UCL Careers


Transcript: Future Talk – Khaled Said, Engineering Project Manager at P&G

Khaled Said is an Engineering Project Manager for P&G and UCL alumni. He joins Future Talk to discuss about how he found the transition from student to graduate, the difference in working for a start-up versus an established company, and the skills he was able to transfer from his studies to his current role within the industry.

p&g, understand, project manager, project, role, career, engineer, startup, opportunities, question, people, fantastic, podcast, professional, gained, ucl, students, growth, operation, schedule

Amy Lourenco, Khaled Said

Amy Lourenco  00:06

Hi everyone, this is UCL careers podcast future talk. My name is Amy Lourenco, Senior Careers Consultant at UCL. On this podcast which is powered by UCL Minds, we will be talking with professionals in different sectors about their career journeys and insights in relation to employability topics. This series is packed with guests who are change makers and innovators in their respective industries, and was created by the engineering careers team to help our students and graduates find out more about various professional experiences. Each episode will have a guest who will share their professional insights and provide valuable information relating to careers. The episodes will be available on Spotify, Apple podcast, and SoundCloud on a weekly basis. On today's episode, I'm so pleased to be able to introduce our guest, Khaled Said. He's an Engineering Project Manager for P&G, having started with the company in 2019. He's a former UCL alumni with a postgraduate master's degree in chemical engineering, which he gained in 2018. Welcome to the podcast, Khaled. And thank you so much for joining us today.

Khaled Said  01:12

Thank you, Amy. My pleasure.

Amy Lourenco  01:14

Fantastic. It's always great to have a UCL alumni on the podcast. So really appreciate you being here. So my first question is, how did you find the transition to a professional working environment after your studies because I noticed you haven't been with P&G that long.

Khaled Said  01:30

Originally, when I was doing my postgraduate degree, I was actually with a startup company. So for the final six months of my post grad degree, I had started with a start-up company and then continued with them for a year. Following that I started with P&G in 2019. So I would say, the life between a professional career and working in a sense in a startup company is very different. You do get....so I saw both perspectives of the flexible work you get with a startup company, the kind of where what you want, more open atmosphere, share a bigger opinion, and really have essentially the CEO sat by the side of you, as opposed to being in a kind of global manufacturing company where the CEO is essentially 10 levels above anybody else sat in Geneva or another country elsewhere. So I would say the transition between the professional working environment after studying is quite a shock to most people, I had friends who never really worked in a professional environment, and even colleagues who joined within the last year or so. For myself, the transition was fairly seamless, having worked in a professional environment. So I would always I would strongly encourage students, or essentially, anybody who is younger, to gain some experience, don't allow your first career, or your first job, in a career you aspire for, to be the first time you step into an office. Put yourself out there, gain some experience, even if it's not in the field, you want understand office dynamics, and understand, in a sense emotional intelligence in the office. People always have an opinion. I think, for me understanding how office dynamics works, if there's some tension between people how to in a sense resolve it. And I think these skills you will never pick up just from education. Education is great, education is your ticket to the office. But you have to understand how to act in a sense when engaged in these office conversations.Please do ask me to repeat anything or asked me to expand on any points, you think that they have stood out?

Amy Lourenco  03:59

No, that's fantastic. Thank you so much. It's really interesting how you found the sort of the transition a bit easier, because you'd had that experience before and, and six months that's quite a long time. What were you doing in the startup? And how did you get that that job?

Khaled Said  04:14

So initially, it was a friend had started working, a friend of a friend actually had started working there. And the recommendation came that, that there's a there was a part time position. And I thought, why not because it was essentially in the fuel industry. And then they were kind of integrated withbattery technology. So during my time at UCL, I'd done a research project in lithium ion batteries, understanding degradation. So of course, it stood out to me it stood out as an opportunity to learn more and go into an industry in the sense that was super related to what I was studying. However, having said that, I wouldn't suggest you do zero, you don't undertake any experience in your undergrad or postgrads. So for example, an internship or part time work, because it's not related. I will take if an opportunity arises that, although unrelated to your degree, still do still still take it take any opportunity you can. And it will give you growth as an individual.

