Of machinery and men
Technical expertise and people management skills are both important for ExxonMobil engineer Teo Woon Lip
As a supervisor of a team of engineers, Mr Teo needs to demostrate leadership skills on top of technical expertise. PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
MR TEO Woon Lip gets tremendous job satisfaction from being responsible for the reliability of the machinery within Exxon-Mobil’s largest integrated refining and petrochemical complex in the world.
The 39-year-old began his career at ExxonMobil in Singapore as a machinery engineer and has since been promoted to machinery section supervisor, where he leads a team of engineers to diagnose and troubleshoot equipment.
“Every day presents new challenges and opportunities that put our problem-solving skills to the test,” he says.
Each morning, the operations teams update his team on potential issues they observed on the machines they operate.
“Each problem requires us to go deep into the technical details, which include data analysis, site and workshop visits and discussions with equipment suppliers,” he says.
Once the problem is diagnosed, they resolve it using the technical knowhow and tools at their disposal.
Their engineering solutions need to not only address the current problem, but also eliminate the risk of recurrence.
These solutions need to be carried out safely, in line with the company’s safety vision of Nobody Gets Hurt.
“We own the reliability performance of the machines in our manufacturing sites and drive the organisation towards achieving world-class, sustainable reliability standards,” says Mr Teo.
Gearing up for success
Mr Teo’s Bachelor of Engineering degree in mechanical engineering from the National University of Singapore helped him accelerate the acquisition of technical knowledge critical in his work.
On-the-job training and coaching from his supervisors and peers built his understanding of the specific rotating machineries.
ExxonMobil also sent him for training courses to further develop his technical expertise and soft skills in areas such as leadership, teamwork, cultural awareness and presentation skills.
“ExxonMobil is an energy and petrochemical company, where engineering and technology are key enablers in our operations. You can’t run an organisation like ours without engineers.
“We depend a lot on the engineering knowledge and experience of our employees to be successful. The organization values our engineering capabilities and expertise,” he says.
People matter too
However, engineering does not involve working only with machines. Being able to work with others in a team setting is a necessary skill too.
“I work with a diverse group of people from different cultural backgrounds in ExxonMobil.
“There are always differences in opinions or judgments, so managing conflict is important to keep the team productive and efficient,” says Mr Teo.
“The results achievable by one engineer are limited. However, what a team of engineers can do together is tremendous.
“So teamwork is another important skill that engineers must have.”
As an engineering section supervisor, he needs to also demonstrate the ability to lead, in addition to his technical prowess.
He explains: “As you progress through your career, even if you are on a technical career path, leadership is a basic requirement in order to succeed,” he says.
“I set the right expectations for my team, leading by example and providing the right level of coaching and motivation to my engineers.
“I spend time talking to them daily to understand their needs and work on providing them with adequate support.
“Throughout my career, I have had good mentors who coached and motivated me. I learnt from them and now do the same for my team.”
Mr Teo was inspired to pursue engineering as a career by his father, who was in charge of operations in a factory.
He had seen him in the thick of action, repairing machines and making changes to parts to improve their efficiency and reliability.
His ability in science and mathematics in secondary school further convinced him that he too could be an engineer.
“Engineers make life better, and I want to be a part of that.
“The need for good engineers in all industries is ever-increasing.
“Especially with so much innovation happening worldwide and in Singapore, engineers play a key role in ensuring success for our future,” he says.