167. Hero – Graham Staples, Power & Energy Group Manager at RoviSys Transcript

00:00 Chris: 

Welcome to the first episode in a series we’re calling Holidays with our Heroes on EECO Asks Why so between now and Christmas, you’ll be hearing inspiring stories weekend and week out from our heroes. As we celebrate the holiday season. To get us kicked off. We have my buddy Graham Staples is joining us and Graham is going to be sharing his story. And I know you all are going to love it. 

You know what? Speaking of stories, we’re still collecting those industry war stories. We’re looking for the good, the tough and the inspiring. You can get those submissions to us on Instagram or Facebook. And just check out the show notes for links. If you have any questions at all, please just reach out to us on our social accounts and we’ll be glad to help you.

Now. It’s time to get some insight into grand staples, amazing journey. Cue the music.

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero conversation. I’m very excited to have with him, my friend, Mr. Graham Staples, who was the group manager of power and energy at RoviSys. So welcome Graham. 

01:06 Graham: 

Thanks Chris. Glad to be here. 

01:08 Chris: 

I’m very excited to have you here, sir. Good to see you again. 

01:10 Graham: 

Likewise. Yeah, man. 

01:12 Chris: 

So get us going. We love to get these hero conversation started with just hearing about everybody’s personal journey. So what’s your journey to where you’re at now? 

01:23 Graham: 

I’ve worked at RoviSys ever since I graduated from college. So I’ll back up a step and I went to North Carolina State University. Kind of a legacy attendee there. My father was an electrical engineer and North Carolina State and ever since probably junior year of high school, I decided I was going to kind of go in the same or similar direction. So I did electrical engineering and I did the kind of convenient, double major there, which is computer engineering as well.

So tried to get that diversity of experience and a little bit more focused on the computer side of that. I did not know when I was in college anything about the industrial automation industry or, I mean, I was blissfully unaware of what happened behind the fences and walls of those giant industrial plants that you drive by on the highway from time to time I actually focused my study on cell phone technology. You know, generally speaking, like I did a co-op for a year, three rotations at Sony Ericsson, a company that is no longer in existence, but it was a great co-op experience. And when I think about it, it’s where I actually got first exposed to automation. I worked in the testing department for like the peripheral devices.

So like these Bluetooth headphones and so forth that are so prevalent now I would literally sit at a lab. Pair it, unpair it, push a button unpair it, you know, and just test like, you know, I was just the guy pushing buttons but by the third co-op rotation, I started to get a good sense for how all this stuff was going to work and there were a few really talented engineers there who had developed like machines that would push the buttons on the phone for you and picture taking. You know, capabilities, screen capture capabilities, I should say, where they were able to push the buttons and then capture the screen and kind of procedurally verify that the phones were doing what they were supposed to.

And that was really my first glimpse into like, oh, wait a minute this thing that I’m out here, pushing buttons doing, we could with a little bit more application of technology, see this happen automatically on you know, piqued my interest and I started paying more attention to that. I stumbled onto RoviSys at the career fair, fast forward a year or so from that experience, I stumbled onto them at the career fair really didn’t know much about them. I know now having participated in so many of these career fairs that’s a big push for us as a company is to go and identify eager young people, graduate in college, you know, no experience in industry and kind of bring them on board and help them become the engineers that are going to be successful for us and grow in their careers.

And that’s exactly what happened. They were very energetic and engaging at the career fair. I remember coming to an interview and being asked in the interview, like, what’s my favorite beer? And I thought, oh, heck man, that’s super cool. I’m being asked at an interview what my favorite beer is. And just really friendly people, really friendly folks. We were pretty small back at that time down here in North Carolina, I think I was the 23rd employee here in North Carolina. My might be 27. I may be wrong about that, but either way, pretty tight little group of guys and a group of people that were intent on growing our business down here in this region.

