The Engineering Trust

Women in Engineering - Rikki Douglas

Hear from hundreds of inspirational women engineers and role models during International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June.
We speak to Rikki Douglas
Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Ultra Energy

Rikki Douglas is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Ultra Energy. Rikki joined Ultra in 2012 as Global Sales Manager to lead sales, strategy and business development in the field of sensors and radiation monitoring. Specialising in radiation detection, health physics and reactor I&C, Rikki has more than 18 years' experience in the Nuclear Industry with a strong background in client facing technical sales, applications engineering, marketing, commercial and leadership roles. She holds an MPhys in Physics from the University of Lancaster, an MSc in Radiation and Environmental Protection from the University of Surrey and an MBA from The Open University. In 2020 Rikki took on the role of Chairperson for Ultra’s Group CSR Committee studying Sustainability in Business Leadership at Cambridge University and is a strong advocate for Ultra businesses having a positive impact in the communities in which they operate.

Can you give me the brief history of Ultra and what the business does?
Ultra Electronics is a £1bn turnover British FTSE250 company providing engineered systems for defence, security, critical detection and control markets. The company employs more than 4200 people in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia offering specialist capability in all aspects of Engineering. Energy is one of Ultra’s five Strategic Business Units, a £40m+ revenue business operating across Nuclear, Aerospace and Industrial industries focusing on specialist critical detection and control applications. Energy has programmes worldwide but concentrates on the USA, UK and China territories where the domestic Nuclear Power industry has been historically strong.

Tell us about your job. What does a typical day at work look like for you?
I’m responsible and accountable for all elements of Sales, Marketing and Business Development globally for Energy. I have a team of 19 people based across UK, USA and China who are responsibility for customer relationships, strategy, developing new business, forecasting and securing orders. Most of the team are either Physicists or Engineers and have had more than 5 years’ experience working in their respective markets (one has 40+ years!).

I’ve learned that there is no such thing as a typical day or even typical working hours. In the 8 years so far of working at Ultra, I have never had two days be the same – the only consistent element is the timing of our reporting cycle which is, by far, the less exciting part of the job! 

Prior to COVID-19, I would spend more than 50% of my time travelling, to our factory and office locations, to meet with customers, to exhibitions, to conferences, or to other Ultra businesses. For the past 10 weeks, I have been working in my home office where I spend at least 80% of my day on Zoom calls. I really am looking forward to getting back out there with our team and our customers.

As an example, today’s schedule:
I started work armed with coffee at 7:45am, reading and actioning emails from colleagues overnight in USA and China. 
9am Senior Management Team Zoom meeting to discuss business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic including topics such as social distancing, holidays and changes in Government guidance (weekly meeting). 
9:30am Zoom Meeting with Commercial Manager and third party Agent in China to close an order this month for a new platform – NB: we have been working on securing this project for approximately 18 months.
10am Zoom Update Meeting with China Sales Team (General Management).
11am Zoom UK Business Unit meeting to discuss operations in the UK, review orders received, and any upcoming challenges. (General Management).
12pm Zoom meeting with the Energy Chief Technology Officer to write and update a game-plan regarding pursuit of a new market that requires extensive product development.
Wrote an agenda for the monthly group CSR meeting planned for the end of June 
Checked in with the UK Sales Team via various instant messaging tools (over lunch)
2pm Reviewed market data and assessed business opportunity associated with Positron Emission Tomography Cyclotron Facilities worldwide.
3pm Zoom meeting to review Master Services Agreement to be signed with major Nuclear Utility in USA.
4pm Call with SEPnet Employer Liaison Director to discuss preparation for a panel session in a webinar in July for Physics graduates to discuss opportunities for placements and employment.
4:30pm Call with third party agent (based in USA) to discuss new Korean customer requirement.
5pm Call with Ultra’s UK lawyer to discuss new employment contracts in a new territory.
6pm Zoom  meeting with colleague at another Ultra business to discuss and approve an application for Ultra’s COVID-19 charity fund – then organising payment to the charity with our Global Business Services team. 
7pm – Zoom meeting with Marketing Manager in USA to discuss updates of data and SEO improvement on Energy’s website.
7:30pm onwards (on and off) – Conference via Zoom -  American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting Technical Sessions and Quiz.