Amy Lourenco  05:27

Yeah, that's such good advice, isn't it? Because you can get kind of built on so many transferable skills from different experiences.

Khaled Said  05:36

So I think that's all it is, understanding the transferable skill from one perspective to another

Amy Lourenco  05:43

Fantastic. And did you say it was in the film industry?

Khaled Said  05:47

No, sorry, the oil industry

Amy Lourenco  05:49

 Oh, oil industry. So I heard you say about batteries and battery technology. And then I thought you said film industry. And I was like, oh, how those two are connected?

Khaled Said  05:58

No, so the batteries was related to the postgrad lithium ion batteries.

Amy Lourenco  06:04

Excellent. Excellent. And so the startup was working in that same area?

Khaled Said  06:10


Amy Lourenco  06:12

Fantastic. Well, that's such a such a good way to build on your experience. And you mentioned there about the startup kind of company and the culture of that company being quite different to the company culture at P&G, and the comparing sort of working for a startup and, and a larger company, having had sort of experience on both sides, what do you prefer?

Khaled Said  06:35

So I would say there's this huge benefits to both. For me, I prefer the structure of essentially a global company. So for me, it's super strong. I like having structure in my life, I like understanding where I'm going to be in five years, what opportunities are available in 10 years. So I love to see the future. Although I also love the spontaneous part of being in a startup, not understanding the challenges that will come tomorrow or not understanding in three months time, what the volume will look like, from business. With a startup, it's also it's also very sporadic, because news can spread very quickly from avenues that are unknown. And because the volume is essentially a lot lower in a startup, as opposed to a global business. I'd say 100% growth in the startup is super, super easy to see, it's super normal to see. However, in a global business, you're free to see small percentages of growth is remarkable. So you do get get those spikes. And it's kind of as a team, how you react, and how your thought process changes to react in situations that you never thought you'd put your you never thought could be possible, is what gives you those, in essence, leadership skills. So I would say 100% of the staff top leadership skills I gained have dramatically helped me in my project management skills and kind of joining p&g as a manager.

Amy Lourenco  08:18

Fantastic that's really good. And you've touched there on your sort of transferable skills and leadership skills. And this might follow on nicely to my next question, which was, were there any skills in particular, which you gained during your studies that you've found that you're able to transfer to your sort of current role?

Khaled Said  08:38

I would say for my current role, the technical skills I gained, certainly understanding technical mastery. So in P&G, we do advocate a lot for technical mastery and understanding the details behind so it's also back to the old saying, the devils behind the details. So it's understanding the small details of a very technical pattern, that if you were required to reverse engineer it, you're able to as engineers, we're very, we do get very technical. And I mean, talking to engineering students here is really deep dive into into a problem understand why the problem is even a problem. Understand what could be done to prevent this problem. So even when given a question of calculate two plus two, understand really, why do you want to calculate two plus two? What do you benefit from it? Do you could you benefit from looking at it in a different perspective? So it's really understanding the question at hand, answering the question at hand because that's what university requires from me. But then having the perspective of deeper diving into why do you want to know the answer? What benefits you what benefits you and your team? And then really, how could you approach it differently? How could you avoid needing this answer? So I think it's it's really being clinical on yourself. And the problem.

Amy Lourenco  10:02

So thank you that gives us a great insight into how your technical skills were really useful for your sort of current role. I think at least this will be really interested to hear a bit more about sort of the day to day experience you have in your role, what does a role as a project manager look like at P&G? What do you get up to?

Khaled Said  10:22

So the role really varies from super technical hands on experience. For example, understanding why a pump is failing, understanding why valves and opening, understanding why a packing machine is not running as it should, to really in depth, capital, and schedule reviews. So for me, it's I enjoyed it, I really enjoyed the technical skills behind the project management and understanding the technical details. But then it's also having my team put together a schedule for me understanding what the capital costs behind installing new projects are really deep diving into how the lead time of a piece of equipment, for example, considering custom costs, or custom clearance, how that will all affect the schedule. So for me as a project manager, and quality and safety aspects are really deep dived here at P&G. So safety comes first here at London sight when it comes to any installations, any operations. As a project manager, its base expectation that we deliver all projects with no safety incidents, no safety alerts. And what that really means is we're not putting anybody at danger. Everybody who's coming into work is leaving work as they came in. We're not hurting anybody. So it's a really puts that human touch to the work that I do day to day, bouncy, really, as a product manager, it's working with people, making sure everybody's happy delivering as promised, delivering safely delivering, delivering on the quality expected.