It was a fun place to come into as a new grad. I was very fortunate that I got to come on board at a time when we were working on a large pharmaceutical project up in the Virginia, Petersburg, Virginia area. And I came on board right when it was kind of in the beginning times. So I got to see from that beginning as a very green engineer, very new person, given those remedial kind of repeat tasks, push button tasks. I got to grow my experience through the life cycle of that project all the way to the point where I was the last man on site, doing the support in production. And this was a large Greenfield active pharmaceutical ingredient plant. So I got to see it all.

And you know, again, very fortunate to have very talented engineers around me, very talented plant personnel at that customer who were willing to give me a little bit of rope, let me learn. Trial and error at times. But you know, that experience to be able to see something from start to finish, like that was very illuminating in how these, what system integration is, you know, what are we doing?

There was a building going up and we were putting a system in it. And you know, I got to see all of that happen and kind of experienced all the pain points that go along with that. But also all the learning that you get from those pain points. I lived up there supporting the plant for probably the better part.

Yeah. 18 months. So I was the guy who was in on day shift and also answered the phone at nights for helping things get done. Also a very educational experience, working with operators, and people who, you know, just like me 18 months before had no, no idea what the control system was supposed to be doing.

They just knew they needed to make some product. Right, right. Supposed to be working, but it’s not. As we all have those issues from time to time when you’re starting up a system. So I got to be put through the ringer that way as well. Shortly after that. So after that stint in Petersburg and that project wrapped up, I was approached by the management here at and they were looking for someone from the engineering pool who wanted to try out their hand at sales.

So it’s a roll atRoviSys as we call it an application engineer. You’re kind of that frontline person shaking the trees, trying to see what opportunities are out there, but also doing the technical proposal generation as well. So I’m walking through like, all right, tell me your problem. Okay. Let me try and architect a system at a high level.

Not going to build it, but I’m going to try and walk you through what parts and pieces you need and what the effort is going to be to do. So I did that for several years. During that time, we started to diversify into a lot of different industries. So it wasn’t just in pharmaceuticals anymore. It was in consumer packaged goods and glass.

It was in water. Started to see a little bit of power, a little bit of paper all really great exposure and experience to a lot of different industries and ways of doing things. Also started to diversify from just that straight ahead, DCS control system into your. Data management and data collection systems, databases, and so forth historians.

So learning about that kind of level up of what all is involved with collecting and maintaining giant databases, always a fantasy and turning that into actionable information for our customers. So I got, I went through a lot of trainings, vendor trainings, and so forth. So just lots of diversity and lots of exposure in that role which was tremendously.

Impactful to me and my career after that stint in 2016 I was promoted into management. So group management role at Rover. So this is kind of the Jack of all trades. You have to sell the work. You got to operationally deliver it. You have to help people develop their careers. You’ve got a group of folks who report to you, generally 10 to 12 people.

So we’ve, we do everything. And. The experience leading up to that was very helpful for me. Probably one of the biggest challenges at that time was I hadn’t really had to manage projects. So I jumped in on a job. In my capacity as group manager, I jumped in on a job out in California as the project manager, this was a big job that had a lot of folks on it.

A lot of moving parts in a very tight timeline. So I was traveling to California every other week, spending every other week in LA supporting this job. And I learned that was drinking from a fire hose in terms of learning how to be a good project manager. Cause there was a lot, we were on shifts and there was 14 us as employees at the peak of the job. Lots of attention from the customer. This is critical, a new building they were building. So I was put under the gun a few times called my boss going hey, I got to ask this question. I have no idea what they’re talking about. So I got educated in a hurry. And while sitting on the hot seat and once that wrapped up and kind of reached steady state back here in North Carolina we started looking around for where’s the next growth industry.

That’s the way RoviSys kind of grows our business. I was in a group called control systems integration, so very much a catchall. We orient around vertical industries and we started looking at North Carolina, like, well, okay, what are we going to do next? And that’s where power came into being. So as you mentioned in the intro, my role today is group manager of power and energy.

