From apprentice to vice president of engineering and technology, David Hobin worked his way up the career ladder through hard work and determination. Achieving Fellow status is a personal achievement for him, although he knows it will help him in future roles.
IET Fellow David Hobin currently works as vice president, Engineering and Technology, Europe, Middle East and Africa for H.J. Heinz, covering 24 factories across Europe, South Africa, Egypt and Russia.
“I have a capital budget of US$120m and my main role is to make sure that we invest in our facilities for safety, quality, efficiency improvements, new product development etc,” he says. “I’m also accountable for the implementation of factory acquisitions and divestments.”
Once an engineer, always an engineer, although David may be top level management, he likes to be away from his desk and hands on in the business as much as possible.
“When people ask where I’m based I normally say Manchester Airport! I don’t like offices. Because I’m an engineer, a technical person, I want to be at the factories. I make a very conscious effort to make sure that I’m where the products are made. I spend a lot of my time at the factories, doing evaluation of proposals, making sure we’re putting engineering standards in place, working on project management processes and continuous improvements.“
David worked his way up to the top via a vocational route. Starting his career as an apprentice, he honed his skills on the job.
“I did it the hard way, but when I look back I think it’s been fantastic because I’ve gained a lot of people experience early in my career. Doing it that way gives you a chance to get real practical knowledge. When you’re on a course, you can go back into work if you don’t understand it and strip a motor down or go and see how things work,” he explains.
During his four year apprenticeship at BICC David was able to work towards an ONC and later an HNC in electrical engineering. Moving into a technician role, his company continued to support him by providing day release and so for a further four years he worked whilst studying for a BSc at what was then Liverpool Polytechnic.
All this he balanced with a home life that saw him get married and start a family. An ambitious young man, one of his early career targets was to work towards Chartered Engineer status, which gave him the motivation to work so hard.
He took the opportunity to move into the role of senior design engineer at BICC Pyrotenax and the opportunity came up to do an MSc in Control and Instrumentation. Even though he needed to work every Saturday to make up the hours to attend the course, he went for it as “I wanted to keep one step ahead of the competition and lots of people were getting degrees,” he explains. “I always realised that if you want to do something you’ve got to put your heart into it and work for it, you don’t get anything for nothing. Getting a masters gave me a little bit of an advantage over other people at that time.”
David’s determination paid off as he took his first head of department role at the age of 23 and became Chartered at the age of 27.
During this period of his career, not wanting to get pigeonholed in a certain sector such as cable making, he took the opportunity to try working for some different industries, first dipping his toe into the frozen food sector at Christian Salvesen and then working in the chemical and nuclear sector for Costain Petrocarbon.
“I just wanted some experience of different industries. The food industry is very fast, the nuclear and chemical industry is quite slow as far projects go, but the technical content is very high, so I got the best of both worlds really.”
Knowing he couldn't keep “job hopping”, David chose to ‘settle down’ with a role a Heinz. His experience had taught him he got a buzz from the speed of change within the food industry and seeing projects through to completion. With that in mind he was brought on as a project manager and continued to work his way up.
During his career Hobin has achieved many things he is proud of including constructing factories and production lines to hugely tight schedules for Christian Salvesen, leading the integration of the HP Foods business into Heinz, which was the company’s biggest acquisition and taking on the challenge of making a site in Ghana the most cost efficient tuna processing factory in the world.
Recently David took the time to apply for Fellow status, something he admits he should have done a lot earlier. He knew he had the experience to achieve FIET for a long time, however his busy work schedule and travel commitments meant it was only due to a nudge from an old work colleague that triggered him to fill in the form.
Although it doesn’t add anything to his current role, being an IET Fellow is still important to David professionally, although for him it was a more personal achievement to reach Fellow status.
“Professionally I think it’s good. I really believe it gives people a marker of the experience and the standard that you work to and your ethics but from my point of view, it’s more a personal thing. I haven’t done this to improve my career, however I’m sure it will help me in the future,” he says. “I’d like to retire earlier than at 65 and do some part time consultancy type work. I’m sure that being FIET will help people see the level I’m at and what I can do.”