- Why did you prefer to pursue your degree (BSc. Electrical and Electronics Engineering) in the University College of London in the UK and not in Kenya?
I was admitted to the University of Nairobi, given a room, registration number and even started attending lectures. However, after three weeks, I was among a group of 6 young men who were taken by the East African Power and Lighting Company (EAPLC) (the Kenya Power of today) to study in the UK at the University College of London, so as to come back and take over from the many expatriates who were managing the EAPLC. The program did not continue in the following year because the university complained to the government why students were being sent to the UK while the university was capable of teaching engineering. Nonetheless, I am pursuing an MBA at the University of Nairobi at the moment.
- Why an MBA now, when you are an accomplished Engineer and the CEO of Tsavo Power?
I want it to understand business. I have done all the practical work as an engineer, I have been managing and I want to tools to be able to do management.
- How was your experience at the University College of London?
I must confess that my training was good. I look down at my time in the university. You know when I started doing my masters here, one thing I found very odd is that when you go for a lecture and then when you’re seated you get a word that the lecturer is unwell. For the three years, I studied in the UK, I never missed a lecture, or a tutorial, or a practical, never, not a single day, what was happening here was not known. The teachers and the lecturers are there to teach and that should be the only job they do. The problem we have here is that our lecturers have so much work elsewhere, then I ask myself, why is that allowed? It should not be allowed at all. Engineering requires you to taught and given tutorials by tutorial fellows. Lecturers should miss lectures and tell you to have a make-up lecture on Sunday. The weekend is for you to revise what you covered in the week or go to the lab. However, in the UK, then I was the only African student in a class of 120 Britons. I suffered a lot of discrimination. You can imagine the cultural shock when you go sit on a bench and all the other students stand up and leave the bench for you, as if they are running away from you. They would not come close to you. Some African students would be so depressed that they would be taken back home. Then from then on after the first year, they started becoming very friendly and then by the time I was third year they would me and ask to come to my hostel to discuss some subjects. Would the 2-6-6-3 curriculum make engineering better? I think it’s good. The 8-4-4 was basically academic. We need to have technical expertise in this country. The system should be such that, by the time you leave high school, some skills have been put into you and you can even be on your own, and then if you want to do a little bit more, you can go to the university and study all the engineering or go to a technical college. I see a lot of good coming out of the new system. It has more practical orientation than the current system. Engineering is not like BCom which you can take you books, read and pass. You need contact with the lecturer, you need practical work, go to the lab so that you can appreciate. The lecturers should also commit to their work, they should not go on strike because they are punishing the students. Professionals should realize that when they go on strike, it is not their employer who suffers but the people who they serve. Lecturing should be a calling. The satisfaction of a lecturer should be to produce qualified graduates. Money should not be a priority, the priority should be to give value to their subjects and if they are not willing to do so, they should do something else. We have highly qualified lecturers but money should not be their priority.
- Do you think technicians are better skilled than engineering degree holders?
Let’s not confuse engineers and technicians. A technician is designed to be a hands-on person, he’s taught the skills of fabricating products. On the other hand, an engineer is taught to design that product. So their skills are very different. A technician cannot substitute an engineer and vice versa. The only advantage that the engineer has is that he has imagined that product and he can tell whether it can be produced and see how it is going to be produced. But when it comes to handling the machines, the technicians and the technologists are better off, because that is what they have been trained to do. An engineer spends 85% in the design office while a technician spends 15% of the design office. I don’t think there is a way of saying that a technician is a better engineer or an engineer is a better technician because they have very different roles. However, the must complement each other because the technician know what can be fabricated and may need to modify the design with the consultation of the engineer. There is absolutely no supremacy battle between engineers and technicians. “There is absolutely no supremacy battle between engineers and technicians…. A technician cannot substitute an engineer and vice versa”
- How would you describe the role of engineers in Tsavo Company?
In our operations, we have two phases, first, is the detailed design and construction phase, which involved the design and the supervision of the construction of the power station. Then when we started running, we came to the role of operation and maintenance engineers. The maintenance engineers ensure that the system works the way it was designed to work. In case the system does not work the way it was designed, then the maintenance engineers can redesign or modify the system to give better results. Then we have the operation engineers, who sit on the control desk. These engineers know the system inside out. If there is a problem with the system, they read the signals and alert the maintenance engineers with some prognosis.
