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More than a Gas Station:
BP Trading Simulation Heightens Interest

Students talk over the issues with BP's Mike Henry.When 24 College of Business students were asked what "BP" brought to mind, the immediate response for many was "gas station." Mike Henry, BP ethanol commercial optimization analyst, and Jason Johnson, BP product scheduler, both 2002 Business graduates with degrees in finance, hope to change that perception for the future.

“Hopefully, more people will think of BP as a major world class global trading organization in the energy markets,” said Henry.

As part of their national recruitment program, BP came to the U of I on September 20 to introduce some hand-selected University students to a new trade simulation program that mimicked what traders face on a daily basis. This simulation is based on BP’s own internal global trader assessment course used to assess potential trading candidates on their trading acumen. BP is a global energy business operating in more than 100 countires with more than 100,000 employees.

Teamwork made the challenge more fun.The two-hour event kicked off with a brief review of trading concepts and an introduction to the oil commodity market. Teams of two or three students were challenged to make the greatest trading profit within a one-hour time limit while controlling their position limits in the market. Students received new market intelligence during each of 12 trading periods. They had to quickly interpret market information, determine the direction of the market, and formulate the appropriate trading strategy. Each member of the team that ended up with the highest net gain won an iPod nano.

Henry and Johnson, who went around and answered students' questions about the trading program during the simulation, said they were impressed by what they saw. For Henry, it came as a surprise that so many students were looking at arbitrage opportunities, where they could make money at no cost.

"It's a huge part of our business," said Henry, regarding arbitrage opportunities. "You have to respond well to the news."

At times jumping up in excitement, yelling words of encouragement, or chastising their fellow team members for perceived negligence, students ended up showing real enthusiasm for the game.

BP's Mike Henry (l) and Jason Johnson (r).Johnson, who has worked for BP for four years, said the simulation mimicked what the office looks like everyday. "It's really faced-pace," he said. "(The simulation) gives you a good idea of what students can do at BP. You can use what you've learned."

For Michelle Kim, a junior in accounting, the task, although fun, put a lot of pressure on her.

"It was a big challenge," she said. "But I definitely learned something from it."

Jeff Cheng, another participant and one of the eventual winners in the simulation, agreed by saying that the game gave students a quick glance at what their potential job could consist of in the trading world. He felt that the exercise should come back to campus in the future. "It's something U of I doesn't offer in any class," Cheng said.

This is the first year that BP and the University have worked together to bring this opportunity to students. Lamont Wong, lead of BP recruitment coordination at the University of Illinois, noted that the simulation exercise, which is part of the company's new recruitment strategy,"bridges the gap between learning concepts in the classroom and real-world application."

BP Integrated Supply & Trading recruits candidates interested in the energy trading industry to the “Challenge Program,” a formal three-year, three-job rotational program that has been successful in developing front-line trading talent and well-rounded graduates for BP.

"We want to become the preferred employer on campus," said Wong regarding the job students look for. "The trading simulation demonstrates our dedication and commitement to Illinois and the students. This is exactly how we wanted it to be."

--Lauren Eichmann
September 2005