Andy Oliver is a fully qualified chemical engineer at Air Products, one of the world’s leading providers of industrial gases and chemicals. Here he talks about the challenge of leading a global team of engineers and shaping the business for success.
Why did you choose to get into engineering?
I’ve always had a strong interest in science and understanding how things in the world around us work. Initially, I was thinking of a career in mechanical engineering – that was all I knew about – but I attended an Open Day at Imperial College which introduced me to chemical engineering and I immediately knew what I wanted to do.
Engineering is all about problem solving and you are involved in helping to develop solutions and bring about changes that can ultimately, improve the way people live. Not many jobs can claim to achieve that.
What does Air Products do and why is it a good place to work?
Air Products is a leading global industrial gases and chemicals business that is helping to meet the needs of a wide range of process industries. More than just suppliers of gases, chemicals and other performance materials, the business has a rich knowledge base and a depth of technical expertise that enables us to work with our industrial partners to develop solutions for some of the world’s biggest challenges.
The wide range of work we get involved with is a massive opportunity for the aspiring engineer.
The company’s Career Development Programme provides a structured path to start your career which can lead to many different job opportunities. I often say that it’s like I’ve had a number of different careers all at the same company
What does your role involve?
As Global Design Manager, I manage a team of about 200 engineers located in our Engineering Centres around the world. I see my role as doing everything I can to help them to do their jobs effectively. This means making sure we have the right people in the right place with the right skills to do the work.
The role also involves looking forward to the way the business is changing and making sure we’re ready for that. I’m a great believer in talking with people face to face, so a lot of my time is spent visiting our Engineering Centres sites and meeting the people who make our design projects a reality.
What is the most exciting project you have been involved with so far?
I have done so many great things at Air Products. For me the opportunity to be involved in and drive change is the most exciting. For example, building design capability in India and China as part of the company’s move to strengthen its presence in the Far East and position itself closer to some of the rising economies.
At the same time we have a wealth a tremendously experienced and talented people in America and Europe who are a key part of the overall picture. That is quite a challenge!
What is a typical day like for you?
If I’m in the European office, my day starts with a short drive into the office and I consider this valuable thinking time, when I look forward to the day ahead and consider where I would like to be by the end of it.
My typical day is focused on talking to people individually and in meetings. As well as people in the office, it could be China or India in the morning, US in the afternoon. I could be discussing technical issues, talking to people about their work or careers, going over the status of our many projects or reviewing potential business.
Investing time with my team and understanding their needs means I can make sure they are giving their best and I can decide how to use our design engineering resources to best effect now and in the future. I also enjoy seeing other people develop their careers and try to give them the same opportunities I’ve had.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I work with fabulous people from around the world, with a really rich,diverse set of experiences. Everyone brings a unique perspective which comes together to achieve some pretty amazing things. We have some really talented people and it’s a real pleasure to work with them.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
By far the most challenging thing, in my current management role, is managing a balance between our performance now, ensuring that we are delivering the most cost effective technical solutions for our projects whilst at the same time changing and preparing us for business in the future. Ultimately it’s all about having the right people with the right skills in the right place.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m involved with many different projects and opportunities around the world. Some are existing technologies, some are new. Finding new ways to generate energy efficiency and protect the environment is becoming a compelling problem for society and for engineers everywhere.
At Air Products we’re working on many technologies that can help, for example new energy solutions that make use of waste products or solutions that will help to progress the way to the hydrogen economy.
I’m also working on a number of initiatives to improve the competitiveness of our designs and looking for ways to develop the people we have as well as attract new talent.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
Have a positive outlook. It’s not always easy being an engineer, your job often requires you to challenge the way things are done and you need tenacity to change things for the better. Staying positive is helpful because it helps you to stay focused on the benefits that change will bring and makes it easier for others to share your vision.
What does the future hold for you?
There is still much to do in my current role – to maintain and grow our talent pool and to implement ways of working that will enable the business to operate even more successfully in the future. I want all our design engineers to feel like they are part of a winning team.
What words of advice would you have for a young person considering a career in engineering?
Don’t be put off by thinking that a career in engineering is boring or technical – it can be as broad or as specialist as you make it. Engineering makes a difference. If you wake up in the morning switch the light on or turn the tap on and wonder “how did that happen”, then a career in engineering could be just the thing for you.
- Gained degree in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College, London and was introduced to Air Products while still an undergraduate as part of the company’s sponsored student programme.
- Joined Air Products in 1980 on their graduate training scheme and was initially involved in the design and roll out of a programme to add computer control to the company’s plants in Europe and the Middle East.
- Through a number of roles he was involved in the design of a series of new industrial gas plants, which were commissioned by the company during the early 1990s
- Andy also gained experience working as part of the company’s IT Group and then returned to engineering in the Cryogenic Systems Design Group, where he was involved in managed specialist engineering design activities on a number of projects.
- As Global Design Manager, Andy manages a team of around 200 engineers and oversees the engineering and detail design of the company’s operational sites worldwide.