- Do you employ combined cycle power generation in Tsavo Power Plant?
Because the system is an old system, it cannot accommodate the combined cycle power generation like the one in Rabai Power Plant. However, on two engines, we have tapped the heat, to heat steam that provides the heat requirement for the plant, for example, heating oil (Heavy Fuel).
- Plans to move to green energy?
Our company is a special purpose vehicle. It was designed specifically to generate power thermally for 20 years from 2001. We have no plans to move to green energy as Tsavo Power, but individual founders of the company run green energy projects.
- Many people say our universities are producing under qualified and skill-less graduate engineers who need to be trained before starting their jobs, or tarmac for years, as an employer, what is your view and what would you advice student engineers on the matter?
If you equip students with enough theory and expose them to a lot of practical work, when they come out of the university they’ll be half-ready for work. You don’t know the business until you start working on it. Industrialists have to train graduates because they have not been working on their plant. Unfortunately, some employers don’t want to spend money to train graduates. Fortunately, the government through EBK is working on a training program for graduate engineers that will begin in July 2018. If we train the graduate engineers, the job market will respond positively.
- What is your experience with the quality of engineers from our universities?
The point is that you have to train them, but once you have trained them they become very good. For example, in Tsavo Power, you’ll be trained in Finland, Netherlands and Dubai through Wartsila Company, then experts are brought to the plant for further training. We have good engineers at Tsavo Power. At Tsavo we select the top ones because they learn very quickly and end up doing a very good job.
- Does the top ones mean first class graduates?
Not first class necessarily, in fact, I think first class students thrive in research and innovation. Sometimes it is difficult to challenge brilliant people in the practical world, their mind will keep on wavering ‘this is not challenging enough’. At Tsavo, we normally take Second Upper, who we find to be more practical, but if a first class graduate is practically based, then we do not deny them the opportunity.
- How are engineers paid in Tsavo?
Our engineers are paid well. I mean, payment is not a problem.
- How is the career growth in your company?
Our engineers have a very high mobility. In fact, our plant has supplied engineers to Rabai, Athi River Plant and Thika Power Plant.
- What process does a fresh graduate need to undergo in order to be a registered engineer?
Get an engineering degree > Register with EBK to become a graduate engineer > Register with IEK as a graduate member > Start a training program under an > engineer for 2 years > One year job experience as a designer > Apply to IEK to become a Corporate Member and submit your project > Then you are an Engineer!
- Tell me about the most notable engineering project you have ever been involved in
When I was at the Ministry of Energy as the consultant to the PS, I unbundled KenGen and Kenya Power by creating GDC and KETRACO. This would alleviate the cost burden that KenGen and Kenya Power would incur in generating and distributing power and, consequently, improve efficiency.
- If you could go back in time, what decision would you make or not make?
I think I stayed in Kenya Power for too long. I worked there since I graduated until 2005 when I retired at 55 years of age. I do not regret but the problem with that is that the employer may take you for granted because he sees that you have nowhere else to go. Kenya Power was a good employer but I don’t know what opportunities could have arisen if I decided to divert. Luckily, when I retired I went to the government and worked for 3 years, then Tsavo Power, now 10 years. When I went to the Ministry of Energy as a consultant to the PS, I learnt a lot about government process and systems.
- Having served at Kenya Power for 32 years and risen to the position of the Deputy MD, an advisor to the Ministry of Energy PS, IEK Chairman, and now the CEO of Tsavo Power, what in your view does it take to make a successful engineer like you?
It takes commitment, hardwork and loyalty to your employer. Loyalty to your employer is very important, and this is what we teach in the Code of Ethics for Engineers. The employer will trust you and will give you the opportunity to climb up the ladder. You have to love engineering, you do not practice engineering just for the money. As an engineer, my joy at the end of the day is that, when a customer comes into my office with a problem he/she goes out of the office smiling. The employer, too will be happy with your work. Once you decide to do the job, make sure you are committed to it, you’re enjoying it and you’re giving your giving your best.
- How many graduate engineers do you take per year?
It depends on the demand for the engineers. But we take about two in a year.
- How can student engineers apply for internship in your company?
They just need to write a letter to us through the Plant Manager. We mainly take Mechanical and Electrical Engineering students or graduates for internships and give them a monthly stipend. Former interns have a high chance of being employed at our company because we know their work.