Engineering profile: Stuart Webster

Stuart Webster is Project Manager at our Skinningrove site. He started out as an apprentice in 1977 and has had a varied career since, not just in the UK but in the middle East too. Here he shares his wide range of experiences...

Please provide a brief overview of your current role with British Steel

I'm the Project Manager for the re-location of the existing Darlington mast processing facility to the Skinningrove site, which includes the internal relocation of the Roller Straightening Mill (RSM) build-up equipment and the mill guide repair shop. This £26 million investment project also involves the construction of 7,000m² of process buildings, a new 2-storey office building, 4 new mill roll lathes, an 18m travelling column machining centre, a new automated saw processing line and storage facility, 5 new Electric Overhead Traveling (EOT) cranes and a variety of other types of equipment to both streamline and improve our capability to service the mast product sector.

When did you join British Steel?

This is my third stint at British Steel. Initially I started my apprenticeship as a fitter / turner in 1977 working at the Teesside Concast (Continuous Casting) Plant and Redcar Blast Furnace before leaving to work overseas in 1997. I returned with CNES (Corus Northern Engineering Services) in 2003 for a few years and was part of the project team that constructed our Rail Service Centre in Scunthorpe.

Finally in 2021, I accepted the role of Project Manager for the Mast Processing Centre.

Where did you work before?

My early career in British Steel was very similar to a lot of craftsmen in those days, progressing through the various craft levels into the lower end of the management structure by moving plants. My first position overseas was with Hadeed, the national steelmaker in Saudi Arabia, where I was the Project Engineer on the installation of the Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) plant and Slab Caster for their flat product facility. I then moved into the role of Plant Engineer for the facility, which was very rewarding and informative in terms of realising the importance of a lot of the smaller aspects in projects that can have a big impact on the day-to-day running of equipment and facilities.

I returned to the UK for my 2 children to complete their A levels, working for CNES as Project Engineer on the installation of the Rail Service Centre at Scunthorpe, which was one of the so-called Starsign investment projects. After the plant was commissioned and with no prospect of getting a position nearer to home at the time, I took up the role of Engineering Manager at PD Ports, where I was responsible for the maintenance teams at Teesport and Hartlepool.

The lure of foreign travel then took me to Emirates Steel in Abu Dhabi as Project Engineer for their development from re-roller to integrated steel producer. This involved the addition of Direct Reduction of Iron (DRI) plants, EAF steelmaking and 4 further rolling mills. Once these plants were successfully commissioned, I moved into the strategy and development department as Engineering Manager where I was responsible for the project team, drawing and design office and the project portfolio through which the company’s objectives were achieved.      

From an educational point of view, I've been very fortunate in terms of my various employers helping. Firstly, British Steel put me through my engineering qualifications and the MBA at Teesside University, and Emirates Steel put me through an MSc in Project Management at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. All of this, I believe, has significantly improved my capability to manage people and projects. 

What skills and experience do you bring to your current role?

I have spent my 40-year career managing maintenance departments, drawing and design offices and managing large capital projects, both in the UK and the Middle East. I've had exposure to a lot of different types of equipment, processes, management styles, people and cultures - I think this has certainly helped in shaping my management style to suit project management.

Why do you enjoy working at British Steel?

The Skinningrove site is local to my home, I know a lot of the people who work here and it will be very rewarding to finish my career helping one of the British Steel sites I've never worked on before improve the quality of the product they manufacture.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I am very proud of being part of the team that built and commissioned 2 fully integrated steel plants in the UAE, currently they’re producing in excess of 3 million tons of steel per year. I’m proud of also being part of the management team responsible for the projects that shaped the strategic direction of the company.

What do you hope the future holds for you at British Steel?

I hope to see a successful conclusion to this current project. It will help safeguard jobs locally, improve the business' bottom line in terms of profitability and create a good environment for people to work in. And, hopefully, I'll be able to start the beginnings of a dedicated Teesside-based project team that will help re-building and future proof the industry for many years to come.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

As a much younger man, I used to grow pot leeks competitively at my allotment in North Skelton. I used to show the leeks both locally and at the annual 'World Cup' of Leeks at the Pelaw Social Club, where I finished fifth one year!

What advice would you give to other people considering a career at British Steel?

The steel industry is a great place to learn a trade / profession. The complexity of the plants and the multitude of different types of equipment needed to run them help develop very good craftsmen and engineers. I believe starting my career in British Steel was instrumental in shaping the direction my career has travelled. I would recommend for anyone wanting to get into heavy industry, they couldn’t do much better than starting it in the steel industry.