For almost ten years, Dave Stefiuk has been travelling the world, but not for vacations.
Along with his technical services team, Dave helps companies keep their mineral processing equipment running in tip-top condition. From Peru to Austria – if any Sepro equipment needs to be installed, or parts need replacing – Dave will show up and make sure everything goes smoothly. He’s one of the many people who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to Sepro. And, as you’ll soon learn, he knows how to put in a hard day’s work.
Recently, Dave found some time in between his international projects to speak with us.
Hello Dave! Thanks for joining us, so we could get to know you a little better. Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Coquitlam, BC, born in Vancouver. I’ve lived in BC my entire life.
You’ve been in the workforce for a long time, when did you start working?
I was preparing to go to UBC for accounting, but during my senior year of high school I lost interest in school. Instead of going to university, my big career choice was to work at McDonald’s full-time. Since I was already working there part-time it seemed logical to stay on.
People can knock that kind of job as much as they want, but it gives you a great foundation: you’re working hard, you pick up a pretty good work ethic, you learn to follow a bunch of procedures properly, too. All of the food, no matter what time of day or even where you are in the world, needs to come out fast, and with the same quality.
Where did you go next?
When I was about 19 or 20, I ended up working for a company just across the Fraser River called Moli Energy. It’s a battery company, still there today just off of Golden Ears bridge. They build lithium-ion cells, and once upon a time they were the biggest employer in Maple Ridge.
What do they build batteries for?
At the time I was working there, it was mostly for laptops and cell phones. But they were the first company that introduced batteries for power tools – when Milwaukee partnered up with Moli, they brought lithium-ion cells out to the market. Eventually, they got bought by a Taiwanese company called E-One.
I had a number of roles while I worked there. I was an R&D guy, with what they called their model plant. I wound up doing different R&D projects like fiddling with different electrolytes in the batteries, trying new materials for the header, making single cells for safety tests, all kinds of different stuff.
After a while, I got kinda bored of that and I asked to get moved into production. In R&D you’d always end up interacting with the production people, asking them, “Hey, what are you doin’ over there?” So, it piqued my interest after a while and I joined the production department. From there, I eventually moved into the robotics department.
How long were you at Moli Energy for?
I was there for about 15 years but was laid off in 2009 along with ¾ of the staff there. I then worked in a Toyota plant in Delta making aluminum rims. The plant’s been there since the early 80s but they only make the wheels, or rather aluminum rims. Not too many people know that there is a Toyota plant in Delta.
Well, we didn’t know that either! What was it like working there?
One half of the place is a foundry for casting the wheels. I wound up in the finishing department working with the wheels coming down the production line after casting. They get drilled and lathed, they pass various inspection gates, get painted, powder coated and all that stuff.
Were the wheels shipped overseas, or kept in North America?
95% of the wheels coming out of the plant stayed in the North American market. They were sent to plants in either Cambridge, Ontario or Mexico. It’s an odd structure. It’s part of Toyota, but at the same time it’s almost like its own entity that only deals with Toyota.
Was it difficult working in that environment?
Yes, it was really hard work. I probably dropped about 40-50 lbs in weight just from doing the job. You’re sweating your butt off, you’ve got cutting fluid all over the place, massive parts that are hotter than hell, and you’re moving around the whole time. The good thing was it rekindled my interest in fixing things.
Before I left Moli I was content but later realized I was taking things there for granted. Seeing how hard it was to work at Toyota, I realized I couldn’t keep doing it forever. So I started looking and told myself I wanted to find the right job, and here I am.
Sounds like really hard work. How did you end up finding Sepro?
Mostly because I know Trevor Elliot, an Electrical and Automation Specialist at Sepro. He had started here a year prior to me joining in September 2011. He found out there was a job opening for a service technician and helped me get an interview with the Service Manager at the time.
Connections really are valuable! How do you and Trevor know each other?
We used to work at Moli Energy together. He was there a couple years and we became good friends. We were also each other’s best men at our weddings. Twists and turns you know? Such is life.
Absolutely. And life brought you to Sepro as well! Do you remember what it was like working for Sepro at the beginning?
Well, I had been in manufacturing for 20 years. I didn’t know anything about mining or mineral processing equipment. It was all new to me. You come into the warehouse for the first time and see some large equipment and you think, “What’s going on with that?”
It probably took me about three months before I was on my first trip. As a service tech, you need to be familiar with the equipment before you hop on a plane to work on it on-site. On my first trip I remember having nerves.
My first project was in Peru, so there’s a bit of a language barrier as well. I went there with Jim Crema, another Sepro employee, and luckily he really knew what he was doing. I started feeling a lot more comfortable with the work after a solid year. Also feeling confident being with the customers and speaking with them about what they need.
Before working for Sepro, had you travelled much?
