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From Apprentice to Hinkley Point C Managing Director

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Stuart Crooks

Managing Director of Hinkley Point C

Hinkley Point C

I grew up in a very small village, Standish-Lower-Ground, near Wigan. My Primary School was a small school which I attended from 4-year-old to 11-year-old. I had quite severe eczema as a child and spent quite a bit of time in the hospital receiving treatments. As such, I missed a lot of school during my primary school years. I didn't choose which secondary school to attend; I just went to the closest to me, Shevington High School. Through my O-Levels, (now known as GCSE's), I continued to spend quite a bit of time in Salford Hospital. As such, I spent some time walking around Manchester's streets and gained a love of the city.

Early education was challenging, but I did enjoy football and had ambitions of being a professional footballer. As I was coming to the end of my O-Levels, it was apparent that this would not be the case. I was under pressure to go on to A-Levels, but I wanted to control my own life and leave school at 16. I calculated that I only needed four O-Levels to get an apprenticeship. I applied for 52 apprenticeships, travelling around on the bus to attend the assessment centres. I was eventually offered 12 apprenticeships but failed the medical for 11 of them because of my eczema. The final apprenticeship was with a large local employer, General Universal Stores, who made me sign a letter to say that I claim any industrial disease caused by work. I am eternally grateful for them taking a chance on me. I am now 39 years into my working career, and I have only taken one day sick in all that time.


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My eczema, the time spent in hospital and my parents who pushed me to "get on with it" gave me a determination that has followed me throughout my career in that I don't allow barriers to get in my way.

My apprenticeship was fantastic. On day one, my new company told me that I was going to college for a full year which was not what I wanted at the time - I wanted to work - but it was a tremendous opportunity for me working with other electrical apprentices. I quickly made new friends, acquaintances and had to learn a new way through life. My apprenticeship was a great experience. I also won the apprentice of the year, where I was rewarded with a week in Berlin to meet international apprentices. It was the first time that I had ever been abroad.

I didn't know at the time, but I am a natural extrovert in that I gain energy from being around new people. The more diverse people that I am around, the more energy that I get. The lessons I learned at this time I have taken with me into my current role in which there are multiple nationalities and cultures. It helps to have a management team around you that think differently, bringing a whole new dimension to leadership. Different people are more attractive. They challenge your thinking and approach. Ultimately this leads to a better result.

Partway through my apprenticeship, upon noticing that my boss had a new company car and being the extrovert I am, I asked how to get a company to buy a car for me. He declared that I needed to be an engineer. It was here that I started my journey to becoming a chartered engineer. At the end of my apprenticeship, I told my employer that I was leaving to go to uni for three years. They made a counteroffer that I continue to work for them as an engineer and go to college part-time to do my degree. The catch was that my pay was to be reduced by £2,000 per year as "yesterday you were useful, now you are useless as we have to train you all over again. Let that be a lesson to you." I started a part-time degree at a college in Preston in physics. I enjoyed this.

Following my first year of college, I decided to apply for a CE&I Engineer on the spare of the moment. I got a job offer to join CEGB at Heysham 2 Power Station working on the installation and commissioning of the computer-controlled protection systems. Not long after the job offer, Chernobyl happened. I had the option not to take the role at the time, but I wanted to stay and make it my mission to prove that this industry is safe and can benefit society.

As an apprentice, you learn the confidence to tackle anything. As I started Heysham, I was one-year into my part-time degree in physics. I completed my final years at what is now Manchester Metropolitan University, doing one 12-hour day in lessons per week while working six days per week and looking after my three children during the evenings and weekend when my wife was working shifts. I, however, left with a 1st Class Honours degree in physics and got bestowed a Chartered Electrical Engineer. I then started to focus on what was next, and for me, this was management.

I spent a bit of time working out what would make a good manager. I undertook an MBA at Lancaster University for two-years. During this time, I learned that there are no answers. Still, the ability that I learned during my technical chartership in taking on problems in an analytical way is useful in any management situation. Science teaches you to solves problems that are valuable in management. Even today, I'm the MD of a £20bn project with over 10,000 people working on it at any one time, but it comes down to people when you boil it down. Managing people in those situations is the most valuable skill that you can have. Never forget your roots. Ultimately it is all about people and problem solving and not being afraid to get into the detail. Something that I have learned is 'trust and then verify'. Even now, I will work around the site and speak to the supervisors and the workers directly. I then form my view of the project rather than rely solely on the data. People create data. I make an effort during this time to ask people how they are, what are their aspirations and worries. It is essential to understand people.

As part of my career, I have also spent time in Business Development with Britsh Energy. This role was utterly alien to me but allowed me to work in the US. I got to work with Duncan Hawthorne during this time who provided me with a lot of lessons. Business Development wasn't for me, so I asked what other roles are available as I was not particularly eager to spend too much time with spreadsheets. I am an operational manager who loves people. I landed a position as Business Manager at Dungeness B. The lesson here is that I saw an opportunity and went for it, but when I realised that it wasn't for me, I didn't waste any time to try to get out of it and find another role that suits my skill-set and career aspirations. I didn't see this as a failure or a wrong decision. I learned many new skills and about myself. Don't be afraid of opportunities as they will never be as bad as you think if they don't work out. Additionally, don't be scared to say this is not for me and go back to what you love.

To a new starter today, I would say; seek opportunity, take the chance and seize the day. Never be afraid of looking back. Every opportunity you look at will give you learning that will teach you new things. There is never a bad outcome. And if you come to a path that you realise is not for you, don't be afraid to change it. It is your life, your career, your choice. Never feel tramped. Never look back. Enjoy every day. Never waste a minute.


The above, with kind permission, is based on a conversation between Dr Andrew Sherry and Stuart Crooks on the podcast - Are We Nearly There Yet? There are numerous inspirational career stories as part of this podcast. You can check them out here;

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