Engineer of the Month, We interview Simon Cyhanko, Northumbrian Water’s Head of Wastewater Networks

As part of our bi-monthly newsletter, we interview Engineers to find out all about their careers and achievements.  This time, to highlight the situation in Ukraine, we interviewed Northeast man with family in the Ukraine, Simon Cyhanko.

Simon, who studies at the University of Lancaster spent his career working in the Northeast and works as Northumbrian Water’s Head of Wastewater Networks.  In this interview, Simon talks about his family’s experience in Ukraine, what we can do to support the situation and what he’s personally done to raise awareness.

Along with this, we delve into Simon’s career and how winning Chartered Manager of the Year 2021 has affected his personal development.

Q1 Your grandparents moved to the UK in the 1940’s. what provoked this move and how did they adjust to British culture?

They moved to the UK as displaced person’s (refugees) due to the war in Ukraine.  Having spent time in different countries including Germany and Italy they were asked where they wanted to go, including Canada and the UK.  They chose the UK as it was nearer to Ukraine and they always had planned to return home.

Q2 How effective are the UK’s current efforts with the situation with Ukraine and what more can British people do to help?

The UK’s efforts have been pretty good compared to many countries.  The UK has been among the best countries in providing Ukraine with weapons, humanitarian aid and imposing sanctions on Russia.  However, Britain could do more, particularly in terms of providing better air defence systems and fighter planes (but not pilots) to Ukraine.  Whilst the Homes for Ukraine scheme is great, the Government could also work a bit quicker with turning applications around.  The sanctions on Russia could also still be tightened up and I would ask your readers to contact their MP’s and lobby for more military aid for Ukraine and stiffer sanctions on Russia.

Q3 You are doing a range of activities to raise awareness and support the situation in Ukraine – can you tell us more about the impact you’re having?

Initially, I worked hard to get friends, family, and professional colleagues to make sure they were contacting their MPs to lobby for tough sanctions on Russia and also to make sure the UK led the way in providing weapons to Ukraine.  Whilst fundraising, I tried to make sure people knew where best to direct their own donations.  My first LinkedIn post proved really popular and was watched over 16,000 times and I was delighted with that response, in itself that will have generated lots of extra donations and lobbying of MPS.

Q4 What has your family in Ukraine told you about their personal experience currently?

It has been so tough and upsetting to listen to.  Some of my cousins are now refugees and have sought sanctuary in Poland whilst others have stayed in Ukraine.  Some have witnessed missile attacks on local airfields and others have had to leave their husbands who are now fighting for territorial defence.  So sad, but equally so inspiring.  Ukrainians are fiercely proud people and will not surrender to a bully of a country in Russia.

Q5 You recently received the Chartered Manager of the Year – what’s the best bit of management advice you could give?

Wow. Big question and where to start?!  I would probably start with; Management and leadership are both a huge learning curves, things can be tough, you experience insecurities and you will make mistakes, however that is OK and it is natural and normal.  Just be persistent and you will grow and become more effective as a result of learning and reflecting from those experiences.

Q6 What are the top three crucial skills you’d say are essential to your role at Northumbrian Water?

As head of Wastewater Networks, I would say the top 3 skills/qualities;

1. Understanding and focussing on the real business/departmental priorities and giving them the right level of attention.

2. Being able to bring the right people together, from different teams to develop and implement plans…as I can’t do it all myself and I don’t have all the answers.

3. Persistence: achieving outstanding results is difficult, it takes time and there are lots of hurdles to overcome, so I need to be extremely persistent if I am going to win and achieve awesome results.

Q7 Sewer flooding is a pressing issue for the water industry.  How do you think innovations will advance water sustainability and resilience worldwide?

Innovations will advance everything in any walk of life, from sewer flooding to how we do our shopping at home.  In my team and at Northumbrian Water, we’re working really hard to look for better ways of doing things for our business and for our customers, but I think we must still try harder to make sure we have the space and capacity to deliver innovations on the ground.  The idea generation is the easy bit, but we have to become brilliant at delivery.

Q8 What is your biggest achievement to date – personal or professional?

Professionally I think it must be the role I played in initiating our step change in pollution performance between 2016 and 2017.  That year we shifted from being among the worst companies in the industry to the best by quite a stretch.  4 years on we are still industry-leading, largely from the work I led in 2016-2017.  Personally, I was delighted with my half marathon personal best (1.36.36) that I achieved in January, hopefully, I can take another 60 seconds off in Edinburgh in May.

If you’d like to find out more about the roles of different engineers and see all of our Engineer of the Month articles, sign up to our newsletter today here!

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