Amy Lourenco  12:01

Fabulous. So listeners that don't know much about P&G, you guys are fast moving consumer goods, right, so you produce shampoos and everyday household items, so what sort of projects are you looking after?

Khaled Said  12:16

So for me, there are some projects I'm not allowed to talk about. However, there are some projects I can talk about. So I would say the majority fall on the initiatives. So all of these are projects that facilitate capacity growth, facilitate new ideas to the market, allow us to keep our competitive edge forecasting for the future of what essentially mean you want at home. Really, what do we want to see in our cupboards when we're going to wash our dishes when we're going to wash our clothes? The department I work with today is beads unstoppables. I'm not sure if you've heard of them. So essentially, these are fabric enhances that introduce perfume to your clothes. So for me it really be what can I do as a project manager with this with the company to excite the consumer. Of course, there are many projects that step aside to initiative, and really are the facilities of of the department. So for example, if there was a technical issue with one of the heat exchangers, or one of the valves, like I mentioned before, there would then be a project in the sense where we respect the process piping behind the issue, and we correct it. So for me as a project manager here, and what I do, it kind of varies super from allowing the operation to run as efficiently as possible. And then also introducing new initiatives and kind of innovation in a sense where I mean, you as a consumer would want to receive these products and be excited about these products.

Amy Lourenco  14:04

 Fantastic. That's super interesting. Yeah, I do you know, those unstoppable things you put in the washing machine. Cool.

Khaled Said  14:12

Good, I'm glad.

Amy Lourenco  14:16

Fantastic and is there sort of one thing you wish you'd known when you first graduated about the professional work environment?

Khaled Said  14:23

It's a very good question. I think to put it simply, I wish I was told more to enjoy university. So in a sense that your career and your pressure environment isn't great, in a sense, where you have a lot more flexibility in your time when at university. I know I mentioned I love structure and I do love structure and I stand by that. However, during your time at university you do have that freedom to study when you want study at 2am. You can schedule a meeting with your manager at 2am. But in a sense, where, if you're, if I was able to take a step back and understand the needs of myself and the pressure I put on myself during university, I would take a step back and understand what the issue I have is, as opposed to panicking because I understand that a lot of students do panic. And really, truly, like deeply dive into their emotional intelligence behind things. Every student will panic about a certain situation, they'll stress about exams, which is totally human, totally natural, there wouldn't be to understand what the challenge is at hand. take it one step at a time, and really plan things. So I advocate always if you fit if you fail to plan you plan to fail, always have a plan for things. And this doesn't mean have to have a backup plan for your backup plan. But it means plan out your schedule. Understand by when you have to achieve certain milestone, if you don't achieve that certain milestone, what are the repercussions? And how can you adapt, if you do reach that milestone without having completed everything you needed to. So I do wish that I could have in essence, had this this devotional time. So I have today. Back then, however, I didn't, of course, I can really stress now for the students who were who I was in that position, if he is back that go easier on yourself, understand your schedule, understand what are your main deliverables and understand how you can achieve them. If you find a challenge, reach out to your lecturers, that's what they're there for. They're there to help you. There's always mentors, and coaches that would be happy, would happily help you to reach out to them their resources there for a reason.

Amy Lourenco  16:56

Absolutely, that's, that's good advice. And make sure you reach out to the people that support you and, and as well to make the most of your time and enjoy it and basically not stress so much.

Khaled Said  17:07

 I mean, no one can do everything alone. So even when it comes to group projects, you can't do it all alone. You have to you have to learn to rely on people, you have to learn to trust people. And that trust element is very important when it comes to a professional career. It's impossible to do everything alone, that's not a business call run alone with one person.

