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Shell cracker project gets new executive leadership

Posted Nov 6, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Hilary Mercer, a native of Manchester, England who has spent the last 30 years working for Royal Dutch Shell in a variety of roles, has assumed the role of vice president for the local Shell project. She replaced Ate Visser, who had served as vice president of the project since 2014.

In that capacity, she will oversee all aspects of the project, from construction of the plant and safety issues to production and customer relations.

For Mercer, it’s the latest stop in a career that’s taken her to places like South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Oman and the Netherlands.

The Beaver County project is a $6 billion investment by the company, but working on gigantic projects isn’t anything new for Mercer.

Before coming to lead the local cracker project, Mercer worked in South Korea overseeing the construction of the largest floating structure ever built. Called the Prelude, the multibillion-dollar project involved liquefying natural gas on an offshore platform.

The scope of the $6 billion cracker project is one of the aspects that drew Mercer to the area.

“I build big projects,” she said during an interview Monday. “I’ve always been attracted to that.”

But building the cracker plant wasn’t the only thing that enticed Mercer to come here. Instead, she is excited that Royal Dutch Shell is reinvesting into the polyethylene market, and it will be her responsibility to help build a new business around the new cracker plant.

“We’re not just building the physical plant, but a new business entity which is also exciting,” she said. “We have to build the commercial side of the business with a customer base and branding.”

Although main works construction is slated to start in a matter of weeks, it’s Mercer’s job to think long-term.

She will be in charge of the 6,000 construction workers and 600 permanent employees once the plant is up and running, but she’s also in charge of every other aspect of the project, including things like information technology, customer service and plant safety.

“Although it will be a few years before we start moving products, we need to make sure we’re doing the right things now in terms of recruiting people and training them to work safely and efficiently,” she said. “It’s important to think about things in the immediate future, but also longer-term.”

Mercer, who is married, is already living in the area, having moved to Sewickley earlier this year. She’s already attended sporting events in Pittsburgh and is becoming acclimated to living not just in western Pennsylvania, but America as a whole.

“In some ways, it’s a lot easier because we speak the same language,” she said. “Having lived in Russia or Korea, it’s more difficult because of the language barrier.”

Mercer has spent plenty of time in other parts of America, mostly in Houston where Shell’s American operations are based. She was accustomed to seeing gigantic cities like Houston and Dallas spread far apart from each other, without much in the middle.

But when it comes to western Pennsylvania, a place Mercer said she had never visited before, she is stunned by the fall colors and the rolling countryside.

Mercer also said it’s been easier to live here because western Pennsylvania reminds her a lot of her home in Manchester.

“This part of America strikes me as a lot closer to what I’m used to,” she said. “Industrial and older, but newly revitalized. Pittsburgh is the same way as Manchester in that regard and to me it’s quite familiar. It’s been quite an easy experience.”

She also said the people here have truly made a difference.

“The people I’ve met so far are just amazingly friendly,” she said. “Everywhere I go, whether it’s Sewickley or Beaver or Pittsburgh, people are supportive. I’ve had nothing but great courtesy and a very warm welcome to the area.

According to her resume, Mercer graduated from the University of Oxford with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1987. She also can speak or write English, French, German and Dutch.

A few of her hobbies include cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horse riding and scuba diving.


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