Jacob Wheeler, Technical Engineer at W&O Supply shares his insight on his job role.
I am a technical engineer and I work within the outside sales arm of W&O. My role is to work with our customers and help resolve whatever problems they are grappling with and gain an understanding of their particular needs. My role is to understand what our customer individual needs are and provide them with cost effective and efficient solutions that fall within our scope.
This can involve both meeting with our customers in their offices or working directly onboard vessels to meet with the vessel engineering team and perform ship surveys to establish the onboard conditions and how we can provide them with the best, most appropriate product solution.
I see sales as a by-product to building a strong personal relationship with our customers. I don’t want to be seen as a salesman, but instead as a trusted consultant who will provide an unbiased and accurate perspective – ultimately, it’s about building trust and establishing a long-term partnership.
Although my role is primarily within the cruise division, I do branch out to other segments such as the commercial and government divisions – the process is the same and the experience is valuable. For our cruise customers though, budgets and timeframes are some of their largest concerns and they often require us to plan 6 months in advance, or more!
Our goal is to remove a level of stress and responsibility from our customers. A lot of our customers have issues with pipes, valves and fittings and have difficulty locating the correct materials and products, this is when they will reach out to W&O. We can then use our global supply chain network to find the right vendor or a comparable vendor offering products with the same specifications.
We also assist customers that are experiencing repetitive failures. In situations that require additional support we bring our engineering solutions team in and utilize their decades of experience to provide an alternative solution that meets their long-term goals for operational capability while also aligning with their budgetary requirements. One of our goals is to remove valves as a stress point for our customers and to provide them with a sense of security – we want our customers to know that everything we provide will be correct, and that we will continue to be a direct point of contact in the event of any problems, so our customers can focus their energy elsewhere.
Often, we see that many of the issues our customers face are similar, but depending on the timeframes they are working with, or their budget, the solutions may be different. For example, with the introduction of exhaust scrubbers into the marine industry many of our customers were seeing premature failures. These systems require special materials to withstand the extremely corrosive environment, we were able to work directly with each our customers and provide them with an individualized solution.
There is no such thing as a ‘normal day’ as each day is shaped by my client’s needs and that can vary depending on who I am working with. It is certainly not a regular ‘9 to 5’ job, and with customers all over the world, I am required to have a lot of flexibility.
I usually work from home and I do a lot of business by email or by phone with our global customers. Much of this remote work is with vessel or fleet managers and is very strategic and forward-looking, working months in advance.
However, when I am visiting a drydock or onboard a vessel, as I was earlier this year in the Grand Bahama shipyard, conversations tend to be far more tactical and focussed on providing immediate and specific solutions with a ‘high-speed, low-drag’ mindset.
Prior to joining W&O I served 10 years active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard, where I worked as an engineer mainly on both large and small vessels. Although I never saw myself as a salesman, I always enjoyed solving problems and finding solutions.. After I separated from the Coast Guard in 2017, I came across W&O by accident! Following discussions with team members, I realised I had a lot to learn about the products but knew I had a lot to offer the company in terms of vessel experience.
I have a very strong technical background and knowledge of vessels and marine engineering systems. However, my experience in pipes and valves was initially limited, as it is a very in-depth field, requiring specialized knowledge whereas my experience was very broad. W&O enabled me to apply my existing skills and knowledge to fulfil their needs. As someone with a young family, I also appreciated the flexibility afforded by the position.
5. What is the best thing about working for W&O and within the maritime industry?
W&O feels like a small business but on a corporate scale and I really appreciate the family first mentality that creates. This small business mentality is reflected in both the level of customer service we provide, but also how W&O treats its employees. For example, after the birth of my first child in May 2022, my supervisors made sure that my schedule was accommodating to allowing me to be home with my wife and newborn.
The Maritime industry more broadly, also feels like a family – we all have the same concerns, are dealing with the similar problems and are striving for the same goals. When you go on board any vessel or work with anyone in the sector, you already have a personal connection, whether you know it or not!