David Kohlman has recently celebrated an astounding 50 years at CGI in Australia. I had the privilege of chatting with him about his career and work life.
David started as an apprentice electrician at the Board of Works (now Melbourne Water) and, through approximately eight mergers or acquisitions, has maintained 50 continuous years of service with what is now CGI.
His first role as a trainee electrician was maintaining pump stations, a job that involved climbing into sewage wells, and other vital hands-on work, providing essential services to the citizens of Melbourne. Eventually looking for a change, David enrolled in night school studying electronics, allowing him to move laterally in the organisation into this fast-developing field.
David describes himself as a ‘bit dyslexic’, and this has influenced the type of work he has been drawn to throughout his career. Desk phones and radios were the critical modes of communication for most of David’s early career, but even with the advent of desktop computers, he has steered clear of report writing!
Having reported to an estimated 20 managers in his time, David reflects on the value that truly great managers can bring to job satisfaction through the impact they can make on a workplace environment and the encouragement that they can provide. Thankfully, the good managers over David’s 50 years far outweighed the ordinary ones. He has also never harboured any ambition to move into management saying, “… it wouldn’t suit me”. What David has achieved is wide recognition as a client-focused industry expert in SCADA systems. He has been instrumental in achieving near perfect client satisfaction scores year after year. It will also be unsurprising to those who know David that he is the recipient of an Australian National Medal for his services volunteering with the SES.
There have been two great changes to the way we work observed by David over the 50 years. The first is the rate of change in technology – the miniaturization and the exponential sophistication of what can be achieved. Whilst he humbly describes himself as a technology luddite, David’s length of tenure alone is testimony to his capacity to adapt to new ways of working.
The other great cultural change observed by David is the participation of women in the workforce. “When I started there were no women in my working environment, and now half the team are female. The other change is in the diversity of ethnicities in the team.” David reflects that both these demographic shifts have made work a better place to be – “… for the diversity of ideas, and a broader range of cuisines selected for team lunches!”
David is threatening to retire when the Yarra Trams project he is currently supporting draws to a close, early next year. However, he says “I get a lot of personal satisfaction from my work – I like what I do – that’s what makes it hard to go.”
He credits his longevity at CGI with the fact that his work over the years has had sufficient variation to keep him interested. The pivot to hybrid working has also come at a good time, providing a break from a long commute.
An avid photographer, David always has his camera with him – and it’s usually interesting architecture that catches his attention, however, he has also been the informally appointed photographer at many staff events.
The other appliance that has followed David to every office over the last 22 years is the coffee percolator. He swears it makes better coffee than any new-fangled espresso machine. If not a technology luddite, perhaps a culinary one? It’s controversial.
Although he describes his own three children and six grandchildren as being a bit oblivious to how special his 50-year milestone is, we here at CGI certainly know. Congratulations David!