About three and a half, four years ago, we said, Hey let’s put a targeted effort to go build our business in this space. So yet again, kind of hit the reset button on what I know. I mean, reaching way back to the electrical engineering background, but having to learn like, all right, who are the customers? What are they doing? What’s the industry asking for? How does RoviSys fit into all of this? And I was really fortunate because we have a very well established power and energy group. That’s run out of Ohio. So I was able to lean on those folks and ask them for all the lessons and pitfalls and things to go after and things to avoid as I have worked to grow this business and that’s where I am today.

10:08 Chris: 

And so we just unpack a few things here, first of all, go pack. So good job there. But that’s it. That’s it now. Exactly. You said you’d been at RoviSys your entire career. So how long has it been? 

10:19 Graham: 

It was just 13 years, this past January, 

10:23 Chris: 

Okay. I mean, that’s really pretty unheard of these days, man. So I guess that really speaks to the culture of RoviSys and you’re staying challenged. You have new opportunities, you just walked through three or four different opportunities. You’ve had over 13 years. So hats off the RoviSys and the way that they got you at the job fair. And then continuing to grow engineers.

10:46 Graham: 

I mean, that’s core to our business and what we do, Chris, we, you know, we have strict work that we have to perform. Right? We’ve got customers who are asking us for a lot and we work really hard, but we try to create an environment that’s fun to be in where you can actually kind of play hard as well.

You know, I mentioned it was 27 or so people when I started, that was a really close knit group, you know we were hanging out on weekends and spending the evenings together and get to know each other. And each other’s families is that we kind of moved into that phase of our lives together. And now we’re well over a hundred people here in North Carolina, it’s more like 140. We’ve tried very hard to maintain that type of environment. I always tell people when I interview them, if you walk around our office, you will hear people saying, hey, you want to grab a beer Friday or Hey, you coming to watch the game or, you know, we’re getting together tonight to work on a side project, play games together, whatever, like it’s a very family style culture, you know, it’s very tight knit.

People popping up to help with questions over the cue ball that are not even projects that they have anything to do with, but they hear a person on the phone and you’ve done this work before and you pop up and say, that time when I had that problem, this is how we solved it. It’s just really collaborative and it’s got a nice entrepreneurial spirit too. The other thing I always say is, you know, if you show that you want to do something and you’re capable of it we will give you the opportunity to pursue that. And I’ve been very, I’ve been very fortunate to be the beneficiary of that type of culture and that type of attitude. 

12:17 Chris: 

That is so great. Now I’m sure you have people out there on the edge of their seats right now. Okay. Give me some more. So what advice would you offer up today that young engineer who is just getting started in a career to pursue a career in engineering? What would that be? 

12:31 Graham:

It’s a great question, Chris. You know, something that this might be a little bit hard, especially for a young person who’s just finished college to hear, but something that’s been very beneficial to me is to focus on learning how I learn. So this kind of meta learning concept of, you know, you spend a lot of time being taught in school and you kind of have to learn the way they want to teach it to you. There’s a process that you’re working with a professor who’s maybe been, come out of industry or been a professor their whole professional career, and they have their way that they’re going to give you this information and you have to consume it and give it back in an exam format or in a project format. 

That’s not really how real life I shouldn’t say real life. I should say professional life works. You’ve got problems and you need to come up with solutions. And so learning how to outfit your toolkit, you know how to get the right tools in the box and be able to apply them is this tremendously helpful. So learning how to learn and understanding like, okay I’m going to best retain or get new information by reading or by experience or by vendor conversations, you know, maybe being spoken to is your mechanism for learning. I would recommend to people coming out of college, just take a minute, all the time, you know, take a minute every morning or take a minute and sit down and really think about for themselves what works and constantly be evaluating and updating that, you know, pay attention to that in your career. Because I think if you look around in any industry, but in our industry, the people who are wildly successful, it’s folks who have figured out how to continue to grow and how to continue to expand their knowledge base and their capability, despite not having instructors, so to speak, they know how to find mentors. They know how to work with those mentors to gain insight, but they don’t necessarily, it’s not like they just have a library shelf that they can go to and pull book number three and learn how to do this thing. It’s a little bit more complicated than that. So that’s advice that I would give to an up and comer. 

