In 2017, the 20-foot floor-to-ceiling basement of BP’s Westlake 1 building at its Houston campus headquarters was entirely underwater. The damage wasn’t confined to the basement, as the main level also took on a couple feet of water after Hurricane Harvey’s Category 4 downfall (the hurricane also caused damages of $125 billion across Texas and Louisiana).
“Westlake 1 is our main tower, and so our infrastructure, our switch gears, our pumps; everything that operated that building was submerged [by] more than 20 feet of water,” remembers Bart Henderson, BP’s regional head of real estate projects for the western hemisphere. The pain in his voice is well-tempered with a humor that is indicative of a man who has seen just about everything. “Our main building and America’s headquarters was inoperable,” he says, “so we had a little bit of work to do.”
Advance Planning Pays Off
While the flood was categorically a worst-case scenario, Henderson says there were several factors leading up to the hurricane downfall that put BP in a much more favorable position to tackle relocating an entire building offsite while, according to Henderson, “not missing a beat.”
The massive dip in oil prices in the mid-2010s can actually take some of the credit for BP’s ability to bounce back. A huge campus expansion plan was put on hold as oil prices tanked from nearly $120 a barrel to as low as $10. Henderson had been selected to facilitate the expansion in a contractor management/program manager role, but when the expansion was put on hold, BP reorganized its vision and plans.
“I was asked to create another department called the Integrated Project Services Group,” Henderson says. “The idea would be that we could expand and contract depending on the business needs. It turned out to be an incredibly efficient team and put us in a tremendous situation going into the hurricane.”
The goal was to get people back into the building as soon as possible, but BP wasn’t willing to take a single shortcut. They wanted to ensure that the building wouldn’t just be safe, but better than it was before. After the water that had been sitting stagnant for two weeks was removed, Henderson’s team went into action.
“I’m proud that we went above and beyond,” Henderson says. “If the city said we needed to cut out 8 feet of drywall, we cut out 12. We absolutely gutted everything, down to and including the wiring. The building was a shell after remediation and we went through it with a fine-tooth comb.”
Competing at a Higher Level
Henderson says BP put itself in an ideal situation when considering how to rebuild the main lobby. While the real estate head and company visited local Energy Corridor competition like ConocoPhillips and Shell, Henderson offered another perspective.
“When we think about the college kids we’re hiring, we hear them say they want to work at a tech company like Facebook or Apple,” Henderson explains. “Instead of working from our peers’ perspective, why not work from a tech perspective?”
Henderson was sent on a fact-finding mission that involved visiting the campuses of cutting-edge tech companies to see what design elements, best practices, and behind-the-scenes magic could be borrowed from leading names in the industry.
“Both Dell and Microsoft were tremendous players in our modernization efforts,” Henderson says. “Dell not only shared their best practices with us, but they actually sent us some resources that were part of their own real estate team to come and brainstorm with us.
“And Microsoft, they just showed us the world,” he continues. “We thought we had seen the Taj Mahal of modernization by going to the Exxon Mobil campus, but Microsoft was on a different level.”
Microsoft would also be instrumental in helping develop BP’s building automation system as well as a digital twin project that is currently ongoing.
While building a new lobby that Henderson says has shocked employees of 20-plus years, his team also piloted a more open space design program on Westlake 1’s 16th and 17th floors, incorporating a staircase between floors and creating more collaborative space.
Adaptation as an Attribute
The parallel projects may seem like a herculean task, but a closer look at Henderson’s past reveals how adaptation is an integral part of what makes the leader so strong. The real estate head worked for Eastman Chemical as a general laborer early in his career to help provide for his two infant sons.
Henderson not only achieved his journeyman mechanic certification, which allowed him to rise in the organization, but he also completed his associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. At just 26, he was put in charge of highly complex turnaround projects, a job typically left to seasoned and veteran leaders. “I was told I was the youngest turnaround manager in the hemisphere,” he says, laughing.
It’s no surprise to Henderson’s partners that he was given such an opportunity early on. “i.e. Smart Systems is grateful for every opportunity to partner with Bart Henderson and BP. Bart brings the absolute best out of every project team he leads, driving them to perform at their highest potential,” says Nick Colvin, the company’s chief executive officer. “Bart is the truest example of a follower-focused leader who leads every engagement with empathy and collaboration.”
At BP, Henderson has transitioned into 4 roles throughout various business segments over 10 years and as the firm continues to expand its push into renewable and alternative energy, Henderson’s capacity for evolution is the perfect match for BP’s changing vision of what it means to be an energy company.
“I tell younger folks that you just have to keep your mind open, and opportunities will come your way,” Henderson says. “Just don’t fear opportunities and continue to position yourself in ways that will make you ready for them when they present themselves.”
i.e. Smart Systems congratulates Bart Henderson and BP on this well-deserved recognition in American Builders Quarterly. Since 2000, i.e. Smart Systems has been defining and elevating the standards of integrated technology solutions across A/V, cabling, and security. Our deep experience in technology services and knowledge of commercial construction allows us to deliver comprehensive solutions that make the most sense for our customers and their entire infrastructure. By listening closely to our clients, we work hard to come in under budget and on schedule—all while delivering a scalable, future proof solution. Learn more at iesmartsystems.com.
Toney Construction would like to take a moment to thank Bart Henderson for his years of friendship and mentorship at BP. Bart has inspired the Toney Construction team to truly embrace the “one team” mentality and incorporate it within Toney Construction’s core values. Under Bart’s leadership, Toney Construction has partnered with BP and successfully completed projects ranging from multiple full floor restacks, disaster relief efforts, and years of continuous facility maintenance. It’s because of mentors like Bart that Toney Construction now works with over 25 Fortune 500 companies. We sincerely thank Bart for his years of dedication and guidance.