15 March 2022

Tata Steel Spotlight: 15 questions with Henri Kwakkel

Tata Steel packaging steel cans on a can line.

We caught up with Henri Kwakkel, principal researcher and project leader, to find out about his role at the Tata Steel site in IJmuiden, Netherlands.  

Henri Kwakkel, Tata Steel

What is your current job title and how would you describe your job to a group of children?
I am principal researcher and project leader within Tata Steel R&D (that’s research and development) mainly for packaging steel applications, and battery developments. I would say the best description would be that I’m an “inventor”!

How did you first learn about Tata Steel?
My father told me that my grandfather, who was a teacher at a local technical school, organized school trips to Hoogovens in the 1950s. I later came in contact as there was a job at Tata Steel opening after I finished my bachelor’s degree.

How has Tata Steel helped you in your career development?
Tata Steel has given me the chance to develop myself in the direction that suited me best, including the proper studies and courses that helped me achieve my goals. I started in 1997 in R&D as an associate researcher, and I came directly from the HBO (Hoger Beroepsonderwijs) which results in a bachelors degree. Over the years I did numerous courses supported by Tata Steel including basics like safety but also technical courses like statistical analysis, Finite element analysis and design of experiments. I’ve also worked on project leadership. 
In 2001 I got an opportunity to work outside the company as engineer and later as production manager but moved back to R&D in 2005. I became researcher and was offered the opportunity to do a masters degree at Loughborough University. I am now a Principle Researcher and project leader for packaging forming and battery developments.

If you could swap your job with anyone else within Tata Steel, whose job would you want?
I would like to be able to help create the strategy of the total company. We are entering a phase with many challenges and possibly the biggest changes to our company and the way we work. I would like to be part of the thinking process on what to do and how to get there.

What advice would you give a school leaver?
Strive for a job you really want. Being happy about what you do helps you to get up in the morning (for the next several decades) and is more important than any status or money.

What do you find the most challenging? 
I have always had difficulties with organisation of my work. I am very chaotic by nature, but I am lucky that I have colleagues that accept that. Helpfully, the team at Tata Steel work in within a structure that helps keep our progress on track and we have a range of strengths between us that make for a productive team effort!

What gets you out of bed in the morning and into work?
I am part of a fantastic team which a real motivator. Furthermore, I am an engineer in anything I do and facing technical challenges in my work is something that I will always love.

Has Tata Steel and the company ethos changed over your time at the company?
I think Tata Steel has changed on a large scale, not the least due to the international nature of the company, and the merger with Corus, then Tata Steel. On a more local, departmental level, we have grown in safety, employee wellbeing and diversity.

What has been your favourite project at Tata Steel –what are you most proud of?
I have been involved in implementing polymer coated steel for food cans at customer level. The combination of the technical challenges, including scientific work in the lab, combined with trials at customer plants was really enjoyable. It was satisfying to follow the process from research to final implementation.

What would you like to achieve in your next 10 years?
I would like to become even more of an expert forming thin material for packaging – and in particular on battery cell making.

Just for fun:

If you could do another job in another industry for just one day, what would it be?
A fighter pilot - I am an aeronautical engineer by origin

What’s your favourite activity or hobby outside work?
Mountain biking and restoring classic cars. I am also the co-owner of a small company that designs, engineers and builds custom-made high-tech bicycles – www.popcycle.nl

What is your favourite book?
There are so many good books that I have read, and I am a big fan of Stephen King.  But I think the one that is still with me is The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. Part of the Twin Peaks TV series, this book was as absurd as the series, as could be expected from David Lynch!

What is your favourite travel destination? 
I enjoy mountains and lakes, although this is not the natural landscape of the Netherlands! I like to hike, and mountain bike - and I’ve really enjoyed holidays in Switzerland, Wales, the Lake District, the Harz mountains in Germany, and Sweden.

What skill do you think everyone should learn at school?
School should teach everyone how to create something. I see many young people that have almost no interest in creating things but are users and buyers. I do think this is something that you grow up with, so it is an essential skill to cultivate at a young age.

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