Business School Sample Essay

Essay 3

University of Michigan: Accepted

   My most significant professional achievement was the successful startup of a petrochemical plant in Spain. I was the chief process engineer leading a team of three engineers from Raytheon. Ertisa was the Spanish client. The plant was an existing cumene plant that had been redesigned for increased capacity and to use Raytheon's new cumene technology. This was a $15 million project.

   As the chief process engineer I was to ensure the successful startup of the plant. I had to get my startup team and Ertisa's team around the same table so that they would work in the same direction, using the same language. This required a good deal of diplomacy. The responsibility of ensuring a successful startup was entirely mine. The time-line for a startup is extremely tight. Keeping a startup on schedule is the most stressful aspect of the job. A delay of one day translates to a production loss worth thousands of dollars.

   I was nervous because this was my first supervisory role for an extremely important and high profiled project. The startup was high profiled, as it was only the second plant in the world that had been designed to use Raytheon's new zeolite cumene technology. My problem solving and diplomacy skills as a supervisor were soon put to test during the early stages of the startup. I was informed by Ertisa that the circulation fluid that was being used to dry the catalyst was taking too long to heat. My startup team and I looked into the problem and found out that a heat exchanger used to heat the circulation fluid was incorrectly sized. The heat exchanger was far too small for the service. Based on the existing exchanger, it would take the catalyst three additional days to dry. I had two options, to begin pointing fingers at people who designed this heat exchanger or to come up with a workaround for this problem. I opted for the later. I started out by communicating the problem to my supervisors in America. Then I sat down with my startup team and discussed ways that we could come up with a workaround. I could not tell Ertisa the truth at this point because I didn't want Ertisa to lose confidence in Raytheon's engineering ability. Both Raytheon's and my startup team's credibility was at stake. Switching to relatively new, untested technology is always a risky proposition. This unit was a major contributor to refinery profitability for Ertisa. I would ultimately tell Ertisa the real cause of the problem, but needed to buy some time while we looked for workarounds. Within six hours of finding out the heat exchanger problem, my group came up with a workaround. We recommended using another exchanger from the plant that was not being used during the initial catalyst dryout stage. Ertisa was concerned when I broke the news to them. After hesitantly implementing the workaround, successfully drying the catalyst and avoiding a major delay, Ertisa was happy. From thereon there were no significant surprises.

   Six weeks later when Ertisa finally accepted the plants performance guarantees, I knew I had accomplished something. I was successful in effectively communicating with multiple people in a hostile client environment, leading under tense circumstances, making aggressive decisions, and in making things happen. I also learned to see the problems I was solving in the context of the entire chemical plant rather than as isolated problems. Most importantly, I learned to delegate and manage my time effectively.


This writer is fortunate to have had a unique and notable achievement to highlight. But although the experience was undeniably exciting, he or she needs to work harder conveying something of this excitement to the general reader, most obviously by making the experience more digestible to readers who do not necessarily know about or want to get into the details of a heat exchanger in a petrochemical plant. There is an overabundance of technical details in this essay, particularly in the long, dense third paragraph, which should be divided and restructured.

Given the rather momentous nature of the applicant's accomplishment, it would be possible to create a more compelling narrative. From the first sentence of the essay, the reader begins to lose interest, due to the weak, automatic reiteration of the essay question. The writer's startup of a plant required resourcefulness and creativity — and these qualities would also, ideally, be reflected in the way he or she decided to tell about the experience.