Amy Lourenco  17:29

Absolutely. I guess that's where the team projects that you do, a university can prepare you a bit more for the working world.

Khaled Said  17:38

They can actually coach you in how to manage people. So I loosely manage a team of 17 in my startup time after I had graduated. But they weren't ever really direct reports. Having going P&G and having people who are technical experts, working with working for me is a huge step in a direction of leadership. And of course, it's it was a great pleasure for me to have taken on that responsibility. And of course, at the beginning, it was quite daunting. But it really just honed into the fact that when I when I took a step back, and I looked at it, it was during my time at university, you get given these opportunities for a reason, you get given these opportunities to show your leadership skills. And this doesn't mean that you take the lead on everything. Because great leaders don't drive always at the beginning. They let their team go forward, and they push them they don't have to be the one in control of everything.

Amy Lourenco  18:40

Absolutely, yeah, completely agree. And that was really interesting. And my next question is around sort of professional rejection. What would you say to students and graduates who might have face rejection, not hearing back from employers or having the applications be unsuccessful? And how might they be able to deal with this in a constructive way?

Khaled Said  19:01

So I would say if they haven't heard back from the company to follow up, if the reason behind their rejection was an online assessment, is to practice. However, if the reason behind that rejection is an interview, asked at the end at the end of the interview, once you know the interviewer has kind of given his opinion, although not voiced it to you ask, how do you think I won? What do you think I could have improved on? I think very transparently. The interviewer will tell you 90% of the time, you've said x y z 90% of the time, they will also tell you if they thought you were good enough for the company if they thought that they saw a future for you in the business. And I think rejection isn't a negative thing. rejection is a learning curve. We all will get rejected from something in our life. It's how we react to it and how we learn from it. Myself, I was rejected by several companies before I got opportunity in P&G. I thought even when applying to P&G, it will be a challenge to overcome the interviews, because I found a statistic that only 1% of interviews are successful. So I put that pressure on myself. However, I made sure that even during my interviews, I was learning. Everything I had learned from my previous interviews, everything I had learned from my previous rejection, I took into this with an open mind saying, okay, I was bad. In x, y, z, I wasn't successful in x y z in my previous interview, how can I adapt? How can I take the learnings from these professionals who have been in the industry for 20 or 30 years, and have given me advice and coaching on? How can I adapt as a as an individual? So it's really understanding that you're not perfect, no one's perfect, no one's going to give the answer that everybody wants to hear, you can have two people in front of you give them the exact same answer, one person will react positively, the other person will react negatively. So it's really the perception you get from that learning curve. And that learning curve, I think, for me will always be in my life, always wanting to learn more and understand different perspectives. As brilliant, thank you so much. And there's no one thing in particular that you would encourage students and graduates to keep in mind when exploring potential career opportunities and creating connections with employers. So be open minded. I don't think any job description truly describes what the job is. I think there's always hidden opportunities. And I call them opportunities because there are learnings behind different things you do in your in your career. I mean, Amy, I could probably ask you, iss your job description, exactly what you do today. I'm certain you'd say no,

Amy Lourenco  22:00

No, it's not. Yeah.

Khaled Said  22:02

So it's ask the questions, probe the interviewer. on a day to day what will I be doing, in a year's time?  In three years time will I be doing the same role as today? And I think, in a sense, where you don't even want to hear yes, you want to hear the answer is no, you don't want to know that you're going to be doing repetitive tasks. Because then your job gets boring. You want that that sporadic ignition of you may be doing this in three years time, you may be doing this task in three years time, you understand your daily responsibilities, and you take those on board. However, I don't believe a job description that entirely describes what you're after. So do ask the question. Even if the job description fits 50% of your liking, I think that is sufficient to understand. Or dive deeper into what the job truly asks of you.

Amy Lourenco  22:58

So like, being open minded about the roll and then asking lots of questions about it to such details.

Khaled Said  23:06

Certainly, I think you need to ask the questions and needs to be open with the interview of what you like and what you don't like. I think there has to be that level of communication between you and the company, even from the very, very start.

