How I got where I am today: Derek Cook

Derek Cook,  53, managing director of Semco Maritime Ltd discusses his career path and the importance of leading by example
What did you want to be when you were young?
Once I realised the professional footballer dream was just that, I wanted to be a teacher. Fortunately I’ve been able to nurture this instinct, to a certain extent, via my involvement in our training and development programmes for school leavers and graduates.

What are the main career stepping stones you have taken?
I was always been interested in science and physics at school and enjoyed building things. On leaving school I took up a traineeship as an electrical design engineer with Irvine Switch & Control Panels, which later became part of Bauteil. While working for Bauteil, I was headhunted by Capelrig (18 months after I made an unsuccessful job application to them!)

I joined Capelrig in 1985 as an electrical and instrumentation (E&I) project engineer, becoming a director and shareholder of the company in 1989. Shortly afterwards, I was involved in a management buy-out exercise and remained with Capelrig as operations director prior to the company’s acquisition by Semco Maritime in March 2012.

Derek Cook

Who’s been your greatest influence?
I’ve been fortunate to work alongside some great people in our company for over 30 years now – and I have learned from them all. My fellow directors at Capelrig, in particular, helped me to get to where I am today. I also felt that I became a better manager after attending a year-long management training course in the late 90s entitled ‘The Bullet Proof Manager’. It was delivered by a trainer called Callum Meikle and the course inspired me to pursue and complete my master’s degree in business administration (MBA). That learning has been priceless.

Best achievement so far?
Becoming a business owner after taking part in a management buy-out was very satisfying. My greatest satisfaction, however, comes from providing dozens of people with career opportunities over the past 35 years. I’m delighted that many of them have gone on to hold senior roles across the oil and gas industry worldwide.
What do you want to achieve in the rest of your career?
Hopefully, I still have quite a few years to go in my present role. If I can continue to run a robust and successful business that will thrive in the future, I will be very happy. Being involved in new business start-ups is always an enticing prospect though.
Is the “career for life” a thing of the past?   
I guess outside of the public services the opportunities for doing this have greatly diminished. Staying in one company – or even one industry sector – for all of your career has many advantages. I have spent over 30 years in the same business within the oil and gas sector and have found it to be an extremely stimulating environment in which to develop my career. One potential downside is that you miss out on the chance to learn from a broader spectrum of people and practices.

What has motivated you?
Success. Not just my own but that of everyone around me at Semco Maritime. Together we have a responsibility to maintain and build on the strong reputation we have established over the last 35 years. That responsibility is considerable and should never be underestimated.

What’s the best way to motivate others?
I think that the importance of leadership in the working environment is not sufficiently recognised. I have a sign on my wall, which is part of Semco Maritime’s guiding principles for management: ‘Be Visible Every Day’. I wholeheartedly subscribe to this and try to get round the whole of the building every day to talk to my colleagues, who design, build and test a wide range of control and automation systems for our clients. This face-to-face communication is invaluable. Leading by example is certainly not the whole answer but it’s a great start.
What’s your best career advice?
Above all, find a career that you enjoy. You are going to spend a lot of hours, indeed years, working. Don’t waste those years doing something that you don’t like.

Is there any day in your career you would like to live again?
In terms of great days that I would like to relive, the day of my MBA graduation was a very rewarding culmination of many hours of hard work and study.

As for days that I might like to improve, although there have been a few setbacks, I wouldn’t change anything. I suppose you don’t learn to sail the ship without navigating a few storms.

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