14:30 Chris: 

Great advice. And then when you were talking about RoviSys and you’ll walk through the plant and we’ll walk through the office rather, and you’ll be talking about, Hey, you know, grab a beer on Friday. We’re going to do these projects after work. That made me think about something, you know, a lot of times when you think about system integrators, you think about, you know, you guys are very driven. You’re result focused. So maybe. You know, clarify something, w what’s an area around system integrators that you’d like to clarify or myths you’d like to debunk rather around the work that you guys do because I mean, that really caught me by surprise when you said that. 

15:09 Graham: 

A myth that I would like to debunk. So, I think that a lot of people, because we use technology every day, all the time, and it’s right at our fingertips don’t understand in the system integrator world, what goes into the program? I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it’s simpler for a customer or for an individual to state what they want a system to do than it is to build that capability into the system. I think that’s probably something that everybody can agree on, but the extent to which it is complicated is not always apparent.

We all in the systems integration space work hard to make sure that our customers see it as, Hey we can rely on you and we’re going to have an easy time with this because RoviSys is hired on, but at the same time, you know, things that are, that appear to be as simple change or a simple deviation from the original plan can have just a profound impact on the way systems are built in a way that changes need to be made.

So it’s that kind of myth of like it’s easy because it seems to be just this simple little change that I just stated. There’s a lot of building blocks. There’s a lot of complexity under the hood. And you know, I’m glad that our customers feel like the systems we deliver should be easy to build because it shows that we’re making their lives easier. It shows that the use of them feels like it should be easy, but simple is not always easy. I guess, you know, that’s kinda the expectation and the mismatch between just saying. I want the colors to be different on this, for example. Yeah. Okay. Well now there’s a lot of backend that has to maybe be modified depending on how the system is built just for what apparently is simple little change. 

16:48 Chris: 

They don’t get the complexities involved. I’m curious, Graham you had a lot of different roles different areas of responsibility there at RoviSys. When are you the happiest? When do you have that fulfillment and joy in your work? What are you doing in those moments? 

17:05 Graham: 

So usually when I come home the happiest and my wife’s like you had a great day today. It’s when I’ve been able to sit with customers who have a vision for the future and a team of people who has the capabilities that we bring to the table and talk about where they can go.

I like to vision cast, I like to sit and discuss what the possibilities are, maybe educate our customers on things that they didn’t know were even possible. I like to take all these different concepts that I’ve been able to been fortunate enough to learn over my career and apply them to problems that customers have. 

So the most satisfied that I am is when you go into those kind of six to 12 person sessions, where everybody has got a lot of, a lot invested and, you know, they’re all leaned in and you have these really sometimes very deep technological discussions sometimes. It’s, you know, a definition of what’s required, but it’s a vision casting exercise where you’re having a discussion about where can we take this?

And that to me is tremendously satisfying. And then of course, to see it come to fruition, you know, to go to customers at the end of a major project and say, let’s look at what we’ve done. You guys remember sitting here in front of the whiteboard, unsure of how we would even accomplish half of this. And then, you know, here we are and we’ve got it live and it’s running your operation. It’s an integral part of how you do your business now. I mean, there’s nothing more satisfying than that. 

18:36 Chris: 

I can totally get why you, it just it’s right up your alley and that vision casting. I love that term, that terminology you’re using there because that’s what you do. I mean, I’ve been with, for the listeners. I’ve been out in the field with Graham and he can really paint that picture. And the questions that you asked, just it brings it all together. So I’m not surprised that was your answer, man. Now we’ve talked a lot about you at RoviSys and your career. Let’s talk a little bit about Graham outside of work for a moment if that’s okay. All right. So what do you enjoy doing for fun? Any hobbies? 

