Industry view: Challenging the status quo
By Chris Docherty, director of FQM Ltd
We often think of the term “transferable skills” as meaning “soft skills”, the kind of life knowledge we gain not through, but alongside our specialist activities – those which are of additional value in the workplace.
But, for me, lessons learned on the job count too, and the definition I prefer is “abilities, aptitudes and qualities
developed in one context that can be applied in another”.
As someone who has consistently been “out of context” throughout their business career, this description resonates particularly well.
So far I’ve travelled to over 30 countries and worked in at least 20 of them, mostly at a senior engineering and management level.
In my current post as the director of FQM Ltd – an HSEQ consultancy and training company servicing the oil and gas sector – I am technically an interloper once more, having transferred from a career in electrical and electronic engineering.
Far from being a hindrance, being constantly in transit has actually been the key to my
performance, allowing me to apply methodologies learned earlier to my present role, delivering quality assurance, compliance and continual improvement. It has also given me great cross-cultural understanding that helps me address issues with a fresh eye from a number of perspectives.
My first contact with the philosophies around quality, and how to assess it, came as a quality and reliability trainee engineer with Motorola Semiconductors. I was studying for a bachelor of engineering part-time and encountered the Asian teachings of Kaizen on continuous improvement. Particular attention was paid to Taguchi, the statistical oriented methods of quality robustness,
quality loss function and controlling variation.
These factors applied not only to products but also to process and impacted a great deal on the business systems we are programmed to follow as human beings and employees.
This is where I became convinced of the measurability of quality and the role it plays in a business’s success.
It was during this time that I was sponsored to spend six months with the reliability research and development institute of Motorola Austin Texas, bringing back my experience to Scotland to take up a lead role developing wafer-level reliability technology – a first at that time in the UK.
A few years later I left Motorola and joined Samsung, after a period of travelling through Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and across Canada and the USA.
I didn’t realise it at the time but these travels, coupled with my earlier career, benefited me hugely in working in an international business; owned by Koreans, managed by Europeans, based in Germany and working on technical issues with clients across Europe. Every day was a cross-cultural experience and learning exercise.
I spent 10 years with Samsung based in Germany, Ireland and the UK, but with regular visits across Europe, China and South Korea.
I moved through the ranks from assistant manager to senior staff manager – one of the highest technical non- Koreans outside Asia.
It was during those many trips to Asia that I worked with highly experienced teams in six sigma, lean technology, FMEA, change management and supply chain risk management. That is when I grew to understand how a top-down methodology such as Deming’s total quality management can revolutionise performance.
If I had to select one area that has influenced how I operate today in the international oil and gas industry and has shaped my vision for how I wish FQM to go forward, it would have to be in this area, where simple practices – if properly embraced and lived throughout an organisation – can make the biggest difference to any process, service or product.
Job advertisements often cite a minimum requirement of “10 years experience in oil and gas”, which doubtlessly has its place.
But challenging the status quo and introducing fresh eyes, ears and thinking, not least with a variety of skill sets and personalities, can also be invaluable, particularly in HSEQ. Challenging engrained practices could save lives.