A journey from process engineer to IChemE’s technical vice president (Day 206)

For over 200 days now, I have been slowly fulfilling my presidential mission of sharing chemical engineering good news every day. And over time, I have noticed a pattern amongst my readership; chemical engineers are interested in the journey of where chemical engineering can take you.

By now, you must all know my personal journey inside out; starting in academia, then twenty years in the oilfield services industry working for Schlumberger until I came full circle back into academia in 2005 as professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London, UK.

For today’s blog post, I will let a previous IChemE technical vice president, Ed Daniels, walk you through his journey; a chemical engineer who rose through the ranks to a senior leadership role within a major oil company. Perhaps shining the spotlight on an individual will help shine a light on the profession in some small way…


Ed Daniels (2)Name: Ed Daniels
Job: Executive Vice President, Commercial and New Business Development
Course: Chemical engineering, Imperial College London
Graduated: 1988
Employer: Royal Dutch Shell

Quote startBack when I started my degree at university, I knew, even back then that chemical engineering was, and would remain to be, a sound foundation of engineering education. Not only is it practical and logical, but it would also prove to serve me well in a career context.

In a lot of what we do as a species, chemical engineering is inherently involved; from addressing the challenges in food security to water scarcity and more. These fundamental challenges of course include the energy challenge, which is the most applicable to me, and it is for this reason that I am immensely proud to be part of the chemical engineering profession.

I was particularly interested in energy at the start of my career because it’s very strategic and has its own deep-seated and associated challenges. Every government in the world has it’s own energy policy, which further corroborates the fact that it is vital to our infrastructure and is fundamental to the way we live. So, from a big picture perspective, I find energy an absolutely fascinating area to work in.

My relationship with my company began even before I had graduated, as they had sponsored me through university. So as a wide-eyed graduate back in September 1988, I entered the world of work as a process engineer working in oil refining, working on crude distillation, isomerisation and other process plants.

I think it’s important, particularly from what I’ve found in my personal career, to have a strong basis of practical experience after you’ve studied. To this day, I rely on my knowledge and experience gained as a process engineer, both in terms of engineering and in knowing how the real world works. It’s an important lesson if you want to progress through to senior leadership roles.

Do I miss the practical experience of being a process engineer? I wouldn’t necessarily say I do, because I always had a broad career plan to move on to different things. But when I visit process plants and engineering facilities in my current role, I do get a buzz from seeing and interacting with our physical assets.

My advice to a graduate or a young professional starting out in chemical engineering in today’s climate would be to talk to lots of different people, take their opinions into account so that you don’t found your career on a single opinion. What you will find is that typically, people will be very helpful and spare you their time. You can find out how they got to where they are and then start working towards a career plan of your own.

Achieving Chartership is important, more so today than it was when I first started back in the early ’90s when my professional credentials came from within the company. But due to notable process safety incidents, it’s important that external regulation sets the standard for our profession, both for individuals and the companies they work for.

After spending my first decade or so within engineering, I proceeded into an unknown territory – business and marketing. When I eventually came back to a more technology focussed function in 2007, it was then that I recognised the need to become more involved with my profession and my chemical engineering roots. Thus, I became chartered, and actually achieved fellow status with IChemE in the same year (2010).

Back in early 2013, the first edition of IChemE’s technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters, was published. It built on earlier good work involving many across IChemE and as technical vice president  at the time, I had the great pleasure of introducing the document to the chemical engineering world and beyond – something I’m quite proud of!

So where has chemical engineering taken me to today? At this point in my journey, I take up a senior leadership role, as my job title (see above) suggests. There is no typical day in my job so I’ll briefly outline what I do in terms of allocated time in any given month.

A quarter of my time is spent on strategic direction and scoping it longer term; how do we translate these messages so that the people working for me and my organisation know how they relate and fit into our strategic direction.

Another 25 per cent of my time is spent in operations and new business development. So this involves negotiating deals with third parties, as well as making sure we are meeting our targets operationally; whether these be health and safety targets, our code of conduct or other key metrics.

I also spend a quarter of my time on people development. I have a lot of people working for me and we need to make sure that we have the right development and succession plans in place for our employees to ensure they move through the company. Part of my role is to make sure that we are prepared for the skills and competencies needed by our employees in three, five and even ten years’ time.

And finally, the last quartile of my time is spent externally representing the company, whether this be at conferences, sitting on external boards or delivering speeches/talks in an external facing environment.

My career has taken me to places across the globe and I have been lucky enough to live and work abroad in the USA, Singapore and the Netherlands. My job is never boring and I Quote endwholeheartedly love what I do! And I don’t think that statement is unique to just my personal career as a chemical engineer; you’ll find that the profession as a whole reflects this too.


Do you have a chemical engineering good news story or want to write a ChemEng365 guest blog? If so, contact me via the blog and you will get a #ChemEng365 torch in return.

3 thoughts on “A journey from process engineer to IChemE’s technical vice president (Day 206)”

  1. Ed Daniels’ advice to seek the opinion of a number of people before picking a career route is sound advice. Some people will wish to fully the route that Ed has taken others will make different choices.

    No matte the choice it is likely that any chemical engineer can find a role that is not boring and that they love.


  2. I enjoy reading every single article…thank you ICHEME for an enlightening year.

    I have a quick question, i have an admission for a PhD in Chemical Engineering to research on the energy – poverty nexus. I am torn between leaving my current job in Uganda – East Africa and going to Australia for 4 years. Is this a worthwhile endeavor. I do appreciate that the ultimate decision lies with me but i like to have a second and even third opinion. thanks alot.


    1. Hello Irene. Thank you for the feedback. Unfortunately, we have a policy of not giving personal advice via the blog. However, it sounds like you have options already and that can only be a good thing. Best of luck, whichever decision you make.


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