Rick Roberts

Senior Vice President, Manufacturing
Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP
BSChE ’76

For his outstanding leadership contributions in a preeminent petrochemical corporation

A Passion for People and Processes

When Rick Roberts was a child in Valparaiso, Indiana, his father left home every morning to work in the steel mills of northern Indiana. As a college student, he followed his father to work one summer and spent his vacation working in the mill. There he discovered a passion for being in the midst of the manufacturing process and understanding how it works. The experience was formative.

Robert’s interest in people and processes has helped him get where he is today, a senior vice president of manufacturing at Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, one of the top seven officers in a billion–dollar corporation.

Roberts brought a keen work ethic to Purdue when he enrolled in the School of Chemical Engineering. “When I went to Purdue, I was afraid, because I was an above–average high school student but not a standout,” he says. “I knew I’d better study, so I developed good study habits. I was good at using my time; I went to class, studied, and then had fun.” His determination paid off when he was elected president of the chemical engineering honor society, Omega Chi Epsilon. A member of Delta Chi fraternity, Roberts said his diversion of choice was playing lots of basketball.

By the time Roberts graduated from Purdue in 1976, he had decided that his future wasn’t in the laboratory–“it was more interesting to watch the process than to study equations on blackboards and theories,” he says. Having arrived at process engineering, he interviewed with six companies; the geography and weather of Los Angeles drew him to Chevron, where he started as a process engineer at the El Segundo refinery. He has remained with Chevron since, adding an MBA from Pepperdine University to his resume along the way.

“I learned quickly that financial analysis and understanding was an important part of running the business,” he says. “I liked the management end of it, as opposed to being a pure scientist.”

A Career on the Move

Roberts’ professional history is a study in dedication, partially illustrated by the dizzying number of moves he and his family—a wife and three children–have made as he has climbed the corporate ladder. “Moving enriches our lives and the lives of our children. They are much more tolerant and accepting of other people and other cultures,” he says. Daughter Sarah is a junior at Purdue.

In 25 years with Chevron, Roberts moved on average every two years—from California to Ohio to Pennsylvania, and from the Bahamas to Mississippi to Hawaii, and at last to the Houston area, where he is now staying put and has joined corporate management. Nevertheless, he travels frequently. His destinations may be a day trip to a plant in New Orleans or a weeklong voyage to the Middle East, where he provides functional oversight for chemical plants in Qatar and Saudi Arabia that are joint ventures. He also oversees operations in South Korea; Shanghai, China; and Singapore.

An Eye on the Safety of the Chemical Industry

As senior vice president of manufacturing, Roberts is in charge of process safety and personal safety, duties that draw on his skills in engineering and human relations that trace back to his experiences on the mill floor. “I am proudest in my work that every place that I have gone, I have had an excellent accomplishment of improving the safety of the industry,” Roberts says. As a manager, he describes a hands–off approach to the 10 U.S. plant managers he oversees and the international joint ventures.

“My style is to have a clear understanding with the people who work with me about what they’re trying to accomplish, and then I leave them alone,” he says.

Roberts’ days are filled with videoconferences with his international and domestic managers, executive board meetings, meetings with human relations about new hires, strategic planning, meetings to discuss shutdown procedures, and on and on. And that doesn’t include the time he spends on his external work on the board of directors of the Texas Chemical Council, a position he’s held for six years.

An enthusiastic spokesperson for his industry, Roberts says there is tremendous room for growth and continuing technological innovation. Through his work with Purdue’s School of Chemical Engineering industrial advisory committee, Roberts is able to keep his alma mater updated about industry trends and how to best serve its students. His latest advice? Economics. It’s more important than ever for engineering students to understand the business side of the field, he says. One more piece of advice–work hard, but learn to relax as well.

“I’m good at getting my work done,” Roberts says. “I don’t take work home with me at night. I don’t think about it. I don’t worry about it. I play golf and tennis. But when I’m at work, I’m serious as a heart attack about what I’m doing.”

2004 Outstanding Chemical Engineer, Purdue
2000– New Directions Advisory Council, School of Chemical Engineering, Purdue
2000– Capital Campaign Committee, School of Chemical Engineering, Purdue
2001– Senior Vice President, Manufacturing; Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.
2000– Board Member, Chairman of Outreach Committee; Texas Chemical Council
1999–2000 Plant Manager (Baytown, Texas), Chevron Corp.
1994–99 Plant Manager (Oahu, Hawaii), Chevron Corp.
1993–94 Planning Manager (San Francisco), Chevron Corp.
1991–93 Superintendent (Pascagoula, Mississippi), Chevron Corp.
1989–91 Vice President, Operations, Chevron Corp.
1976–89 Various positions with Chevron Corp., beginning with process engineer and ending with superintendent
BSChE ’76, Purdue University
MBA ’80, Pepperdine University