Mentoring the next generation of maintenance and reliability leaders

In this Big Picture Interview, Chris Mears talks about the responsibilities of being a rising star in the maintenance and reliability profession.

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Chris Mears is section manager, asset management process and technologies, at Aerospace Testing Alliance, Arnold Engineering Development Complex, in Tennessee. He was selected as the 2013 Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional of the Year in the Rising Leader category by the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals.

PS: What is your current job title and job responsibilities?

lead chris mearsCM: I really have three major roles in my maintenance and reliability professional life right now, so I’d like to discuss each, if you don’t mind.

Within ATA at AEDC, I am the Section Manager over an Asset Management Support group that serves multiple functions (condition-based maintenance, preventive maintenance program oversight, maintenance and reliability analysis, instrumentation calibrations, systems engineering/configuration management, and pressure and hazardous materials.)

Within Jacobs Engineering (the parent company of ATA), I serve on the Jacobs Technology Asset Management Community of Practice Steering Committee. To me, this company-level committee is a best practice since it enables a group of individuals from various operations and maintenance contract sites to collaborate with the goal of developing and promoting maintenance, reliability, and asset management best practices. I have been given the opportunity to visit multiple NASA contract sites around the country to assess and help them in implementing these best practices.

Finally, I have also served a number of roles within SMRP. I have been on the Conference Committee for its annual conference for a few years now, including this year as the Co-Chair of this premier maintenance, reliability, and asset management conference in Orlando October 20-23. I have also held the office of Secretary/Historian for the Middle TN Chapter of this Society for a few years now. And finally, I have served with the Best Practices committee in developing metrics and guidelines that are in use around the world.

PS: How did your education and background prepare you for a career in maintenance and reliability?

Do you have what it takes to be CMRP of the year? Then nominate yourself or a colleague for the Rising Leader or Veteran Professional award.

CM: Both my Bachelo'rs and Master's degrees are in the field of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management. This degree field is very process-oriented, with a focus on the tools related to continuous improvement. When starting at AEDC, I was fortunate to be able to look into not only specific maintenance jobs but also the overall maintenance processes at AEDC. Although my field did not focus specifically on maintenance and reliability, it did help me to look at how to assess and improve the processes related to them.

PS: Which aspects of your job have surprised you — any parts of the profession that your studies hadn’t mentioned or couldn’t have possibly prepared you for?

CM: Pretty much the maintenance and reliability field in general. My Bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering from Tennessee Tech never really focused on maintenance. However, I was fortunate that my Master's degree from the University of Tennessee did include a course or two that either focused on or at least highlighted maintenance and reliability best practices.

As a point of discussion related to this question, I feel that there is a lack of focus on maintenance and reliability within the engineering and technology degrees at most universities. This is where we as individuals, organizations, publications, and professional societies need to proactively work with universities to overcome this knowledge gap of outgoing degreed professionals.

PS: What are some examples of the leadership and accomplishments you’ve exhibited that were instrumental in your being selected by SMRP as the 2013 Rising Leader?

CM: This is a difficult question for me to answer since I wasn’t involved in the selection process for this award, but I will try to highlight some items that I think went into consideration.

Shortly after gaining my CMRP, I was given the opportunity to lead multiple multi-million dollar, multi-year maintenance and reliability efforts over the next few years.

I have had the privilege of working with a great team of professionals over the years, including the last few years as Section Manager of this same group. We have been a leader in the maintenance, reliability, and asset management community, including the winner of the Uptime PdM Program of the Year award in both 2008 and in 2010.

I had the opportunity to work with multiple organizations and sites to help improve their maintenance and reliability best practices within my parent company Jacobs Engineering.

I have been heavily involved in professional societies, such as SMRP, including in various leadership roles.

And I have never stopped learning, continuing to pursue my higher education while working, even at this point in pursuit of my PhD in Industrial Engineering/Engineering Management from the University of Tennessee.

PS: Can you talk about one or two people who’ve been important in mentoring you and helping you to become more knowledgeable in your career?

CM: I’d like to tell you about two individuals from completely different backgrounds that took an active part in mentoring me in my career as well as my career/life balance.

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