One of our largest clients, Marathon Petroleum, was recently ranked Best Employer in America by Forbes Magazine. The list was compiled by Forbes by asking more than 30,000 U.S. workers employed by companies with more than 5,000 staff to 1) rank from zero to 10 how likely they were to recommend their employer to someone else and 2) rank how they felt about other employers in their industry.

The list included 500 employers from 25 different industries. Marathon Petroleum, headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, employs more than 45,000 people in the U.S. One of the key features to Marathon’s success was a significant turnaround of a Texas refinery that was plagued by an abysmal safety record and disgruntled union.

As Forbes details in their feature story on Marathon, the Texas refinery had a tragic past involving numerous disasters that killed and injured employees. Federal investigators cited a broken safety culture as the cause, where managers had a “check the box” mentality and were more “worried about seat belts” than outright catastrophes.

Marathon’s CEO Gary Heminger said, “We’ve taken our culture into that refinery. We’re going to operate it with the best safety and environmental skills available.” With a heavily unionized workforce, this was no easy task. However on the first day Marathon took ownership of the refinery, all of the plant’s workers were put through personal responsibility training, putting each and every employee in the mindset that they are collectively responsible for the safety of the organization. Managers were given more responsibility to make safety-related decisions without having to go to a higher level first.

“We collaborate; we do not compete,” said Connie Bradley, a refinery manager at Marathon. One of the key outcomes is that rather than profitability, the metrics for employee performance include safety and mechanical availability. “This leads you to a culture of preventative maintenance and of really looking after your assets,” said Heminger.

Lastly, ’employee grooming’ is a policy that Heminger works to maintain at Marathon. Employees aren’t pigeonholed into one position or another; rather, employees are given the opportunity to learn new skills and be put into positions where they may excel at better than their previous position. When an employee goes on vacation, “we will bring someone in from another plant to take a look at their job,” said Bradley. “The intent is to give them the opportunity to look at something different.”

Marathon Petroleum’s strategy of fostering a more effective culture of safety and responsibility was vital to the successful re-management of an catastrophe-ridden Texas refinery. It probably goes without saying that the single most important factor in making a strategy like this work is the quality of the people themselves.

Since 2005, Stang Decision Systems has been working closely with Marathon to help them hire and develop thousands of employees throughout North America, including: all operators and maintenance personnel at all refineries; all pipelines and TT&R non-salaried employees; all marine ops and maintenance employees; and various specialized roles including security, warehouse, lab techs, and sign makers.

We would like to congratulate Marathon Petroleum on being named Forbes’ Best Employer for 2015, and we look forward to being a part of their success in the coming years.