Spawning salmon, “Roll Tide” and a strange man – Life in the Safearth Americas Office
From current injection testing in a flowing river amongst spawning salmon to performing tests at nuclear facilities… things are done a little differently in our US/Canada offices. This month we are shining our spotlight on Safearth Americas Manager Keith Wallace to hear about life in the US and the projects he and the local team have been working on.
Keith’s Back Story
I was born and raised in Alabama. Married to my wife for 32 years and we have four children together.
My hobbies include following the kids in baseball, hunting, and Alabama football (you must say, “Roll Tide”- the rallying cry for the Alabama Crimson Tide athletic teams).
How many years have you been working for Safearth? Where did you work before Safearth?
I have worked for Safearth for 4.5 years. Prior to this, I worked at Southern Company for 27 years where I was their ground and lightning protection principle responsible for 4500 substations.
What lead you to work at Safearth?
A sales representative brought a strange man in my office who described an integrity test meter. I was not looking forward to the meeting and took it to appease the sales rep. Conversation with the strange man convinced me he knew what he was talking about. The meter solved the issues we had with other methods of integrity testing. I immediately asked to buy two meters.
The strange man was Steve Palmer. We met together in IEEE meetings. Darren Woodhouse eventually invited me to the Down to Earth Conference (DTEC). I was the dumbest guy in the room. I was hooked.
What are your main roles and responsibilities?
I am the Director of Safearth Americas. Responsibilities span from the highest legal liability to sweeping the floors. Safearth Americas looks much like Safearth Consulting (in NSW) 15 years ago.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Every day is new. Every job won and invoiced, and every instrument sold is an exciting win for us.
What sorts of projects have you worked on?
With Safearth, we have concentrated on electric utilities and large industrial customers. Our goal is to remove our customers’ problems – to ultimately meet their needs. The trick is they often do not know what they need.
We are in the relationship business. Our largest customers allow us to help them well beyond selling metered or performing tests. Several customers have established service contracts with them to allow us to establish test and equipment specifications, perform investigations, and legal support.
We have tested tiny substations that take less than an hour, and massive plants that take several days to complete.
What is your engineering background? What studies have you completed?
I have extensive experience in substation grounding design, high voltage circuit breaker application, transformer application, work safety rules, and temporary protective grounding. I also have several years of nuclear plant experience which is its own world.
What’s it like working in the US office? How many offices are there and what are their locations? How many staff do you have? Do you manage the Canadian office as well?
Safearth Americas has offices in Alabama, Wisconsin and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with 5 full-time employees and one major casual employee. We handle all work in North America.
Do you work closely on projects with Safearth staff in other offices? Have you found this challenging or easy? What are the complexities?
All offices work closely together on all projects. Regular communication and information management allow for effective project implementation. We are currently targeting more regional work in the US and Canada which will require more travelling onsite.
What is the most important thing you have learned since starting at Safearth?
The Safearth brand goes well beyond equipment to our work products and our people. Our instruments are sleek, fast, efficient, intuitive, and valuable. So are our people!
How do you find working with Safearth instruments? Are there benefits to working with products built for purpose and in-house?
If I were still at Southern Company, I would be using Safearth instruments. They are the best in the world.
Can you think of a time when your role was challenging or difficult? How did you overcome this? Is it sometimes hard to be a remote office from Australia?
The early times with Safearth were extremely difficult and a little lonely. The differences in time zone made communication and personal growth quite difficult. 2020 was also extremely difficult. COVID closed off Australia resources which Safearth Americas relied on to perform all current injection tests.
However, the results of difficult times can be quite powerful. These times put pressure on Safearth Americas to grow resulting in the resources to perform all testing from within North America. We still miss regular visits from our Australian friends!
Tell us about a time your consulting team worked together to solve a problem?
Bryan Beske, and I have extensive large utility experience. We understand the politics and business of the investor-owned utility. Carl Moller is one of the best Current Distribution, Electromagnetic Fields, Grounding and Soil Structure Analysis (CDEGS) users in the world. We three regularly discuss our test and marketing opportunities for new and regular customers.
We can’t do anything without Britt (our administration queen) and her trusty partner Garrett Wallace (the new guy) who brings strong marketing and organizational skills to our group.
US/Canadian Team: Carl Moller (Principal Engineer), Bryan Beske (Principal Engineer), Brandon Dobrowski (Engineer), Garrett Wallace (Marketing Manager), Britt Wallace (Administration Officer)
All six of us are involved in our plans to approach our customers and meet their needs.
I understand that working onsite is a big part of your job? Tell me about some of the locations you have visited. Were some more challenging that others?
We have performed fall-of-potential testing in a flowing river. We have measured the differences in potential across spawning salmon during a current injection test.
We have performed several tests at nuclear facilities.
What are the plans for the US office?
I see the future of Safearth Americas as regional offices located near key customer bases; each office having several engineers and testers. I fully expect to surpass the Australian office in number of employees and offices in the next ten years due to the exploding testing market in North America.
Safearth Americas wants to give Australian employees opportunities to experience parts of North America where they have interest. Our opportunities continue to grow, and we welcome you to visit our beautiful country and do some testing while you’re here! And our folks want to visit Australia too!
Thanks for a fantastic interview, Keith. It’s great to hear your perspective on life and work in the US Safearth office. We hope to have you visit down under in the near future.
For more information on careers at Safearth please visit here: safearth.com/careers/