Welcome to the first edition of Our Connections, our monthly blog where we will interview a member of staff from within our company. The subject of this month’s edition is Ryan Wepener.
How has the start of the year been for you at East West Connect?
Very very busy, because of the restrictions of our client we had a very short window between the 2nd and the 4th to undertake some switchovers over to our new panels that we’ve installed. We were straight back into the thick of it, with a team working nights and a team working during the day.
When did you join the company?
I joined in September 2018. I came here through relationships with old colleagues and friends that I’ve made through my career. They told me that there’s a firm that they work for that wants to grow and they’re looking for the right people to grow with it, and the attraction was the people to be honest. I mean, what we do for a living you can pretty much do in any firm anywhere, but there’s something special about actually working for people that you enjoy working with.
I’m very good friends with Mark Lapthorn, I’d heard of and worked with Marcus before, and I know Mark Underdown very well as well. A couple of guys have also come along with me, and we feel like a family because of how well we all work together. The biggest attraction was that the works that East West Connect undertake are usually more complicated, more interesting, and not just typical easy fit outs. The fact that they generally don’t work upon “boring projects” and the engineering is always something you have to think quite deeply about is great.
What does your role entail?
Well, I’m a contracts manager within the MEP department. My understanding of that is that my job is to look after two or three projects, or possibly up to five. The idea is to be a supporting role to a project manager, supervisor, or site manager depending on the project. I allow them to run the job, making sure they achieve the specification and what’s shown on the drawings. I try to be someone they can lean on to get stuff done.
My current project is very large, and I’m based on it full time with a full time project director on site with me too, and multiple electrical project managers beneath me. We don’t have a mechanical project manager on this job so I also fill that role, although the works are predominantly electrical. I have a very good working relationship with my project director Mark Lapthorn, and we can cover each other’s roles with the confidence that any short term absence will not affect the running of the works.
How did you get into engineering?
I grew up pulling things apart to find out how they work – cars, microwaves, bicycles, tractors, I learned how to weld. Basically I was good at maths, good at engineering, good at DT, all those things engineers are good at. My English was poor, no good at acting, no grey stuff in my life – either everything works or it doesn’t.
My dad’s an RAF engineer, my uncles are all various service engineers, so I kind of grew into it and enjoyed it. I took my A-levels early, started my degree a year early – mechanical engineering at Loughborough, and I loved it. There I did a masters and then dabbled in the army, but it wasn’t for me.
I was actually going to go into design but then when I did my placement year at MITIE my mentor pushed me into the deep end with a project management role, having to install 52 plant rooms at the University of Sussex.
If you’d asked me at 17 whether I wanted to be a building services engineer, I’d have asked “What is that?!”, I had always wanted to be a mechanical engineer. But now, at 34, I absolutely love it, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What are some of the most prestigious projects that you’ve worked on?
Do you know the massive illuminated signage at HSBC in Canary Wharf? I was up there managing the installation of 6 AHUs when the client requested that we assist them with the lighting installation due to issues with their existing contractor, that was a very tricky piece of engineering, especially as it was electrical!
I’ve worked on 3 very large buildings for Amazon, including their new fashion studios in East London. The design incorporated the old TFL equipment that was in situ within the building, and it ended up looking incredible.
For East West Connect I’m currently working on an ultra-prestigious project, but unfortunately due to the terms of the contract, I’m not allowed to go into any further detail than that!
What are you passionate about at work?
Getting it done right.
I know that we’ve got deadlines to meet, budgets to meet, people to appease, but ultimately if a scheme doesn’t work or it’s not working right, then it’s not worth putting in. As an engineer my passion is certainly getting it right, and then the glove is doing it safely.
I’m not an extremist type when it comes to making it safe, because sometimes you can create paperwork for paperwork’s sake. I’m quite pragmatic with it, if we can use steps we use steps, you have to look at each individual case and plan your works in a safe and efficient manner. You can’t just use blanket, overpriced solutions to undertake the works, you have to mitigate the risk through your methodology.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last six months?
With work or at home?
Well I get paid to make decisions. I’m a decision maker, I think that’s why I am where I am, because if you don’t make a decision you won’t make any money. In experience, the longer you take to make a decision, the more it eventually costs you.
You’re far better off making a decision based on the information that you have at the time, and if ultimately it is the wrong decision, then you just have to be very upfront and rectify it, although fortunately that doesn’t happen too often.
What does a typical day for you at work look like?
For me, I get in, and I try to understand what we’re doing for the day. I know it sounds a bit cheap but I’ll write a list of 10 items that I need to achieve in the day. If I tick off 5 I’ve had a good day, if I tick off more it’s a great day, and if I tick off less then it’s generally a normal day!
I always sit there and try to prioritise 5 things as the most important, a key skill of our job is prioritising. There’s no point in spending time on decisions that won’t affect you for 6 months when you have pressing issues at the time. My priority is to make sure that my guys on site are always working, and we’re not creating any obstructions for them.
On my current project I’ll then tell the client what we’re up to, as it’s a live building, so that they can understand how we’re getting it done. After that I’ll head back to the office and hit item number 1 on my list.
I probably spend half of the rest of my day in engineering meetings, a third of the time on health and safety, I’ll usually eat my lunch at my desk. I make sure I have a cup of tea around 10am, and again at about 3pm, just so I can turn my brain off for a minute and eat a cake or eat my sandwiches, and just briefly refresh.
After work, my train journey home is 2 and a quarter hours. I’ll probably use that to do a bit of paperwork so that means when I pull up to my front door I can shut the laptop down, walk through the front door, and then straight into family time – lovely!
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into what you do?
There are easier ways to make money! You’ve got to want to do it, I’ve met so many people who’ve just kind of fallen into it and they’re not happy with it. Get qualified, get the experience, my advice would always be to try and understand what goes in.
Get some real experience of installation, even if it’s just a week per trade assisting others on site when you’re starting out as a trainee, that experience is absolutely invaluable as you progress.