Our Industry Person of the Week is Cliff Williams; Principal Advisor-Asset Management, Maintenance, and Reliability.
Q: How did you get started working in your field?
Cliff: I started out as an apprentice in the British Steel industry at age 17 – not really from choice but because I didn’t get the marks I needed to go to the university I wanted to and so my father ‘suggested’ that I actually do something positive and take the apprenticeship – my Dad’s mantra was that a tradesman had a job for life. He was right about that as, even though I am about to leave full-time employment, I will continue to be involved in the world of Maintenance Reliability and Asset Management. The apprenticeship opened the doors to areas where my career was built. I was not a good tradesman with my hands but luckily my brain was wired to the troubleshooting, logical area that allowed me to at least earn a living. The one skill I had been blessed with from an early age was that of leadership and that was where my career was headed (and this allowed me to find what I quickly became passionate about)
Q: What do you love the most about your job? What are you most proud of?
Cliff: Even though I didn’t really get too excited about the machinery I was involved with, though some of it was very complex and did amazing things, I really got excited about the people I was involved with and building the relationships that would far outlast our working together. Trying to get a major piece of equipment back up and running after working on it for 16 or 17 hours is a great way to get to know people – you see their vulnerabilities and they see yours. To see the expressions on the faces of the guys when that major piece of equipment starts successfully is priceless – the rewards from seeing people succeed and thinking I played a part in their success were the things that made it not a job but a passion to do it again. Throughout my career I’ve taken most pleasure and pride in the fact that at every organization I worked, we became a team – we had different titles and different roles but we all supported each other and enjoyed the togetherness of people wanting to do the best they could and be appreciated for it. (As I mentioned, I realized from an early age I was able to lead and so that made it easier for me from the start but)
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering this line of work or new to the field?
Cliff: For those who are just starting out it may not be as clear or as simple as it was for me. The world of maintenance and reliability has changed dramatically since those early days of my apprenticeship and it continues to evolve even more rapidly. So my advice to the newcomers is to get a good understanding of what you are passionate about – is it the people, is it tearing down and rebuilding equipment, is it troubleshooting problems or do you want to be on the forefront of IIOT or AI, etc. Then the path should be that you build on that passion and gain as much knowledge and skills in that field as you can – we can’t be great at ALL things and so building on what we can be great at and feel passionate about is going to reap the greatest rewards – emotionally for certain and economically probably. If I had spent my time trying to get my hand skill levels up to the level of all of the other apprentices, I would have become frustrated, questioned my own self worth and quite honestly – failed! (I would not have been able to have enjoyed the adventures I did in the following years)
Q: Can you talk about one of the most exciting projects you worked on over the course of your career?
Cliff: The most exciting – and rewarding – of those adventures was when I joined the team about to build a new Paper Mill. Not just any Paper Mill but one that was not going to use trees to make newsprint but was going to use old paper to make newsprint! It was going to be the first 100% re-cycled newsprint mill in North America. Now it was really exciting until we found that we were experiencing the first types of problems in North America – we quickly got used to seeing ‘Revision 1’ on all of our drawings and realized we were boldly going where no man had gone before – without tazers or ‘beam me up Scotty’ options. We had to be flexible and persistent and find solutions and there was no-one to ask for help. At the beginning, it was extremely humbling but as we conquered the challenges and the mill started to deliver, not just newsprint but also money, it became exhilarating. (Now will I miss such excitement as I plan a kind of retirement?)
Q: Anything you are looking forward to in retirement?
Cliff: Well I’m going to miss the daily contact with my colleagues – for a while! Retirement might not be the correct term as I am going to continue and possibly expand on the consulting that I’ve been doing and the same with the teaching I do. I already have 4 conferences lined up to speak at and hopefully post Covid I will speak at my favorite conference in Melbourne Australia. My daughters want me to write a book about my life growing up in Wales as I always have stories to illustrate my points – maybe – or maybe I’ll do the sequel to People A Reliability Success story which is the story of our group building that paper mill and building all of the relationships I mentioned earlier. Of course, I’m also looking forward to joining many more online happy hours and meeting new friends!
THANK YOU, CLIFF! WE LOOK FORWARD TO KEEPING UP WITH YOU THROUGH THE #PUMPTALK COMMUNITY!
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