Outside of the United States, the only trip I’d taken off continent was to New Zealand. When my son was 5 months old, the wife and I took a trip down there to see her family and go to her sister’s wedding. I wouldn’t recommend taking a little guy like that on such a long flight. All things considered he was pretty good, but that had been my only experience with travelling internationally.
It must have been a big adjustment travelling for work then? What were your travel days like during the first few years? How many days were you gone?
From my first trip in September of my first year, I wound up doing 65-70 days out of the office on service trips till the end of the year. The most I ever did was 140 days in a year, a record for me. Some of our other service technicians at Sepro, like Charles Mitchell, have traveled more days in a year than I did.
Any travel highlights or lowlights?
One particular instance comes to mind. It was probably my fifth or sixth time to Lima, Peru. Someone was scheduled to meet me from the hotel I was staying at, but I see some guy who was approachable and whatever. He said, “Just come, just come.”
It’s late, so I started following him along, and his car is parked on some side street. In your mind you think, “I’m sure this probably won’t go very well” but you’re suppressing those gut feelings. Then we started going on a joyride. Long story short, I got away from that first guy, then got in another cab which soon ran out of gas.
I’ve been to Lima enough times that I knew where I was. So I just grabbed all my stuff from the cab and walked for about an hour despite the humidity of Lima, all while telling a number of cabbies to leave me alone. That was probably my worst travel experience. Luckily, knock on wood, I’ve never been robbed or anything like that.
I have since found an online service to book rides in advance, so I don’t have to worry about things like this anymore.
What have been some of your favourite places you’ve traveled?
I don’t know if anything ever stands out as the best because everything has its appeal. Everything has been interesting. My job has afforded me the opportunity to see things most people never get to. I’ve just been grateful to see what i’ve been able to see – as corny as that sounds.
But, if I had to choose a favourite region, it would probably be South America. A lot of South America is quite beautiful.
So, Dave, how long were you doing tech services work before taking stepping in to manage the department?
About 4 years as I had moved up from the assistant tech service manager. When the assistant manager position opened, I had strongly urged another tech services representative to take it for seniority reasons and because he’s a really smart guy and knows the job. But he encouraged me to do it, so I ended up taking it.
Any comments or observations on the change to your current role as Manager of Technical Services?
Well, being a manager required that I had to cut down my travel to less than 70 days a year. I only travel every two or three months versus travelling every month.
There’s also more demand on your time. There wasn’t a manual on how to do the job, it hasn’t been without some issues here and there. But the feedback has been pretty positive. I’ve got a department that is logistically tough as well. It’s hard being a manager to people always on the road.
It also must be tough managing people who have a tough job, but the department seems very stable, very well run. There’s no smoke coming out from under the door per se.
It’s not without its challenges; if you go to a site to commission a machine and a part gets delayed, or the customers weren’t happy for one reason or another, it’s typically the service representative that ends up hearing about it.
Tech services representatives have to wear a lot of hats in this job. You’ve got your sales hat, service hat, mechanic hat, electrician hat: you really get to see it all. A lot of times it’s very positive, but it can also be difficult. You’re in a lot of high stress situations. Everyone here is a professional, so if there’s a tough situation, we’re good at recognizing when to back off and listen and bring those concerns back to the team.
What’s your management philosophy?
I try to give everybody as many tools as they need from the start to do their job well. As our product lines keep expanding we have the challenge of learning and adapting. Sepro Aggregates is a good example as our techs have a big learning curve to get up to speed there. We’ve sent our team to Montreal to get them trained on aggregate equipment to help speed up the process.
That being said, the best way to learn anything is to get out into the field and see how the stuff works. I learned more on my very first trip, staring at an HMI and watching the equipment operate versus just reading the equipment manuals for however long.
You just start to figure it out and it makes a big difference.
What is next for the tech services department?
Trying to get everybody up to speed on new gear. I also don’t want people pigeon-holed and having expertise in only one piece of equipment. Everyone on our team should have knowledge of our mineral processing, aggregates, agitation and pumping equipment and be comfortable working with everything. It’s a lot easier said than done because our product line is so broad!
Well said! A little change of pace, when you’re not on the road or working, what do you like to do?
I like to spend as much time as possible with my son. That’s usually the big one for me. I don’t have too many hobbies at the moment, so I tell people I’m a pretty boring dude. But I like collecting movies, music that kind of stuff. I enjoy some classic action movies and dramas like Terminator 2, Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill series. I also like a movie that makes your think, has twists and turns, that sort of stuff.
Any closing comments before we wrap up?
I can’t believe you finally pinned me down for something like this interview!
Well we’re glad we did! Thank you so much for your time Dave, good luck on your future travels.
Dave, along with our other service techs, travels hundreds of days each year to bring you the Sepro equipment you know and trust. For more information about our technical services or to speak with a mineral processing expert, contact Sepro today!