WHAT CAREER MILESTONES ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF
I feel proud of completing projects in very adverse circumstances. The most challenging project I managed was in Mexico in the year 2000. A very demanding client, scarce skills and an unqualified work force, non-performing subcontractors going bankrupt, permits challenged by the local community; it took all the skills of the project team to get the job done. Ultimately we delivered a very good plant.
I am also very proud to have set up a project delivery unit at Essent in the Netherlands. Essent is a utility which had lost its project management ability since its last power plant construction 20 years earlier. In a short period, we hired the necessary resources, coached them, put in place the right procedures and placed the orders to build new assets. It proved, after delivery of the project, that investing in people and robust work processes was a key success factor.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
Both Medupi and Kusile are extremely complex projects.
The first challenge is our productivity. We are in competition with other subcontractors, to which our customer can reallocate work when not satisfied with our performance. We have already experienced it in the past, and it is our priority to avoid this in the future. I am happy about the current positive trend, which is to be strengthened.
The second main challenge is industrial relations. At Medupi, we faced a long period of unrest and strikes. After closure of the disciplinary procedures and remobilisation, we are giving a new impulse to the social dialogue on site. Therefore, we have to engage with all our stakeholders, in particular the trade unions. Our aim is to contribute to sound collaboration with the unions, improve the work moral and ultimately accelerate the delivery of the plant within the budgetary constraints.
The last challenge is to ramp up our production capacity to meet the new and ambitious completion targets set by Eskom and our client MHPSA.
WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT THE FUTURE IN YOUR INDUSTRY?
The sky is the limit. The need for power is still increasing, infrastructure is lagging in South Africa, as well as in neighbouring countries.
Technologies are evolving, and the regulatory framework and the contractual mechanism even faster. Moreover new players appear in the market continuously, be it equipment suppliers, power producers, or financial institutions. Consequently nothing can be taken for granted, and we need to be alert and open to new types of
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF THE OFFICE?
My interests outside of the office are broad. I like travelling and discovering new countries and cultures. I am particularly interested in recent history to understand people. Nothing relaxes me more than long hikes in nature. Furthermore, I like to go out and enjoy a good meal and some drinks with friends or colleagues. Since my arrival in South Africa last July, I can confirm that all those interests are fulfilled.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED?
Every problem has its solution. This advice came from the site manager at the Eemshaven Combined Cycle project in the Netherlands, a huge and complex project of 5 units, where I was a young commissioning engineer more than 20 years ago. When you face complex issues, take the time to analyse all its aspects, work out possible solutions, test them out with your stakeholders, and ensure the commitment of your colleagues. But above all, remain optimistic, and communicate your confidence and resolution around you.
WHAT WOULD PEOPLE BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I think if I hadn’t chosen an engineering career path, I would have liked to be a blues singer or a rock star, to liberate my energy and be connected with others.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?
My first job was commissioning engineer on a power plant project in Pakistan. Producing the first megawatts in such a different context was quite a step away from the university classes I just completed. It confirmed however my fascination for complex projects in challenging environments, which I still have as of today.