A mind open to all possibilities
e-tech talks to Kerry McManama, the new Executive Secretary and Chief Operating Officer of IECEE (IEC System of Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components) to find out how he arrived at this point and the challenges he sees in his new role.
Engineering is the choice
e-tech: How did you decide to become an engineer?
McManama: Coming out of high school I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I wasn't sure what field I wanted to pursue or where my passion was. I joined the US Navy and it trained me in electronics and in electricity, specifically as they relate to missile systems and gun fire control systems. I operated and maintained the computers and radars associated with those systems aboard ships.
When I got out of the Navy I was hired by a local college to teach basic electronics. That kept me in the field of electronics. Then I changed jobs and went to work for a US defence contractor. I worked for them for about a year, helping them to design and manufacture electronic countermeasure (radar jamming) equipment. At the time of my first performance evaluation I was told: "well Kerry, you've plateaued already. You're in the top position in terms of your training and you can't go any higher". I decided that I wasn't ready for my career to plateau at that point so I went back to school to get my Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) from the University of Illinois.
Work that led to Conformity Assessment
McManama: Coming out of university I was hired by UL (Underwriters Laboratories Inc.). I found the work fascinating enough to keep me there for 21 years. It was different all the time. You saw all kinds of products coming through the door. The work was never boring and monotonous and I was able to do a number of different things, both on the technical side and the business, or management, side.
After those 21 years, this job became available. I had greatly enjoyed working with the IEC tangentially in my work at UL. This prospect really excited me as it was a smaller company. UL was about 12 000 people and here we have about a hundred. Going from a large corporation to a smaller company was something I found interesting and alluring. Having worked with Chris Agius as the Chairman of IECEx (IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres) I was able to see the type of things that he was doing – business development in the Ex field of Conformity Assessment, working with stakeholders from all around the world – and that was something I wanted to do so I made the decision to try for this job.
e-tech: What did you expect when you applied for this job?
McManama: I didn't have any major expectations per se. I wasn't sure that I would be viewed as the right person for the job, but I was hopeful given my past work and my expertise in the industry. I guess my expectation was that I would be able to do the job and do it well otherwise I wouldn't have applied to begin with.
I expect it to be difficult. I expect the learning curve to be long and steep. Coming from a business management and Conformity Assessment background and coming from being the Chairman of IECEx it certainly isn't something that is new to me: I am very familiar with what IECEE is. And I know it is going to be a challenge to do it well - but I think I am up to that challenge.
More to do and more to believe in
e-tech: Why did you want to do this job?
McManama: The vision and mission of the IEC are very interesting to me and I embraced it. This allows me to jump in with both feet, rather than play a tangential role.
Because we're a smaller organization I feel I will be able to provide input into different areas of the organization. I've got my finger on everything here. This is certainly not going to be a job where I am just focused on one thing and I am just putting a nut on a bolt on a conveyor belt.
The importance of IECEE
e-tech: Tell me why you think IECEE is important.
McManama: We deal with safety standards and primarily with electrical safety. Electric shocks and electrical fires kill and injure people all around the world every year, as well as cause untold millions of dollars in property damage. IEC International Standards are used to set the minimum bar of what a safe product is.
IECEE Conformity Assessment System sets the bar in terms of the basic requirements for certification and evaluation to IEC International Standards. It means that everybody comes in at the same level. This is hugely important in facilitating international trade and cooperation.
Goals for the future
e-tech: When you heard that you had got the job, what things did you set out to achieve?
McManama: I came with an open mind. I didn't have any preconceived notions of what I wanted to do. I am still assessing where everything's at and what's going on. I don't want to make changes arbitrarily or too quickly. I understand that IECEE has been operating for a decade and a half or more and for the most part it seems to be serving its members well. My desire is not to muck that up. First I want to finish my assessment of where we're at then I'm sure I'll apply my little touch here and there. Sometimes it will be visible and sometimes it won't be visible.
It's a system that has been operating for a long time. Most of the players who have been coming to meetings and participating in working groups have been here for years and years and years. They know every requirement, every comma and period in our Rules and Procedures. I have to get myself to that point so as to be able to be taken seriously and to be able to contribute. Right now I'm doing a lot of listening rather than talking. I would hope that in the near future I will perhaps be able to start putting my mark on things.
New role brings greater responsibility
e-tech: What challenges do you see in your new role?
McManama: There are challenges that come along because of changes to International Standards - and I don't even know if I want to classify them as challenges. Our certification bodies and test laboratories have to comply with ISO/IEC 17065, Conformity assessment - Requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services and ISO/IEC 17025, General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. As International Standards change, the assessments that we perform also necessarily have to change to a certain degree because new requirements now exist. Our documentation has to change, our processes on how we function have to change, and it is a challenge to meet the new International Standards that come on board.
We have to stay up to date with technology. We have our own internal IT challenges that we have to work to improve. Our membership expects us to be efficient and cost effective, and they want us to provide value for the money that they pay to the IEC, and specifically to the IECEE System.
We constantly have to show them that we are providing that value with fast responses to emails and questions and we have to do it in a cost effective way. They're being challenged in their companies to cut costs or be more efficient and they expect the IEC and IECEE to do the same thing. Our challenge is always doing more with less at the same time as we are trying to provide better services and faster responses to the needs of the System. That's the kind of juggling act that is difficult to perform sometimes. And we have to be fair and consistent in how we apply the rules as the Secretary is often the arbiter for various aspects of such rules.
McManama: The IEC is a fairly known commodity in the marketplace and so too is the IECEE for the main part. Our biggest challenges are with the differing regulatory systems around the world. Where I, in my position, can step in is in assisting the regulatory agencies with any needs they may have in terms of regulations and Conformity Assessment as they relate to electrotechnology equipment and components. There have been some successes in doing that, certainly at IECEx.
I think that IEC is viewed as a fair partner, a neutral player in terms of International Standards and Conformity Assessment. Because of that sense of neutrality and the mission and goals of the IEC, the IEC can help open doors to governmental agencies. The fact that we're a non-profit organization and that we're looking to facilitate global trade helps us get through doors and have discussions with regulators and users.
Understanding the technological future
e-tech: What technological challenges do you see in the future of IECEE?
McManama: It is difficult to predict future technological changes. I think our main challenge is that we know change is coming - but sometimes we just don't know where it will occur.
If you had asked me that question 15 years ago, I perhaps would not have thought of renewable energies. Wind energy, marine energy and solar are things that have grown over the past 15 to 20 years to the point that we're now looking at a new system for those industries.
What's going to happen over the next 15 to 20 years in terms of technology? I'm not sure. If it continues along the line of renewable energies we'll see some new developments in terms of energy storage whether in terms of batteries or some other technique. It's tough to determine what will come in the course of the coming years.
Striving to practise fairness
e-tech: If there is one thing you want people to know about you, what would it be?
McManama: What do I want people to know? I think it's that I'm fair, collaborative and consistent.