Chapter 02: Early Job Experiences Inspire an Interest in Management

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Chapter 02: Early Job Experiences Inspire an Interest in Management

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Mr. Daigneau talks about the on-site experience he acquired during his first job at Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI; hired 1968), where he worked on projects that involved assembling nuclear vessels. He also notes that his interest in managing people evolved while he was assigned to the Plymouth Station Nuclear Power Plant. He describes developing a scheduling system for a shop and expecting to be praised, however people didn't appreciate it. He also describes how his report on the situation at Plymouth created some political problems and resulted in his transfer. Mr. Daigneau then assessed his options and decided to apply for MBA programs. He took a job in the Public Works Department in Peoria ('70) so he could attend Bradley University. The Director of Public Works mentored him and made him Chair of the Utilities Commission.

Identifier

DaigneauW_01_20131003_C02

Publication Date

10-3-2013

Publisher

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Professional Path; Personal Background; Professional Path; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Evolution of Career; The Administrator; Overview

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

William Daigneau, MBA

So I had interviewed at another company called Chicago Bridge and Iron, a large steel fabricator. It didn’t do bridges, though. All they did was pressure vessels and tanks. They had a year-long training program for their new engineers, and remembering those words of my counselor, I decided to join them.

So I went to work for Chicago Bridge in ’68, and I spent six months in the field, three months in Engineering, and three months in Fabrication. That was the cycle. And I learned a lot. When I say “the field,” I mean on the construction site. And at the time, that was when the nuclear industry was just really emerging in the United States, and because of their experience in pressure vessels, Chicago Bridge and Iron was really very active in the nuclear industry. Because they could basically fabricate, weld, roll, and bend very thick steel, up to six inches thick. They had the facilities to do that. They knew how to do that stuff.

So as a young engineer, I found myself being assigned to the nuclear projects. My three-month stint was in Memphis, Tennessee, where they had their heavy steel plate fabricating facility, and it was built on the Memphis River so that they could put together the reactor vessels, put them on a barge, ship them out to the coast—down the Mississippi—out to the coast, and then deliver them wherever the plant was being built. They were so big, you couldn’t truck them, and they’re so heavy. So they had to be basically—and a lot of nuclear plants are built near water sources—rivers and ocean—because they have the cooling requirements, so they need lots of water. So that’s how basically—when you look at a map of all the nuclear facilities in the United States, they’re all near where a large barge could—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So how long did you spend with Chicago Bridge and Iron?

William Daigneau, MBA

Well, what happened was basically I spent two years with them, because I got into—this is where my interest in management started. I was assigned to the Plymouth Nuclear Station in Massachusetts. At one point in time we had over 2000 workers on this site. Now, the logistics of moving that many people around a confined construction site and having each actually productive and doing something is quite formidable.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Could you repeat the name of the project you were assigned to?

William Daigneau, MBA

Plymouth Station Nuclear Plant.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Nuclear plant, okay. I just missed that.

William Daigneau, MBA

Yeah, it’s right on Cape Cod, Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

Neat. Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.

William Daigneau, MBA

At the time, being the know-it-all, young engineer, I obviously had the solution to just about everything. As a matter of fact, it was interesting. One of my stints in the production facility, I developed this scheduling system for the fabricating shops to try to move things through the shop efficiently and on schedule. I thought I’d be hoisted on everyone’s shoulders and applauded for that, but all the shop foremen said, “What’s this?” And I was kind of frustrated at the time. Can’t they see the advantages of this? And the guy I worked for at the plant says—you know—because I was a little dejected, “Bill, you’ve got to understand the context of it. You have to understand, Bill, that not everyone is as smart as you are.” Not that I was that smart, but because I could see this, I thought everyone else could see it.

So to make a long story short, what happened to me is I wrote a report about what I saw wrong in the field erection services, comparing that to the manufacturing fabrication services of the company and how they could correct all of this. And at the time—this was before the word “mentoring” meant a lot, but basically, at Chicago Bridge and Iron, when you are a young engineer, you were assigned someone as your mentor, and usually it was an executive in the company. They would check in on you, how you doing, all this stuff. So I sent this report to my—he was a vice president in the company. I had talked to him about it. I said, “I kind of have some ideas about how we could really improve productivity on the erection side of things.” He said, “Well, send it to me, and let me look at it.”

As it turns out, he was going to a strategic meeting of all the executives. He took my report along with him, and put it down in front of the vice president for construction. (laughs) So anyway, to make a long story short, I wouldn’t say I was blacklisted, but I was immediately transferred out of this VP’s district. (laughs)

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD

So it was a political thing?

William Daigneau, MBA

Oh, yeah. You know, I didn’t know. I was just—for me, I was just solving the problem, and here’s how they could solve the problem. It probably was totally bogus, but at the time, that was my thinking.

So based on that experience, I started thinking, well, what do I want to do? I thought, “You know, either I can work for this company for twenty years,”—because all of the senior executives were in their fifties. There was no fast track in that company. It was based on performance over years and years—very conservative company. Or I can fast track this. So I decided I’ll get my MBA. The process of getting the MBA was pretty formidable back then. There were no executive MBA programs. You had to be admitted into the graduate school like any other student would be. Well, I’m an engineer. I’d never taken accounting, finance, business law. I’d taken none of that, so I couldn’t get admitted into an MBA program without having the equivalent of a degree in finance or business. So I had to go back to undergraduate. And moving around the country in construction, I couldn’t do that. So I left CB&I after two years.

Chapter 02: Early Job Experiences Inspire an Interest in Management

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