Q&A With Projects & Design Manager Declan McTiernan
Declan McTiernan is approaching 19 years of service with SF Engineering. Over that time, he has worked on hundreds of projects for customers across the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe, and further afield.
His highly valued and respected managerial style, creativity, and approach to innovation have been influenced by his time in SF Engineering and before that, his time spent in Dublin as well as China, Japan, and a range of other Southeast Asian countries. It’s a fascinating journey that he puts best himself when he says: “There is no such thing as doing something in a half-hearted manner. It’s either zero or 100 miles an hour.”
Question: What is your role and what are your responsibilities in SF Engineering?
Declan: “I’m the Projects & Design Manager. At present, I predominantly deal with the design office. I used to deal with design and projects, but as the business grew, I was spread too thin. Mark McGarraghy joined the team last year and now oversees the Projects’ element of the business.”
Question: How did you get into this industry? What is your background?
Declan: “From a college point of view, I completed a National Diploma in Tool Design here in Sligo. That specialised in press tools, injection moulds, special purpose machinery, jigs and fixtures, things like that. I then worked for a number of years in a company called Ohshima in Dublin. They were a high-volume sheet metal production company.
“When I was there, I worked in China for almost two-and-a-half years. I worked a lot in Southeast Asia – China, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore. There was a SARS outbreak in Hong Kong and mainland China in 2003 and they were starting to lock down on travel and cancelling flights, so I opted to return to Ireland. I continued to work in the Dublin office for about a year.
“I met my wife when we were both working in China and at that stage, I thought it would be best to have a more supportive environment back in Sligo when she moved over, because Sligo is where I am originally from.
“I was fortunate to get a job here in SF Engineering. That was in January 2005. I started as a design engineer, designing various equipment, platforms, conveyors, elevators, special-purpose equipment. I moved on to a projects role after that and from projects I did a tenure for a number of years in a sales technical support role.
“I was involved in lots of the project layouts, cost proposals, factory visits, surveys, and sales calls in order to support the overall sales effort and customer experience. I also did some direct sales on a couple of key accounts. I then came back into dealing with and supporting the overall design and projects teams.
“It has been quite a varied role and path through the business, but that has actually been a massive benefit and it supports a lot of the way I work now. I got to understand from being out on the road with the sales team, what their challenges are. And from speaking directly to the end customers, what their challenges are, and the issues and challenges we are trying to solve for them with our project solutions.
“And you get to talk to a lot of the guys down on the production lines – the guys who will eventually end up working on the equipment you are about to design and install. If you take on board what the general operatives working in the factory are saying, projects typically transition a lot smoother into the end customer’s site.”
Question: Tell us more about your time working in China.
Declan: “I would consider myself quite adaptive and innovative. I’ll throw myself into any situation or any role. There is no such thing as doing something in a half-hearted manner. It’s either zero or 100 miles an hour. So, when I worked in Asia, I immersed myself in the culture, the lifestyle, and the language.
“I started learning as much of the language as I could to, I guess, just blend in as much as I could even if I was six inches taller than everybody else and sticking out like a sore thumb. I always saw myself as a visitor in those countries so I would typically go out of my way to make sure the communication was as easy as possible rather than everybody else having to adapt around me.
“A previous company I worked for was a Japanese company and they always had it that every engineer learned the business from the ground up. The day you started in the factory you could potentially have been just sweeping the floor. Every role was considered important and contributed to the company as a whole. So, you learned every inch of how the business operated. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work in Japan. It was there that I encountered a good ethos, a portion of that philosophy is now in my managerial style – never ask somebody to do something that you are not willing or capable of doing yourself.”
Question: What was it like moving into the food industry?
Declan: “I guess I had a lot to learn. I consider myself to have a strong technical background and I have an aptitude for learning new things. A lot of things were an eye opener as to just how the everyday products we eat are prepared, the processes products go through, the equipment that is used.
Question: What gives you the most satisfaction from the job?
Declan: “Because I have always had a creative background, I get satisfaction from designing a piece of equipment and walking down to the production floor and just being able to put my hands on something that originally was just a concept, an idea, and think to myself, that came out of my head. And then you’ll hear some guys commenting ‘that was quite clever’ and ‘why did you do it that way’ – that’s the thing that gives you the buzz.”
“I also like seeing when new people start into the business and how they learn and adapt. You get to see how people grow within themselves and develop in confidence. I enjoy interacting with them and sharing my industry knowledge and experiences. They can think back to the day they started when they were quite green and had a lot to learn. They are now the people who end up helping to train other new people when they start.
Question: What are the main things that make SF Engineering stand out from the competition?
Declan: “We’ve always boxed above our weight. We never shy away from any challenge that might come up. And we’re very innovative and adaptive in what we do.
“We like to give as much support to our customers as we can – we’ll never walk away. There are companies out there that supply conveyors whereas what we try to do is to supply overall solutions that could be over a period of several projects. We try to make our customers feel we are the people they need to talk to whenever they have any projects and to build relationships.”
Question: What is it like working for SF Engineering?
Declan: “You’ll never have a boring day. Every day is different. If you are coming from a design aspect, there is a lot of variation in what we do. There are always opportunities to learn about the different equipment that we build and also to be part of new equipment and new innovations.
“At the moment, we are in the process of developing a new, more hygienic style of conveyor. I was keen to be directly involved in the design of it because of one of the original conveyors we developed, the tubular-design conveyor. It was a concept that had come about in late 2009 and I would have been directly involved in the evolution of that design, at least in the very early days of it as the first few iterations came across my desk.
“So, it’s always been a company that has given people opportunities. I would always say to anybody that you get out of things what you put in. I have always done my best for the company, and I believe the company has reciprocated.”