A&M University, where I established a 275,000 dollars endowment scholarship with contributions from Shell employees. I have also volunteered with SERVE (Shell Employees and Retirees Volunteering Everywhere), where I’ve served at food drives, worked with foster children, supported individuals recovering from substance abuse and helped with Hurricane Ike recovery efforts in the Deer Park area.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

During a recruiting event I noticed a young man who seemed troubled. Although he worked for a competitor, I struck up a conversation to make sure he was okay. We sat down for lunch and he reluctantly shared that his career was going nowhere — he had no support from his manager and no mentor to speak of. I offered to be his mentor and eventually recruited him to Shell. He is thriving and has been with us for nine years. I still mentor him and I’m excited for the opportunities in front of him at Shell.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Real cultural awareness — We need to better understand our desires and motivations to create a society with equal opportunity.
  2. Fairness — We need equitable systems for hiring, social interfaces, media reporting and politics (e.g., gerrymandering).
  3. Nimbleness — We need quicker timelines for making change and righting wrongs, as well as the maturity to not view corrections as charity or handouts.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership as that of a servant — someone who puts their team first and themselves second. A great leader is someone who actively listens, displays empathy and makes the team know he/she is there for them. A great leader maintains two-way dialogues, persuades teammates to be better and develops their skillsets to help advance careers.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The importance of networking and influencers — I was of the belief that my career would take care of itself if I put my head down and worked hard. However, I learned that intent-based effort is necessary to further one’s career. It’s a great idea to become part of the community and network regularly. Find a niche that interests you and immerse yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should attend every networking event you hear about; effective connecting happens when you foster relationships in your network through genuine outreach.
  2. Never stop pushing yourself — Learning does not stop with successfully landing a job. One must continue to grow and attain skills throughout one’s career. Always work to gain knowledge, even outside of working hours.
  3. Speak up — The fear of embarrassment or rejection often hinders employees from partaking in discussions; however, remaining silent makes one seem uninterested or without ideas. Everyone has something valuable to say, so simply say it.
  4. Find a mentor — Finding a mentor who provides guidance is greatly beneficial. Confiding in a colleague will open one’s eyes to what it’s really like in the field. This mentoring relationship will tell you all the great and not-so-great aspects of your desired career path, which are important to be aware of early.
  5. Improve your communications skills — Exceptional communications skills can open new doors of business and make all the difference when discussing matters of potential conflict. I always look for the win-win result when navigating these situations.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would emphasize a “value of the person” concept to improve racial equity. If we focus on truly understanding each other, we will overcome cultural barriers and unconscious biases. This would clear the path for real, open and lasting relationships — allowing our personal and business lives to operate on a deeper interface level.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Cream always rises to the top. It may take some churning — you may not always be compensated fairly or have the position or title you deserve — but everyone knows the cream when it floats to the top.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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