By Giselle Diaz
You have been working with Hilti ever since you graduated the M.Eng program. What has motivated you to stick with the company for so long?I have always felt that the best way to learn and grow is to have your assumptions challenged, either through personal experience or the experiences of those different from you. I had the best time at Berkeley because I was challenged everyday by the international community on campus and this has continued at Hilti. You would be hard pressed to find a more global work force than Hilti and every rotation has encouraged me to keep learning from my international colleagues. My leaders — the word “boss” does not quite do them justice — have so far been from the Dominican Republic, India, Germany and currently the United Kingdom in just the past two years alone. I have learned a great deal from the international community, and it is one of the reasons why I have stayed on with Hilti.
You’ve been traveling the world representing Hilti — what are some of the things you have learned about working in different countries and cultures?I have learned that Americans are respected for having a great work ethic and attitude towards work. What’s interesting is that this work ethic, although revered, might not be the most efficient way to work. I was most surprised to see the work culture in Liechtenstein and Germany incorporate coffee breaks every 2–3 hours while I was used to working till 5 hours straight. After my first week, and after much hesitancy, I asked a colleague why they took breaks 3 times a day and he said “the human brain can only focus on something for a few hours after which you start to lose concentration. You actually get more done in 8 hours with intermittent breaks than with long stretches at a go.” In other words, working efficiently is more important than working hard. This ideology carries over into vacation culture as well, which included almost double the amount of vacation time in America and longer maternity leave. It allowed people to focus more at work and get the most out of the work day. The second big takeaway is that standards and expectations are very much relative, even for a company as process-oriented as Hilti. Our tools are universally regarded as the best of the best, and most are made in our headquarters in Liechtenstein so we can control the quality of build and overall robustness. The markets however determine (within certain guidelines), the service level especially in developing regions in hopes of someday attaining the standards set for the more mature markets. Not only was the service level variable but expectations in the workplace were different. Simple things like how we label our spare parts, marking off areas on the warehouse floor where trolleys go, the format of PowerPoints and punctuality for meetings all were quite different. In order to work effectively in new environments, I had to balance my expectations and standards with those around me to deliver insights that were useful while I was in each region.
Now that you’re rotational program is done, what are your career goals?I am very fortunate to have worked in engineering, marketing, and strategy in the short time I have been at Hilti. My career goals are to harness this cross functional expertise to take the construction industry into the 21st century. When it comes to productivity or digital adoption, the construction industry lags behind most if not all industries. This is because there is a lack of attention given to innovation in this space and the market is very slow to adopt new methods. So far, Hilti is doing amazing things with Ontrack asset management and is well positioned to utilize the IOT “internet of things” platform. However because the industry is quite slow, we are tasked with both educating the consumer and then delivering value. In a few years I would like to be in a position to present value to construction professionals that are keen to utilize all the products and services available to construction job sites through new digital innovations that improve productivity.
What advice would you give to engineers who are preparing to enter the workforce?First and foremost, I would encourage engineers to keep an open and flexible mind set. We are trained to pay attention to detail which is great for completing bits and pieces of complex tasks, but this can be detrimental because we can’t zoom out and see the big picture. When it comes to forming a business unit or company strategy the key is to balance detail with larger market trends and disruptors. The next most important thing is to realize your value. There are few people that can do what we do as engineers, and often, other skills can be learned. Engineering however is something that takes much more practice and formal education than most other functions. With that said you will probably not use these skills as much as you did in college; instead, make yourself visible when there is a task that requires it, or better yet, seek out those opportunities to showcase your skills in the company even if it is not in your direct line of work.
What skills have you found the most helpful and important in your work for Hilti?I have learned three things are important skills or traits to have. The first is persistence. It might seem like an obvious trait regardless of what endeavours you undertake but it is even more important in an organisation that is sales focused. From elementary school, right up to post graduate studies, we are more or less cocooned from the reality of the external world. Everyone has what I like to call a persistence meter. This is our ability to persevere at a given task until we reach our goal and it often varies per task. Some can develop and expand this persistence meter before graduation through college sports, entrepreneurship etc., but for the most part it is centered around academic persistence. Our persistence meter is stymied or limited to the academic world which inadvertently requires us be tenacious with reading and studying for incessant hours. The other facets of developing persistence are often neglected. I had to learn other forms of persistence. Persistence in the face of constant rejection when customers see you as another “salesperson” and reschedule for the 4th time after you have driven 3 hours to see them. Persistence with regards to getting the market research team to format and disperse a survey you require next week while they have 12 other tasks to complete and you are behind schedule. Persistence in being your own best advocate and volunteering for tasks that no one wants to do to increase your exposure. To be successful, I have had to become persistent in more areas of my life than before and this is a skill that has helped me be successful at Hilti thus far. The second is the skill of reaching out for help. This perhaps the oddest yet most powerful skill l learned. The first few months on the job, I would spend hours spinning my wheels attempting to overcome the steep learning curve at my first assignment as a field engineer. However, once I reached out to senior colleagues, a ten-minute conversation ended up saving me hours of searching for internal information or processes that were well documented, but somewhat hidden within our intranet system. From that point on, I continued to follow the age-old mantra of work smarter and not harder, by learning to reach out to those who were most knowledgeable on topics I was investigating. This grew my network, saved time, improved my productivity and made me much better for it. You must be brave and obstinate to reach out to people that you have never met but the precious minutes you get with experienced colleagues will do you a world of good in the short and long term. Moreover, people like to feel like they are making a difference by helping others so really it’s a win for both parties. Finally, openness is a skill that has helped me on my journey so far. I can’t tell you how many companies are simply not open to learning or changing internal processes simply because of bias, time constraints or apathy. This costs them thousands of dollars in productivity and waste which they could have saved by letting outside vendors present solutions. Once I saw first-hand the waste and limited growth companies experienced as a result of a lack of openness, I decided that my personal growth could potentially be stunted if I did not remain open to criticism, change, and outside ideas. Hence I have always asked for feedback from every exchange. I also give the numerous vendors that reach out to me on LinkedIn five minutes of my time before dismissing their advice or product. With that mind frame I have surprised even my most senior colleagues with what I have learned in a short period of time, for no special reason other than the fact I consciously strive to be open.
Reaping the Benefits of an International community was originally published in Berkeley Master of Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.