Refinery Rabbi

My bologna has a first name…

Trade Stories

Stories passed down in business create opportunity for new ideas and new opportunity as well as lessons in history.  Story telling is key to understanding context and it is an interwoven part of business.  It is so natural that business tends to over look the value of the story and the potential to benefit from stories. 

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented “sandwich,” the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.  (

In the blink of an eye a story can make something that you may know more interesting..  It can stir up thoughts and ideas to innovate and it can create opportunity for reuse.


What happens to one barrel of oil?

It gets cracked and heated, fracked, cooled, boiled, treated and dissolved.

There is opportunity and potential for “processing gains” The volumetric amount by which total output is greater than input for a given period of time. This difference is due to the processing of crude oil into products which, in total, have a lower specific gravity than the crude oil processed.  Which basically means you get more from less!

What else comes from this barrel? 

And my short story.

I traveled to a refinery and as I toured this massive plant of interwoven machinery, tubes, pipes and people,  I had questions that I never thought or considered in my life as I use my every day products.  The tour guide was an expert in her field with many years of experience in giving tours and working at the refinery.   As we passed by each area of production, she explained what the machines do and what products are produced including how some of them are used.

Did you know the natural color of rubber is white, and up until the early 1900′s tires were a pale, light color. Carbon started to be added around 1912 to add strength and durability, which is why all tires are now black.   This is why the Michelin Man is white! (

As we passed each area she had something interesting to tell and what was more compelling to me was that people who have worked in this industry for 20+ years learned things along the tour as well.   We learn from each other as well.   The tour would continue and we continued to learn more and more about each area of production.    In a short time of human history we have found almost magical ways to use a crude goo that comes from hidden crevices in our earth.   Whether we like it or not crude oil is in almost everything we touch and see on a daily basis.   This realization for me put new light on my use of everyday items and my understanding of our civilization and the world we live in.

Near the end of our tour as we stopped in front of giant evaporator we observed some machinery that looked like this .  Our tour guide asked if we knew where wax came from and how it was used.   She said “do you remember Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?”  The chocolate is running like a fluid river until wax is added.    More surprising is that this very same wax is on fruits and vegetables that we eat every day.   As she finished telling us about candles and fruits, chocolates and all of the things that wax is in and on, she paused and smiled and said that at the end of this process and after all the machines have finished boiling and baking, freezing and scraping; the wax goes before a Rabbi where it is blessed as Kosher and ready for the world to consume.   Who would have guess at Yeshiva (Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study.) that a Rabbi would venture out to work at an oil company!

Old or New KM

Stories have value and they can spark new thoughts, remind us of things we have forgotten or teach us about things we should know.   One of the reasons knowledge management is so valuable in an organization is that one of the objectives is to fundamentally keep stories alive.   Even if some are boring, which most are not, the stories are the foundation of an understand of the past and a vision for the future.


The knowledge flow can inspire and illicit new ideas on old concepts or new ideas for new concepts.