19:09 Graham: 

Yeah, the main one ever since COVID hit, I’ve a long term lifetime golfer but at the beginning of 2020, you know, it was about the only thing you could do was to go outside and play. So I’ve really doubled down in the last year and been playing a lot of golf, really enjoy being out on the golf course.

So that’s my number one go-to hobby right now is to just get out there, get the golf ball.

19:30 Chris: I’ll have to hook you up with our solution architecture manager, Mike Rathbun, and he’s a big golfer. He lives down in the Pinehurst area. He may be able to get you hooked up on some cool courses now.

19:40 Graham: 

Yeah, let’s do it. 

19:42 Chris: 

Very good man. Very good. So how about family? We love talking about family on EECO Asks Why because we kind of feel like we’re one big family here. So w what can you share with us there? 

19:52 Graham: 

Well, I have a beautiful wife, Julie, who stays at home with our two lovely daughters. The oldest is four and a half. She’s Charlotte, and the youngest is one and a half. She’s natalie is walking and running now, which is always exciting when they’re starting to get very mobile and going and getting in trouble. She’s right on the verge of being able to talk to us. She’s got some words. 

I’m very fortunate because both of them are big fans of dad. I always tell my wife, I’m just banking all this love right now for when they’re 13. They think I’m the most evil human being on earth. But my four and a half year old, I mentioned playing golf. She starting to take an interest and we’ve got a little, a miniature set of clubs for her and a little mat outside. So I’ve been trying to help her get involved with golf so I can take her out with me to play nine holes from time to time, which my wife’s very excited about. My wife spends a lot of time. She’s a professional chef by training. She went to the culinary Institute of America and worked actually worked at NC state as the recipe development chef there for a long time.

So anybody who is listening to this who came up in the new dining at NC state, you know, the new Talley student center and the restaurants and so forth and went there. She had a big hand in creating those menus and that food. And I reap the benefits of being the Guinea pig on a lot of that. So I’m very fortunate in that regard too.

And she’s also tremendously talented when it comes to craft, just being a craft person, she does a sewing and knitting. She creates, she builds clothing for herself and the kids. So our house kind of looks like, I tease her, looks like a sweat shop from time to time. Cause she’s got all her, you know, stuff, scattered all over, making new clothes for all of us, but she’s really talented at that. It’s a, lot of fun for her. 

21:31 Chris: 

Now is she from the area as well? North Carolina?

21:34 Graham:

Ultimately, she’s from Michigan, but her whole family moved down here when they were in high school. And she and I went to college together. We’ve been married actually October will be our 10-year wedding anniversary. So we’re going to do a little vacation celebrate that decade of being married. 

21:48 Chris: 

There you go, man. Well, as a fellow girl, dad, you know, enjoy the years you got the right mindset. Mine are nine and 10. I’m still the hero by the way. So I’m trying to stave off that villain day myself, but you’re doing it right, man. And they, it sounds like they have a great dad and you’ve got a great family there. So thanks for sharing. How about the stuff you enjoy for consuming like podcasts or YouTube or books, could be stuff for fun, or it could be professional? Just curious on what you enjoy. 

22:18 Graham: 

So I do a lot of reading. I’m an avid reader. Usually for fun, just reading like fantasy novels and science fiction novels you know, trying to keep it light at home, I’m also always listening to podcasts. That’s kind of my, you know, what’s in my ear, in the car or at work when I’m listening to stuff is just background podcasts. 

I like to listen to things about scaling and things about culture. So there’s a Reid Hoffman does this masters of scale podcast. So that’s one that I really enjoy. Tim Ferriss, his podcast with all the wildly different, but a deep dive expertise that he brings with the people that he has on that.

You know, I like to learn and think a lot about culture and development of culture in my role at RoviSys and how do we scale that? How do we do that? And then I’m just, I mean, I like cool technological challenges and cool things that are happening out in the world. So that’s a good mechanism for me to learn about. This weekend I was listening to Peter Attia, a doctor who’s focuses in health and longevity, talk about how our thoughts about cholesterol are different than what he thinks we ought to be concerned with. So, you know, just really kind of left field stuff that has nothing to do with my day job. I find to be fascinating.

