NATIONAL ENGINEERS WEEK
“CONNECTING THE WORLD TO ENGINEERING” TELECONFERENCE
FEBRUARY 24, 2004
Opening Remarks by Alan L. Boeckmann
Chairman and CEO, Fluor Corporation
2004 Honorary Chair, National Engineers Week
It’s a pleasure to join you today and participate in this first teleconference of “Connecting the World to Engineering” for Engineers Week. I’m excited to serve as co-chair of this important commemoration. Over the past century, engineers have made great contributions to society, and every day I feel privileged to be involved in this meaningful profession.
I always enjoy talking to college students and am particularly happy today to be talking to such a diverse group, with students representing Canada, South Africa, Europe and the U.S. on the line with us.
I’m a father of four, and two of my children are studying to become engineers themselves at Purdue University in Indiana. I often try to impart advice and share my experiences and lessons learned with them. Unfortunately, I find that because I’m their father, they don’t seem to take my advice as seriously as what their friends tell them. Oh well, I guess that’s every parent’s challenge. I hope you as a group are more receptive to the guidance I’ll share today and use it to advance your careers in engineering.
Before I get into passing on some of that “fatherly advice” to you, I think it’s appropriate to share my background and experiences:
I attended University of Arizona’s College of Engineering.
Financial problems forced me to drop out for a period of time. I worked as an electricians helper and telephone installer.
One day, when hanging from telephone pole in 100-degree heat, I knew I had to find a way to go back to college, and I did.
When graduating from U of A with my degree in electrical engineering, I was unsure about whether I should pursue a career in the utility or the engineering & construction industry. Ultimately, I chose E&C.
My first job after college was with Fluor, the company I now lead. However, joining Fluor was not something I had considered seriously. In fact, my roommate had to talk me into doing an interview. Instead, I was interested in Bechtel, one of Fluor’s biggest competitors.
When it came time for an interview with Fluor, I was more excited about taking a trip to Southern California than I was in the interview itself. However, once I met with the Fluor team, I was immediately impressed by the company. While they offered me less money than Bechtel had, I was assured of significantly more opportunities to learn, travel and grow my career. So, in the end, the decision to join Fluor was easy.
When I was first on the job, I put in long hours, six days a week; it was a very busy time.
My first project experience was on Exxon’s Baytown fuels expansion job in Texas. After spending two years in an office doing engineering for the project, I moved to the project site to oversee construction. This was a great learning experience. I was able to witness a project from conception to completion.
While I was working at that project, I spent time working closely with another contractor that was responsible for construction – Brown & Root, which is now a part of Halliburton. After that project assignment ended, it was a slow time at Fluor and I decided to leave Fluor to join Brown & Root. While it was a good company to be employed by for two years, it just wasn’t as rewarding an experience as my time with Fluor.
So, I returned to Fluor and never looked back.
Two years after returning, I was sent on assignment to South Africa to work on the SASOL synfuels project. Back in 1975 when the SASOL award came in, our contract value was $1 billion. With inflation, today that value would represent $3.5 billion. The project represented a massive undertaking for South Africa to achieve independence from foreign energy sources. Additionally, we trained more than 20,000 South Africans to become welders, electricians and pipefitters – skills they very likely would never have developed otherwise.
After SASOL, I moved on to Venezuela for a six-month assignment at the Lagoven flexicoker project. It too was a great project, and it was my last field assignment. After that, I moved into Fluor’s sales and business management development programs.
I worked as a sales coordinator and later was given an opportunity to lead Fluor’s Electrical & Control Systems Engineering department. During that time, I also worked with others to initiate our company’s use of 3-D plant design, enabling more effective work sharing between our offices in Europe, Canada and the U.S.
As the years passed, I led Fluor’s global engineering function, then its alliance with DuPont and later the company’s Chemicals, Plastics & Fibers operating company. Hard work and luck had it that I continued to progress, next leading Fluor Daniel’s Energy & Chemicals group, then becoming president and CEO of Fluor Daniel.
In 2001, I was appointed president and chief operating officer of Fluor Corporation and, two years ago, the Board named me chairman and CEO of our $9 billion company. What an honor that is, and I am proud everyday to represent the contributions our 30,000 employees are making on our clients’ project around the world.
During my 30 years with Fluor, I’ve lived in California, Texas, and South Carolina, as well as in South Africa and Venezuela, as I previously mentioned.
Now, with that as my background, I have to admit that I didn’t envision that I would grow up to become a president or a CEO, but as time went on, my goals to become a technical expert or project manager changed. I remained open to new opportunities. That’s my first piece of advice for you: When you graduate, don’t put conditions on your career possibilities. Don’t limit yourself to any one option because it’s the undiscovered opportunities that often times have the greatest benefits.
So, as you go out into the world with your new degree, you will find there are many paths to success that lead away from where you are today. All will have a similar starting line, but success – as you eventually define it – will come in many different ways.
You will all begin by gaining technical experience in one of many industries. Mine happened to be the engineering and construction industry for capital projects, but there are many from which you can choose, according to your interests and the opportunities available. Regardless of which you choose, you will all begin by building a technical resume of some kind.
In the course of building that early technical resume, you will observe around you, and probably be deeply immersed in, a variety of skill sets and experienced people who contribute to developing a final product or design. You will get to know and work with engineers who became sales people; engineers who became managers of other engineers and have separated themselves somewhat from the purely technical side of the business; engineers who run projects and must learn a variety of engineering disciplines; and engineers who run the business. Regardless of which of these paths is chosen, in engineering and the business world, developing and being able to harness your curiosity, your imaginative side and your ability to creatively solve problems will be valuable skills.
