Ian Cook

MEng Chemical Engineering, 2012

Why did you choose to study at the University of Edinburgh?

Choosing a University to study at was not easy. However, I decided to pick Edinburgh because:

  1. The University has an international reputation for excellence.
  2. The University attracts students from around the globe.
  3. Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

What path has your career taken since graduation?

Since graduating, I have been fortunate to work in various roles, supporting projects across the world with leading energy and engineering companies in the UK, USA, and Norway.

During university, I was fortunate to be offered an industrial placement opportunity with Diageo. After graduation, I started my career working for the engineering and technology provider NOV on their graduate program. The NOV graduate program consisted of several rotations in different business units and roles in different locations.

As an engineer, my rotations were largely engineering-focussed (proposals, detailed design, and research and development). I worked on various interesting projects including, a produced sand handling system for the Wheatstone LNG development in Australia and a produced water treatment system for the Alder platform in the North Sea.

During the graduate program, I completed one rotation outside my comfort zone in employee competency, and I also got my first taste of working abroad by completing a rotation in Houston Texas.

After completing the graduate scheme, I was offered several opportunities with NOV and I decided to take a permanent position as a Process Engineer/Project Manager with NOV in New Orleans. I worked at a location which designed and built topside process equipment for the upstream oil and gas industry.

In 2015, I was promoted to lead the tender department, and I managed a team of engineers and estimators to deliver technical and commercial proposals for customers. During this time, I secured work for several high-profile projects such as the Gulf of Mexico Appomattox and Argos projects.

In 2016, I was awarded Chartered Engineering status with the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). Unfortunately, the oil price plummeted in 2015, drastically reducing business activity and job losses. The oil price crash was a challenging period, professionally and personally, characterized by high job uncertainty and a lack of employability owing to a change in government and economic conditions in the USA, which deterred firms from sponsoring visas.

In 2017, NOV acquired another company, and there was consolidation with my site closing. During the consolidation period, I considered my long-term options and applied to study for a sustainable energy masters degree at Imperial College, but sadly, my application was unsuccessful.

As a result of the acquisition, I was offered a new position in Norway. I had always wanted to live in a country where English wasn’t the first language, and the position offered an opportunity to learn and manage teams across the globe. In Norway, I led the seawater treatment division for NOV and managed large multidisciplinary teams in Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, and Rio De Janeiro. In Norway, I supported renewable energy integration initiatives to decarbonise the oil and gas industry.

Working on decarbonisation projects fuelled my desire to change jobs. However, despite my transferable skills, I found it hard to change careers as I had no network and limited direct experience in renewable energy.

Thus, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and the oil industry regressed again, I decided to change my career and study for an MBA. I attended Imperial College London and specialised in energy and clean technology. For my dissertation, I was hired by an engineering consultant to review the impact of the government’s net zero emissions targets on the North Sea oil and gas industry and advise on business strategy.

My dissertation project intersected oil and renewable energy industries, and I am grateful to the company for hiring me to work with them. Upon graduating in 2021, I joined SSE initially as a Senior Commercial Manager in their Distributed Energy division, supporting heat network, solar, and battery developments. In 2022, I took up my current position as Head of New Ventures (Business Development) for SSE Thermal. In my current role, I have developed new carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen, and medium to long duration energy storage projects.

What is your current role?

Head of New Ventures at SSE. Leading a team of managers and analysts to develop new CCS, hydrogen, hydrogen derivative, and long duration energy storage opportunities for SSE Thermal. The role consists of a mixture of strategy, business, and project development considering organic, joint venture (JV), and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) opportunities.

What experiences do you feel helped you get to your current position?

Securing the internship with Diageo while I was at University was critical for me securing a graduate position with NOV as it developed me personally and professionally as well as helping my CV stand out. I was fortunate in NOV that I got to shape my career early on, and in New Orleans, I worked with an experienced group of staff who supported my development.

Demonstrating results in a tough economic environment helped me secure the position in Norway. Moving out of the oil and gas industry was not easy and relied on me taking time out to retrain. The MBA further strengthened my CV and helped prepare me for pure commercial roles.

My transferable skills (proposals) were picked up by a recruiter who hired me to work with SSE. My first manager at SSE supported my application to an internal shadow board, my application stood out due to my international experience. Being on the shadow board allowed me to build a network across the organisation and ultimately led to me securing the role I am currently in to date.

How have you used the skills and/or knowledge developed during your degree in your career?

The skills developed during my career which I have used during my career include:

  • Problem solving
  • Data analysis
  • Report writing
  • Presentations
  • Time management
  • Planning
  • Teamwork
  • Resilience

In terms of knowledge, I have used some degree courses more than others. Plant Engineering, Unit Operations, Process Safety, and the design courses provided me with a base knowledge of process plant design which I built upon in the early part of my career.

Learning the principles of project management, including how to construct a schedule, has helped me throughout my career. Membrane Science and Technology provided a starting point for my role in Norway, which involved managing membrane-based technologies for treating seawater for water injection in the oil industry.

Modern Economic Issues in Industry, Supply Chain Management, Operations Management, and Techniques of Management laid the foundation which I built upon during my MBA.

Did you do any work experience while you were a student at the University of Edinburgh, and if so how did it help you in determining the field you wanted to pursue professionally?

MEng placement. Before undertaking my placement, I considered leaving with a BEng and pursuing a career in consulting or finance. However, undertaking my placement provided me with an opportunity to work on real engineering projects, which I found intrinsically satisfying. After completing my placement, I knew I wanted to start my career working on engineering projects.

Can you tell us of any personal or professional achievements in your career so far?

Living in multiple countries and working across the globe has been a personal highlight for me and I am grateful for having had that opportunity.

If you could offer some advice to prospective and current students what would it be?

It is important to be ambitious and recognise that the world is competitive. Getting relevant experience early helps. Networking can help secure opportunities. Students should strategically reach out to professionals.

I would recommend utilising all the resources at your disposal, including the Careers Service. In my third year, I visited Matt Vickers [the University's Careers Advisor for the schools of Engineering and Mathematics], who explained the importance of securing work experience before graduating and provided me with information to build my CV. This proved to be a real sliding doors moment for my career.

Ian Cook
Ian Cook