I bring my post hiatus to a close with a brief summary of my career to date, starting with my extended (14 year) apprenticeship Airbus Defense and Space.
Although I have submitted my CV as part of my admissions process, I am expecting to answer questions on my career to date, and my thoughts and feelings on my professional life so far. This post acts as a medium to commit my thoughts to print in order to help me articulate them when required during my interview at the end of this week.
I joined what was then Matra Marconi Space, soon to be Astrium, and is now Airbus Defense and Space, at the ripe old age of 18 in 1997. To this day I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to serve my 14 years at this company; I learned so much, met some cherished friends and colleagues who I still hold dear to me now, and most importantly from a professional perspective I was immersed into a very well run company that taught me many of the values and robust processes that I have taken with me throughout the rest of my career.
Immediately at interview stage I was offered the opportunity to study for a BEng degree part time, fully funded by the company, an opportunity beyond my wildest expectations, I would not have had the capital to afford to study otherwise, and has directly contributed to where I am today. I could not imagine where I would be now if this opportunity hadn’t have revealed itself to me.
In addition to this, I was exposed to the fast-paced culture change that was underway at that time within the organisation, as I describe at the end of my earlier post Notable Leaders #1: My early years. Looking back, many of the nuances and philosophies I learned I may have taken for granted at the time, it was not until later in life that I fully appreciated the value of what I was taught.
When considering the above, it doesn’t even factor in that it also enabled me to work within the fascinating space industry; something that in my young ignorance I didn’t even know existed within the U.K. I was a keen want-to-be astronomer as a child, and to fall into this company almost by accident was quite literally a dream come true.
Throughout my time there I was given ample opportunities to change career within the organisation, something that contributed to me spending such a long period of my professional life there. I started within the manufacturing department, learned many of the new age philosophies introduced by companies such as Toyota that are now considered mandatory for any world class manufacturing facility. I then moved into operations and project management, before moving into mechanical engineering where I spent most of my time; working on mind boggling prototypes such as space telescopes and vehicles that are destined to orbit around the planet Mercury.
A few key take aways for me:
Innovation and Product development
Because the cost of failure in space is so severe, launch costs plus the almost impossibility of repair in service (the Hubble Telescope is one notable exception), the cost of qualifying new materials and processes is extremely high. I initially found this concept a little frustrating; to be working on the frontier of technical possibilities without introducing new technologies seems a bit of a paradox. What it breeds however is a very innovative use of tried and tested technologies in new ways – this in itself is innovative. A philosophy of ‘how can we use what we already know to solve a completely new problem’ is a valuable skill to have. It encourages a resourcefulness, encourages you to keep things simple – sexy isn’t always the best, practical solutions are engineering 101.
Creating a social and pleasant working environment
This was approach was apparent across all sites and contributed to me making so many cherished acquaintances. It was especially apparent at the French sites that I visited. A philosophy of look after your staff, make them feel like they are members of a social club rather than an organisation has stuck with me. The exceptional canteen facilities, a beautiful working environment, modern working hours with flexible working, and a multitude of extra curricular activities gives staff a sense of pride and belonging which in turn cultivates a family atmosphere. I see parallels here with the likes of Google who are championing modern management philosophies, and such ‘soft’ benefits directly contribute to operational excellence.
Robust processes, and championing doing things right first time
This one may seem obvious but It wasn’t until I left the organisation that I realised how well run this company manages to efficiently produce prototypes without (too much!) fuss. This is enabled by having very robust processes and practices, from configuration control, to risk management, to boring but important cost management techniques. People are encouraged to take the time to do things properly, this may be a luxury offered to few industries other than the space industry, but from my experience since I have moved on,; taking this approach almost always saves time in the long run – and it also breeds a technical pride from team members and employees.
So thanks to you Airbus Space, you were a charm!