How does your work affect people’s lives/the world around us?
Ultra Energy fundamentally exists to keep people and the environment safe. We work closely with customers, regulators, the Military, and World Governments to do so. If you’re based in the UK, Energy has a direct impact on generation of electricity therefore we technically help keep your lights on at home!

Tell us more about your career, where did it start and how have you come to being where you are today?
My career started much earlier than my first full time job in Physics and Engineering. I learned so much taking on extra responsibilities during my time at University – and I think that contributed to my relentlessness at work. I chose my first job because the job description sounded interesting, it was technical, and I thought it would be a waste of my social skills to sit in a research lab forever. Taking a job in technical sales enabled me to translate what I knew in to real-life applications and opportunities just grew from there. You can always do more, there’s always more to learn, and there’s always more opportunity to be captured.

Tell us about a specific moment or project that you consider a high point so far in your career?
There have been so many high points. Mostly experiences that made me stop and take stock. My favourites include visiting a calibration facility (an ex-cold war nuclear bunker) in Belarus, walking around inside the Diamond Light Source Synchrotron at Harwell during an installation, representing UK Industry at a breakfast meeting with the UK ambassador to China in Beijing, technically reviewing the radiation monitoring system at the Royal Observatory on Hong Kong Island, and training active military personnel on use of our designed instrumentation whilst on a submarine and inside a fighting vehicle. Regular other high points have been seeing the success of others after mentoring or supporting them during their career.

What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how did you get over them? 
I have worked in a male, 50+ dominated technical industry for almost 20 years. Whilst I have a name that could be either male or female, I am definitely not a man and I am not 50+ (luckily I won’t be for a decade!). This was a challenge, not necessarily within the industry or how I was perceived but for my own mind-set. I accepted quite early in my career that I was not conventional and learned that provided that I worked hard, kept learning, and where possible, kept one step ahead of those around me, I could be successful in any environment.

Do you feel there are enough opportunities for Women within the engineering sector? If so/not, why?
Simply, no and it’s for a plethora of different reasons. Engineering and scientific companies in the UK are trying very hard to rectify this issue and I would say that there has been significant progress in the last 10 years. It is proven that diverse (age/gender/ethnicity/background) teams are more successful – and from a business perspective, they are proven to generate more profit for shareholders. The phrase ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ has always struck a chord with me. Even now, after nearly 20 years of working, I am taking part in a leadership training program for women which actively aims to attract, retain and develop women leaders in our own organisation. We realise we have more to do, and we’re doing it. In my opinion, engagement starts in schools with STEM and there’s always more we should be doing.

Do you have any words of wisdom for young Women who might be considering a career in Engineering or more widely in STEM?
Just do it. Be yourself. Work hard. Don’t try to hide the fact you’re female. People often mistake successful traits for male traits, learn to recognise that. Don’t modify your behaviour, just be you.

You are a champion of apprenticeships; why do you feel they are a good route into a career? 
Apprenticeships facilitate something very special in any organisation. To have a route where you are able to actively spend time with experts in your field, to learn from them every day, and get paid for doing so is a wonderful way to develop in your career. As a route, it allows you to become useful in an organisation almost immediately, you become a tailored resource for the organisation, and you are afforded the time to learn your specialism in a safe environment with mentors, fellow apprentices, and with very close HR oversight. A wonderful combination to breed success for both the Apprentice and the Employer.

Who inspires you?
This is a really difficult question. There are so many people in the world that do inspire me including leading scientists, technologists, and (some!) world leaders however, my nephew Zeb  has probably been the most inspiring in recent years. He was born almost 16 weeks premature and had countless challenges during his early life, cheating death many times.  He is now four years old and is still winning. He is an absolute force of nature and he’s a constant reminder that, even in exceptionally difficult times, it is not acceptable to give up!