23:33 Chris: 

Well, that’s great. And we’ll make sure we link, you know, all those resources. You just mentioned. Graham, we’ll put those in our show notes for our listeners. You can go check some of those out and follow some of the stuff that you find value in. So thanks for sharing that. Yeah, you can add EECO Asks Why to your regular podcast group now man.

23:51 Graham: 

I’m remiss in not mentioning EECO Asks Why.

23:55 Chris: 

It’s all good, man. It’s all good. Now we do like on the hero episodes Graham, we play a game. We just call it the lightening round. Just a bunch of random silly stuff. So if you’re willing to play, man, we’ll jump right in. Yeah, let’s do it. All right. I start off with the easy stuff. So favorite food, 

24:09 Graham:

 Pizza.

24:11 Chris:

Pizza. All right. Adult bevragino? 

24:13 Graham: 

Hazy. IPA’s 

24:15 Chris: 

Hazy IPA’s okay, cool. Any anyone jumps out to the top? 

24:20 Graham: 

Yeah, I got two of them. Sycamore Juiciness, and a Conceited Genius from Wise Man Brewing. Those are kind of my go-to right now. 

24:29 Chris: 

Okay. Very cool. Very cool. Now what’s your favorite app? 

24:33 Graham: 

Kindle. 

24:35 Chris: 

Kindle. Very good. Very good. What’s on your nightstand? 

24:38 Graham: 

Just a fan and a charging station for my phone and watch. 

24:43 Chris: 

Very simple, very clean. How abou t t a guilty pleasure you enjoy? 

24:47 Graham: 

Video games. I like to sit and play video games.

24:50 Chris: 

Okay. What’s your favorite video game? 

24:51 Graham: 

Probably Final Fantasy, 

24:53 Chris: 

Final Fantasy. All right. All time favorite movie? 

24:55 Graham: 

Probably The Godfather.

24:57 Chris: 

Godfather. Okay. Well what about music? 

24:59 Graham:

I’m a consumer of music, man. I have no particular genre or anything. I will listen to pretty much everything. 

25:06 Chris: 

Across the board, anything. Okay. Yep. How about somewhere you’ve never been that you got to go one day?

25:14 Graham: 

Japan. I’d really like to go to Japan. 

25:16 Chris: 

What about the best place you have been to?. 

25:21 Graham: 

The best place I’ve ever been was Barcelona, Spain, 

25:23 Chris: 

Barcelona. Nice man. Nice. And the last one dogs or cats? 

25:29 Graham: 

Dogs. 

25:29 Chris: 

Oh, thank you. Okay. You got it right. It was the only one, right answer. So you got down, right, man. This has been a ton of fun and Graham and we always wrap up the EECO Asks Why with the why and it just talks about your passion. So, you know, somebody wants to know, Hey Graham, what is your personal, why? What would that be? 

25:48 Graham: 

My personal, why I, you know, I talked about my career and wherever arrived at, I like to see people develop and be in a position where I can help both from a serving our customer standpoint and seeing their business and their lives improve and from a cultural and internally focused standpoint, seeing the people that work with me just develop and mature in their careers. That’s where I derive the most satisfaction. I like to see people improve and grow and be a part of that. 

26:19 Chris: 

No doubt. And you’re definitely leading so many people and Graham, I just can’t thank you enough. It’s been a lot of fun. Just working with you on the show here. Thank you again for taking the time with us on EECO Asks Why.

 For the listeners to want to connect with Graham, check out the show notes. You’ll find a link there to RoviSys as well as Graham’s LinkedIn account, and other ways to get in touch with him. And Graham, just thank you again for taking the time with us. 

26:42 Graham: 

Well, thank you too. So thanks so much, Chris. Thanks to EECO for setting this up and it’s been a lot of fun. 

26:47 Chris: 

Absolutely. You have a wonderful day.