If BP were a city, it would be more populous than Evanston, Cicero or Arlington Heights.
The global energy concern, with $375 billion in sales last year, employs about 85,000 people worldwide. About 5,000 work in the Chicago area, including 2,248 in Naperville and Warrenville, 825 at 30 S. Wacker Drive and 1,900 at its Whiting refinery.
Fifteen years after British Petroleum bought Amoco and sold off the iconic downtown skyscraper that is now called the Aon Center, after countless job cuts or relocations and a regional headquarters move to Houston, there still exists an inescapable bigness in the company's operations here — and a seriousness about the work at hand.
Visitors to the sprawling BP corporate campus in Naperville drive through a guarded checkpoint. Inside the main building, a mandatory eight-minute corporate video explains safety and evacuation procedures.
With research and development still a major thrust here, there are active laboratories and a small-scale refinery used for testing. Energy trading operations, marketing, administrative, supply chain and pipeline functions are performed here or downtown. The company's BP Pipelines unit is headquartered in Naperville, operating 4,200 miles of pipelines across the country.
Throughout the building are photos of employees with corporate messaging about values, such as speaking up if you feel something is wrong, a campaign put in place after the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
On her desk in Naperville, Susan Kolbush, an engineer by training and now executive assistant to the chief operating officer at the Whiting refinery, keeps a photo of a refinery accident from early in her career as a stark reminder about the importance of the safety measures she works with daily.
"It's a big responsibility," she said of her job. "A lot can go wrong, and you don't ever want to get complacent."
To be sure, there is a lighter side. Employees tethered to exercise-tracking Fitbit devices, walk the 150-acre campus, which includes trails lined with prairie grasses, earning discounts off their health insurance premiums. An employee cafeteria offers Starbucks coffee, smoothies and fresh seafood.
BP ranked No. 7 among large employers in the Tribune's annual survey of the best Chicago-area workplaces, conducted by Workplace Dynamics, an Exton, Pa.-based consulting firm. BP was also singled out for its approach to work/life balance, including flexible scheduling and work-from-home arrangements.
Domestic partner benefits? Got 'em. Retiree health? Tuition reimbursement? Check and check. Dollar-for-dollar 401(k) match up to 7 percent of pay? Ring it up.
The career potential that comes with working for a multinational corporation, coupled with amenities like flexible work, sold Juleah Szopo, a commercial business management analyst in the downtown office.
"What really stuck out was their agenda for developing your career path," said Szopo, who started in 2011 after graduating from the University of Michigan. She's completing a three-year development program in risk analysis, finance and strategy.
Beth Polito, director of credit card marketing and operations in the company's downtown offices, started with the company 15 years ago, managing a gas station in Cleveland.
Polito, a mother of three, enjoys the flexible work schedule, which allows her to work one day a week from her Oswego home (about a 90-minute commute by train, she said).
"Flexibility is absolutely key for me because it's quite a long commute. When I first joined the company, I was looking for a job I could make a career out of," and that happened, she said, praising the company's focus on career development even for workers who take advantage of work-life benefits such as flextime. "I'm trusted to do my job."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun