For the FPC July 2023 Employee Spotlight, Stewart Erickson, a Senior Technical Project Manager in our EMEA team, talks about his career and some of the things that motivate and interest him in both a professional and personal capacity.
Please summarise your professional career journey so far, and how this has helped shape you into the professional that you are today?
Whilst studying engineering at college in the early 1990s, Satchwell Control Systems approached UK colleges offering 12 places on their UK apprenticeship scheme to become BMS Engineers, and I was lucky enough to land one of them. On completion of my apprenticeship, I specialized in project engineering and embarked on an MSc course in Building Services.
Late in the 1990s, I moved on to Siemens Building Technologies and joined their commissioning team to improve my diminishing practical skill set.
A few years later I had the opportunity to join the Major Projects Division at Andover Controls, starting in the Design Team at Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. I took responsibility for parts of the hospital, medical school and BRF Laboratories. I found the lab ventilation controls fascinating, with specialist interlocks, complex cascading pressure control regimes, lockdown & purge sequences. This was also my first exposure to third party systems integration. I stayed with Andover for nearly 10 years, and worked on many of their major projects sites in varying capacities.
During the Economic Crash in the late 2000s, new buildings & redevelopment projects dried up, and an opportunity presented itself for me to join a small controls company recently acquired by Balfour Beatty, with the remit to build a BMS maintenance & support division. Given I had first hand experience of many of their sites, the role seemed a perfect match with long term potential. I remained with Balfour Beatty (later Engie) for 11 years. In that time I worked alongside a director to build the business, recruiting and training engineers as I went. I left a healthy thriving business with over 600 sites in its care. Understanding the client’s varying needs was vital to this success.
It took the lure of FPC-Global for me to move on from BB/Engie. I was excited at the opportunity to join the business and work with the great team FPC have assembled to support a major technology company. A steep learning curve followed, to understand all of the standards and processes. Many familiar themes cropped up around system/cyber security, user journeys, and systems interoperability, but the focus was much deeper than I’d previously experienced. Cloud integration and data ingestion was relatively new to me, and hugely interesting. Eighteen months in, I had the opportunity to move up and take responsibility for the EMEA New Construction Team, with management responsibilities and a greater focus on reporting and communication. I’m still learning, and enjoying it!
How do you see the future evolving for the Digital Buildings professional and industry as a whole?
I’d suggest the future brings a rapid increase in cloud connected systems and analytics system deployments, with increased sophistication and accuracy by leveraging AI & ML. However, the speed of this move to Digital Buildings will undoubtedly be checked by the need to “keep up” in the ever escalating cybersecurity arms race.
I also think many programming tasks will soon migrate to AI, but initially this will still require all network setup and IO points to be commissioned & validated on site. As we have seen, AI is capable of writing journalism, producing art, why not building automation programs? And, why stop at the programming? Eventually much of the design work could also be carried by AI systems, whether we like it or not!
With all of this happening, the integrity and security of onsite systems and hardware is becoming more important than ever. Digital Buildings Professionals will face increasing challenges to provide secure systems in the face of the ever present cybersecurity threat.
What is it that you really enjoy about working at FPC?
I enjoy the closeness and camaraderie which comes from working in a comparatively small company, and the security of working with very large companies as clients. I think there is a sweet spot, and FPC has hit it squarely.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you that is non-work related?
I starred in a TV commercial for a local Cycle Shop.
Who inspires you?
This is a difficult one to single out as I respect all those who think deeply to bring about positive change. Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Elon Musk. He achieved great success and kept going. His passion for space exploration, and the obstacles he has overcome to achieve what only a few of state actors have, is truly amazing and inspiring.
If you could go back in time, what historical event would you want to see?
The 5th Solvay Conference in 1927, because this small group of delegates collectively had the greatest impact on the world we now live in. During the brief period of peace in the interwar years of the 19th Century, the greatest physicists and chemists of the ‘classical era’ met in person to discuss the toughest scientific problems of the age, and to attempt to formulate quantum theory. 17 of the 29 delegates were, or later became Nobel Prize winners (Marie Curie more than once). Five of them have been voted into the top ten physicists of all time. All of them have had a huge impact on our understanding of science and the universe at every scale.
Everyone will recognise Albert Einstein in the centre of the front row, but Max Plank is sat to his left, and Marie Curie to his left. Also present are Niels Bhor, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, Erwin Schrodinger…(I won’t name them all but, any science buffs will recognise the names of all of them as they appear in so many important principles, theories and equations, and of course many of them have elements named after them.
How do you like to start and end your day?
With a nice coffee, with my wife (in the Garden on rare occasions when it is not raining!).
What’s the one thing you are learning now or learned recently?
Understanding emotional intelligence, because it’s key to both personal & and professional success.
When I took on my first management role, I had to deal with a combination of some tricky clients and some engineers with poor communication skills. This combination led to some difficult situations requiring de-escalation and understanding on both sides. Both parties' positions needed to be established, translated and conferred to the other before a resolution could be reached. it would have been impossible without emotional intelligence.
What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute your success to and why?
Persistence & Resilience, they are both essential to progress.
What led you to this career?
I spent lots of my childhood with my dad & grandad working on cars, boats and all kinds of practical projects involving building, fabrication, mechanics and electrical systems, which led me to a keen interest in science & engineering. I stripped down and rebuilt a Mini engine at 9 years old (A mini is a very small english car - Like the one Mr Bean has). I remember learning to Arc Weld at 10. I then became interested in remote controlled kit cars. They were quite sophisticated, with working coil over, oil filled shock absorbers, complicated gearboxes, servos, and electronic controls, all of which had to be built from individual components.
What is the best advice you were ever given? Who was it from?
Anyone who never made a mistake, never made anything. I got this from Charles Mitchell, one of my colleagues at Engie, and totally agree with the sentiment, but I also think mistakes should be learned from but not repeated.
If you weren’t in this line of work, what career would you want to pursue?
Property development, I love looking for neglected buildings (houses mainly) and imagining ways to transform them. I have already carried out quite a few refurbishments but, more as a hobby.