Amy Lourenco  23:21

Fab. And how did you sort of make your decision that it was the P&G sort of project manager role that you wanted to apply for or given what you've said about job descriptions? Only sort of telling half the story, how did you make that decision to apply?

Khaled Said  23:34

So initially, when I applied to p&g, I applied as a project engineer, as a process engineer, apologies. I came to the interview, we had an interview, I was offered the role of a project engineer, as opposed to a pro as opposed to a process engineer, I was told I could decline the product engineer role of I would have to wait a few months, or I could accept the project engineer role and start immediately. For me, it was a no brainer. I knew I enjoyed working inish initiatives and projects. Whether or not I had to wait, I think it did an influence my decision into taking the project engineer role. I asked details of what both roles are. And for myself, the right decision wants to take the project role. I think even for my career, four months later, I found myself becoming the project manager of the department. So I think even in in hindsight, it was the right decision for my career. I enjoyed it. So I was passionate about it. I'm still passionate today, a year and a half later having taken on all of the responsibilities of the project manager. So yeah,

Amy Lourenco  24:56

Brilliant. So that was really fortuitous that they had offered you that role and then it led being promoted quite quickly.

Khaled Said  25:02

Yeah, for sure, it was a great opportunity. And I'm very grateful for the opportunities, P&G has actually given

Amy Lourenco  25:09

Fantastic. Is there many differences between the two roles, a process for engineer versus the project engineer.

Khaled Said  25:16

So a process engineer is very heavily on operations, and ensuring equipment and standards and safety and quality all kinds of very, very respected. A project engineer is really introducing the new elements to the to the operation. So introducing a new raw material, a new variant of product, and you packaging style. So you're very disconnected from the operation, however, you are the heart of the future of the operation. As a project engineer. In that sense, you report to the project manager, you work as a team, you have other mechanical and electrical experts working with you. So you do understand the process. However, you will never understand the process as well as a process engineer. And that's where the technical skills of a process engineer are very admirable, to me, at least.

Amy Lourenco  26:21

Got it. So the process engineer, there's a bit more like business as usual. And then the project engineer comes in when you want to introduce something new.

Khaled Said  26:30


Amy Lourenco  26:32

Thank you, I'm learning as well. And my final question is, what would you say are the key skills necessary to succeed in the industry, we've talked about a few today, we've talked about leadership and technical skills, we've talked about being open minded, anything else that you think are sort of necessary to succeed and your role?

Khaled Said  26:55

So I would say 100%, I would have to reiterate the leadership skills and being open minded, I would say, understanding emotional intelligence, and being very strict on yourself, when it comes to executing as a schedule. I say this with a project management perspective, for sure. But I think, like I said, If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, you have to have a plan for certain things, you have to have milestones that you want to achieve. Adding to that, I think being able to work as a team and communicate to your team taking feedback. So I think these these are all really, really, really into the questions you've asked before, where understanding and taking feedback, not in an in a pessimistic way, however, an optimistic way where you can learn from the feedback and overcome challenges. If somebody is investing time to tell you consciously that maybe you could have said x differently, maybe you could have reacted differently, or worded something in a different way, or plan something in a different way. They're only looking out for you. I mean, we have to trust the people in our lives, you have to trust our mentors and our coaches. Of course, it's disheartening when somebody says you could have been better at a specific task. However, I think, in 20 years time when you're giving that advice, you will only be giving it with a good heart. So understand the optimistically understanding that we all have room for growth. Even these people who are experts and I've worked with understand that they have room for growth. So to me, it's if they have room for growth, why don't I

Amy Lourenco  28:47

Fantastic. So  really having that sort of growth mindset for short, always wanting to learn. Well, thank you so much, Khaled, for joining our podcast and sharing your valuable insights with our audience. It's been absolutely fantastic. And thank you to our audience for listening to this episode. Keep an eye out for more episodes, which will be released weekly on audio platforms such as Spotify, Apple podcasts, and SoundCloud. Thanks again Khaled. Have a great rest of your day.

Khaled Said  29:12

You to take care of yourself.

Amy Lourenco  29:13