Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hubby moves up the corporate ladder!

It's been a while since I've blogged and I won't make any excuses except to say that I've been rather tied up with things that sort keep me from ruminating...which is necessary before a good blog can form itself up. But Hubby has recently had a event of which I am inordinately proud...

The Western Cape has suffered from electricity supply problems for just about a year now. Not only has the unprecedented (and unexpected) migration to the Cape from other regions of the country caused unanticipated demand to the existing infrastructure, the local power plant suffered a shut down of several months for repairs, throwing us into months of rolling blackouts and unplanned interruptions.

Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, Africa’s only nuke, provides about half of Cape Town’s power needs, the rest coming overland from upcountry coal-fired stations. Cape Town, being the most outlying location on the national grid, continued to suffer from unplanned outages whenever there was a disruption on the grid. In addition to seeing to the repair of the damaged Koeberg generator, Eskom, South Africa’s national power utility, responded to Cape town’s travails by embarking upon an ambitious plan to increase generating capacity in the Western Cape, a plan that could eventually end Cape Town's virtual dependence on the national grid.

First, however, Eskom had to replace the damaged rotor in one of Koeberg’s two generators…and they had to do it fast. The reactor powering the undamaged generator was scheduled to be taken down for refuelling in just a few months, and there was no way that Cape Town could enjoy an adequate electrical supply with both generators out of service. A replacement was located in France, but the massive 200 ton behemoth defied conventional methods of transport. My husband was appointed Logistics Manager on the “Generator Recovery Project,” and tasked with finding a way to transport the rotor not only to Cape Town harbour, but up the 30+ miles of urban and suburban roadways to the power station as well. The generator went down on Christmas Day, 2005, and on 5 April, 2006, after weeks at sea on a South African naval vessel, the rotor arrived. Hubby arranged the loan of the naval vessel and crew, a 12-axle trailer and two tractors to transport the rotor from the harbour to the power station, and a pair of massive mobile cranes to offload the rotor from the ship and onto the trailer, and later from the trailer to the generator housing. It was a Herculean undertaking, but ultimately successful. By the time the second reactor had to be taken off line for refuelling, the rotor had been installed and the damaged generator was repaired and on line. And Hubby returned to his regular job as a Senior Engineer for the PBMR project.

Eskom, however, was determined not to get caught with its pants down again. Construction of two gas-fired power plants near Cape Town were fast-tracked and nebulous plans for a second nuke at the Koeberg location were firmed up. Cape Town, the fastest growing location in South Africa, was no longer going to be a poor step-sister on the grid: the Mother City was slated to have enough locally generated power to at least meet her needs, and possibly enough excess power capacity to meet peak seasonal demands without depending on the national grid.

Ground was broken in Mossel Bay, a small town on the other side of the Cape Peninsula, and at Atlantis, an economically depressed settlement only a few kilometres from the Koeberg power station, for the construction of the two gas-fired plants. Hubby was restless after his success with the rotor project, and his present assignment was moving ahead at a snail’s pace, affording him little professional satisfaction and precious little opportunity for advancement. Looking at the company intranet one afternoon, he found a division that was seeking to fill four Chief Engineer openings. With his rotor project success recently tucked under his belt, he applied and, just a month ago, flew up to Johannesburg for an interview.

Most new job offers are anything but instantaneous. Usually you interview, you come back for at least one more interview, then you wait interminably until either you get a card saying “thanks, but no thanks” or The Phone Call. Less than an hour after Hubby left the Johannesburg offices, while he was still in the car en route to his hotel, his cell phone rang and the division had an even better offer for him than Chief Engineer (in a location that would not require us to leave our idyllic Cape Town home). Seems the Atlantis gas plant, which is presently half built, needs a Site Engineering Manager…and once that site is up and running, there will be a promotion available, 12 to 18 months out, on the new nuke that will be going up on the Koeberg site…was he interested? They faxed the formal offer to him at home the very next day.

Requesting a transfer, offer in hand, turned out to be a bigger drama than going to Joburg and interviewing for the new job. The whole of Eskom has less than two dozen turbine specialist engineers, and of those, only two are nuclear qualified…Hubby being one of them. When he presented the offer and the transfer request to his boss, all hell broke loose! Not only did the boss refuse to sign the transfer request, he tried to turn the meeting into an impromptu criticism of Hubby’s performance. Strangely, his boss claimed that the project really needed Hubby’s rather rare skill set, but when Hubby said he would consider staying for a salary increase and promotion (there are three open management slots in the department), the boss turned him down…and heaped a bit more character assassination on him. Great way to keep the talent, eh?

The new organization, however, was keen to have him and, once the transfer was signed (the boss wasn’t allowed to refuse…the transfer request was just kicked upstairs until someone in authority signed it) Hubby discovered that his new boss was someone he knew and had successfully worked with for five years at another location. Because the gas plant was only half built, Hubby was concerned about offices and local infrastructure, and didn’t even know if he was going to be the sole engineer on site or if he would be assembling a staff. Imagine his surprise when his new boss chatted with him a couple of days ago and revealed that there was already an engineering department of 10 on site! Last Friday his present department gave him a going away party and he has been accosted half a dozen times since by engineers in his old department volunteering to come to work for him at the new location.

So, at the tender age of 34, he’s broken into the engineering management ranks, his first assignment giving him a staff of ten in a brand new facility. He tries hard not to show it, but I can see that he’s proud of himself, and with good reason. Here’s hoping he finds management everything he has hoped it would be!


  1. Greetings from Yzerfontein

    Glad I stumbled across your new blog!! Hope all is well. And congratz to hubby on the new job.

  2. Congratulations to hubby! He must be well-respected in his field.


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