At one point in your career – now having at your disposal some experience in industry – you will find yourself making a decision. This decision will shape your life, but you probably won’t make it in one conscious effort. It will be a decision of opportunity, interest and, in part, invitation. One day you will decide whether to travel down a supervisory, managerial path or remain in a technical position to define your own successful career. That decision point is presented to everyone, regardless of generation.
However, the basis for making that decision changes from generation to generation, and yours will be based on something different than mine. The basis of your decision will not come from local, domestic influences but, instead, from global ones. The global integration of our systems and technologies is bringing the world’s technical communities together.
It wasn't too many years ago that the software programs used by engineers were all standalone and really just served to computerize the work their predecessors did manually. Today, however, software systems are being integrated with one another so that information found in one program can be used for a different purpose by another.
For instance on a typical engineering and construction project that my company develops, a software application can be used to status and visually show construction progress at a jobsite, tying together engineering, procurement and construction activities. Information from a 3D design model indicates the status of material from a procurement software, showing which pieces are already on site and available for installation. The 3D model, procurement and construction status databases are all integrated so that information is entered only once, then shared for multiple purposes. The use of such integrated databases allows an engineer in Manila to complete work on a 3D design model and a construction engineer in New Jersey to use that model to status the project without ever printing a drawing along the way.
This will soon be your reality, working in an integrated community with others around the world. And with this globalization, your career path decisions will come from an expanded base of knowledge and opportunity than the previous generation experienced.
You will one day decide whether you define success as managing a team or department of engineers and designers who reside partly in London and partly in India, for example. When I first became a manager, all the people who worked for me were within easy walking distance.
Or maybe you define success as being a technical consultant to that team of young engineers in another country, leading them through technical challenges and training them.
To travel down the management path, you will need to have slightly different skills than I did to be in a position to make that decision in the first place.
First of all, you must be able to build a team of culturally diverse people separated by oceans. So although you will need to demonstrate the same teamwork skills that successful people have always had to show, those skills will now have to include cultural sensitivities in tomorrow’s world.
Secondly, you will need to develop your communication skills as all engineers who became managers have had to do. Your task, however, will be made more difficult. You will have to learn to write not only for domestic audiences – difficult enough - but also to be read in global environments. The proliferation of e-mail as a primary communication tool across great distances will force you to learn how to do it successfully. You will have to learn how to speak in a way that offends no one in any land but still allows you to manage a situation. Perhaps most importantly, you will need to learn to listen in a multi-cultural meeting and understand the significance of what is being said or not being said. I encourage you now to study not only math and science while in school but also to take writing and speech classes. I can’t tell you how many times I look back thankfully to the communications courses I took while at University of Arizona.
The technical road, if you choose it, will also not be like it has been in the past. You may be consulting by videoconference for clients and other engineers who must struggle to understand your technical language. You may travel to far away points on the globe to teach what it is you will do so well. Technical experts will be responsible for setting up the technical basis of global offices and for providing the expertise needed to execute difficult tasks.
Regardless of whether that decision point finds you taking a technical or a management path, the business skills needed to be successful will be based on the same approach – that of work being executed in many lands where once it was executed in one; of business decisions based not only on pure economics but also on factors such as the productivity of a newly trained work force, the conversion of local currency and the political stability of new office locations You may be faced with making labor decisions to benefit the company that may at-first-glance seem to be to the detriment of your domestic work force.
While the fact that engineering is being moved across borders from developed to developing cultures is now a given in the business landscape – an economic reality of survival for many businesses as it was for Fluor – it remains to be seen how you as a future manager or technical expert will take this scenario that is being handed to you and turn it to the advantage of your company, your chosen industry and your chosen profession.
For me, a career in the engineering and construction industry of capital projects has been enormously rewarding. It’s given me the opportunity to work with many different clients, across many different industries, using many different technologies and with many different cultures. Because of my experiences, I have a broad view of the world, traveling to more than 25 nations for challenging assignments or business trips. Professional qualities that I feel are critical for success in the engineering industry include exceptional performance, the ability to work well with others, reliability and integrity, good communication skills, a drive for self-development, eagerness for new experiences, mobility and strong networking talents.
And even though you must learn your skills in a much different environment than I did and may embrace different talents and experiences than I, I would strongly encourage you to stay with this profession. It is full of excitement when you find the right opportunity suddenly matched with the right technical or personal skill. There is tremendous satisfaction in seeing something you designed being built and brought to life and operating for some useful purpose. From what I have seen of this new engineering world, this satisfaction is enhanced by the fact that a global team participated in its creation. Someday you will likely be at the head of that team, and I know you will find the rewards of this profession as satisfying as I have.
I leave you with one final piece of advice that I have always tried to pass along to those around me. During your career you will pass through times when you aren’t doing exactly what you want to be doing or working for someone you don’t want to be working for, and you will get frustrated that things aren’t unfolding the way they should be. This will likely happen to all of you. But, no matter where you are in life, always do the best job you can at whatever you are doing. Besides the personal satisfaction of knowing you’re doing your best, the job you’re doing is important to someone, and that someone may eventually open the door to your future.
Before concluding, I want to introduce you to an opportunity to continue your discussion and research with your international colleagues. As a part of Engineers Week, Fluor developed a web-based forum called “Connecting the World to Engineering.” This online forum is located on the Internet at “forums.eweek.org”. You will be able to engage in real-time discussions on a range of engineering professional and technical topics. I invite you to visit the site, “forums.eweek.org”.
I hope you have found my “fatherly advice” interesting and useful. Now, let me give you the opportunity to participate. I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions …