In conversation with Dr. Pat Naidoo, president SAIEE: Engineers must lead from the top!

May 20th, 2014, Published in Articles: Energize, Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: Energize


Engineers must lead from the top was the strong message from Dr. Pat Naidoo when he delivered his inaugural  presidential address at the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE)’s annual general meeting earlier this year. “It is all about growing world class customer focussed engineers who must lead from the top.”

In my conversation with Dr. Pat Naidoo we talked about his time at Eskom with Dr. Ian McRae as CEO and chairman of the utility; when customer focus was a major priority. At the time Dr. McRae teamed up with Ed Edison of the USA’s Southern Company, a major power utility in the south  of the USA and Larry Harper of the Brock School of Business at Sanford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Together they founded the Global Utilities Institute with their main focus on world-wide training and management development projects “I had the opportunity to spend two years in Birmingham to study for certification in utility management  by day and an MBA at night,” Dr. Naidoo told me.

Utility management is about long term sustainable delivery, zero accidents, satisfied and happy employees and a happy environment where employees can deliver creative and innovative solutions at the lowest possible costs. “For Eskom it is about the lights staying on 100% of the time,” he said.

Pat Naidoo

Dr. Pat Naidoo

But why have so many sectors of our community lost that focus?  More importantly, what can we do to get back on track?  Dr. Naidoo and I did not talk so much about the “why” but focussed during our conversation more  on the ”how”.  He outlined several tasks which he believes are  required to go forward to  a world class South Africa, and in this process engineers have to play a leading role. “We have to get back on track!”

“We need to be growing world class, customer focused engineers. Engineers need each other. In a triangular relationship between institute members, academia and industry  we need to mentor, coach and guide our engineers to become customer aware, customer sensitive and customer focussed. The service we will receive as a society will be directionally proportional to the efforts we make in preparing engineers and that is not limited to only electrical engineering but must include  all disciplines in the engineering field.”

He said that organisations such as the SAIEE and those serving the other disciplines must lead, and that industry should reach out to academia, to  and work together in becoming world class.  “It is too late to complain when the lights go out or about the unavailability of water or the poor state of infrastructure. We need to bring students into the work place for in-service and on-the-job learning. Students need quality work assignments and in-depth experiential challenges.  We, the members of the engineering institutions must provide the mentors, supervisors and create the opportunities. It is payback time!”

Dr. Naidoo has strong views about institute student chapters. “Students must join chapters which should not be just focussed on SAIEEE or IEEE but should be combined, bringing all engineering students together.  But equally important is that the engineering profession should excite learners at schools to know that engineering is cool and offers  a future rewarding career in which both boys and girls can excel, and so take South Africa back onto the high road.  I have tasked every member of my institute to adopt a local community primary and high school and engage with the school leadership and governing body to make contributions to growing and enhancing the awareness of career opportunities in electrical engineering.  I challenge institutes in other engineering disciplines to follow our approach for the good of South Africa.”

Another task that Dr. Naidoo is passionate about is growing the engineering capacity to serve South Africa. He said the people who can do this are located in industry and academia, but ultimately to achieve the goal of growing young engineers to attain the high benchmark of a world class South Africa,  they must work together. “We need to create an environment for industry and academia to excel. This environment can emanate if we collectively promote the “Buy South Africa” campaign. Local industry must get a larger slice of the country’s orders –  not by rules and regulations but by greater investment in research and development in local manufacture and production.”

Globalisation is another important issue. Dr. Naidoo is not concerned about South African engineers working overseas. “We must continue to serve and export our best skills and our best engineers. To this end we are actively promoting close working relationships with all local, regional, continental and international institutes of engineering. Our engineers will act as our ambassadors and bring contracts back to South Africa.”

Earlier this year in a meeting with European leaders, the International Utility Telecommunications Council showed interest in launching the African Utility Telecommunications Council and to grow and support the telecommunications and information technology industry across the African continent. “We have captured this initiative with both hands and are running with it”, said Dr. Naidoo.

Dr. Naidoo and I started our conversation by discussing Dr. McRae and associates forming the Global Utilities Institute and the focus it brought to what we were then again talking about, the question of world class.  It is often asked how the City of Johannesburg can advertise that is “a world  class African city”  if utilities like electricity, water and the road agency cannot deliver on that promise.  Do we not need to get back to that early initiative of Dr. McRae’s?  Dr. Naidoo agreed and said the SAIEE is working with the University of Johannesburg to introduce such a programme from next year.

“But that is only the beginning; we will be engaging other institutions of higher learning. For South Africa to succeed and take its place amongst the world’s most successful nations, we need to build a knowledge-based economy where innovation, research, and top class delivery has to be the norm.  To achieve this, engineers must lead from the top!”

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