This post is primarily for my friends and colleagues who I worked with at Chevron during the latter part of my career. I worked in the Richmond Refinery in several roles between April 2004 to June 2011, primarily as an Engineering Manager. I then moved to Tengiz, Kazakhstan in July 2011 and held a similar position, Designs Engineering Manager, until April 2020, for Tengizchevroil (TCO – joint venture with Chevron as the 50% operating partner). Over this last third of my ~40 year career, I connected with many people – which I believe was a positive impact on all of us. I learned that helping people is it’s own reward.
Here are my reflections since I retired from Chevron.
It took over a year for the emotional gyrations of retirement, compounded by COVID-19 pandemic, to settle out. I have a strong desire to help others and be productive. Some may say I like to stay busy – on reflection I believe I desire to be engaged with others for a common benefit.
Greater Monte Vista Firewise Neighborhood
In April 2020 I became involved in a neighborhood group with the goal of increasing preparedness for a potential wildfire that could occur where we live. As many know, California and many other parts of the world have increased wildfire frequency & severity – combination of people living in forested areas, years of forest mis-management, and dry weather / climate change. Our neighborhood, which is 14 miles from San Francisco, is known for homes built into the forested hills.
Basically, we got a group of people together, met with our local fire department (Moraga Orinda Fire District – MOFD), and prepared an application to become a Firewise Neighborhood through the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). I wrote the application; it was submitted and approved in 6 weeks. We have a committee of neighbors, and our focus is property owner education to both “harden” homes in case of wildfire (including advice on what needs to be done and service companies who can perform the work), preparation in case of an emergency evacuation, and resource for when property owners get their homeowners insurance cancelled or premiums raised – several insurers are getting out of California due to the higher risk that insures believe is not compensated with current premiums.
In 2020, in addition to working with others to communicate about these issues with neighbors, I worked closely with some nearby neighbors to clean up our properties. I helped develop scope of work for cutting down dead trees and removing brush, selected contractors, and then coordinated getting the work done. In 2021, we continued this effort plus I helped more neighbors plan and execute lot cleaning work on their properties. In one instance I helped a family who has lived in the neighborhood for over 50 years and had not done much in the last few years due to physical disabilities. I helped them select a contractor and then checked on their 7+ acre property several times each week to both monitor progress and resolve minor issues. This property is so large that it took a crew of 5 plus chipper six weeks to clean the property to meet fire code – it has significantly improved the safety of our neighborhood.
In April 2021 I completed training as a Wildfire Safety Ambassador – includes a high visibility vest (I love work clothes). As an Ambassador I walk properties at an owner’s request and provide advice on how to “harden” homes such as “limbing” up trees, reducing “ladder-fuels, cutting back bushes away from homes: the intent is to make homes more defendable in case of wildfire. This volunteer position leverages MOFD personnel – they are planning to train more people in early 2022.
One “perk” of being an Ambassador was an invitation by the MOFD to observed a prescribed (planned) burn. This exercise is used for training Firefighters plus building large firebreaks in the community. The burn area was a large grassy hillside near a shopping area. The Firefighters were slow and methodical building a fire break around the area; once this was completed, they ignited the tall grass at several locations resulting in a wall of fire. One firefighter said, “The difference between an arsonist and a firefighter is we get paid to light fires.”
I have also joined the Orinda Firewise Council (OFC) – this is a group of 20+ Neighborhoods representing about 2,000 homes sharing information and helping improve wildfire prevention preparation across our entire City. This group strongly advocated for a 1/2 cent increase to our sales tax to support these efforts – it was passed last November. I have recently volunteered to plan and facilitate the bi-monthly OFC meeting – typically about 25 people on Zoom. Many colleagues know how much I enjoy planning and running a meeting.
In May 2018 we purchased an Apartment Building in Oakland CA, a 4-unit building, all one bedroom / one bath on a large lot. It was built in 1924 and has a large garden in a relatively quiet neighborhood, about 1 mile south of UC Berkeley. Actually, I bought the building with Karen’s acquiescence – I said it would be my retirement hobby!
In May 2020 one of the tenants moved out and I jumped right into remodeling, demolishing the kitchen in a day. However, all the other tenants were working from home due to the pandemic and challenged the need to remodel during this time. So I backed up, hired an architect and engineer, researched what I could do and not do (with the help of an attorney), built a schedule, arranged sub-contractors and ordered materials. Once the tenants realized I could and would remodel, another tenant moved out, and we began remodeling in August 2020.
We remodeled the two upper units – the remaining tenants lived and worked directly below. We tried to work around their schedules as much as possible but it was difficult on them as they had no work space to go to. I encouraged them to speak with their employers to find them alternate work space – their rental agreements stated “for residential use only.” I believe I did the right thing as Oakland has rent control – it is very difficult to get tenants to move out to improve the building – I took the opportunity of voluntary move out to make improvements.
We finished remodeling the upper units in late February 2021 but there was not a lot of rental interest upon completion (there was significant inventory in the market due to people moving out of the Bay Area and large apartment complexes completed recently). We rented one unit in April and the second in July – both for fair rents. I was tired of working on this project by the time it wrapped up (Karen pointed out I am not a great finisher – sure miss those I have worked with in the past who would drive work to completion my minor oversight while I volunteered to work on something else). We started the remodel of the first one on Aug 3, 2020 and I thought it would take about 12-14 weeks. However, with numerous delays and issues that I do not want to complain any further about, it took 6+ months with significant overrun (fortunately supplement approval was not required, but still “painful” due to numerous comments from Karen regarding my expensive hobby). Many many lessons were learned!
In September 2021 one of lower unit existing tenants gave notice, moving out end of October. I contemplated just painting and renting again – not sure I was ready for another remodel as the other existing (next door on same level) tenant was most affected by the previous remodel. But then the second existing tenant gave notice and moved out end of November. Now I had the two lower units vacant at the same time – much easier and more economical to remodel two at once. So I applied for permits in mid-November (remotely from Hawaii) and got both approved within days! I decided to reduce scope and not use either the Architect or Engineer (we removed walls in the upper units which required Civil calculations for the permit) – permits were easier this time without removing walls. I liked the Architect but since the new scope was similar to the previous units we are using the same cabinet layout and design, decided to proceed without the help.
So far we are 3 weeks into the remodel and have all the demolition complete and have most of the new plumbing completed including installation of new bathtubs. We have started on the electrical – will be some rewiring to make it work with the existing electrical panels. I will schedule the rough inspections in both units in late January. Our primary issue for these remodels is material availability – we have ordered replacement windows (12-14 week delivery) and cabinets (17-19 weeks until installation). Best case is to get them rented in May or June but believe the cost will be less / there will be weeks without remodel activity as we wait for materials.
This is a hobby that I do with a group of friends – joined this group in 2017. We do it all from crushing the grapes to bottling. Some people ask if we crush with our feet – NO. We have all the equipment to destem the grapes, crush then using a wine press, transfer into stainless steel vats for initial treatment, transfer into oak barrels for fermentation, and then finally bottle. In normal years we bottle three varietals that results in about 300 cases of wine (20 each). We typically make Chardonnay and Primitivo (same grape as Zinfandel). In 2017 we made an excellent Petit Sirah – we are going to crush Petit Sarah again this fall.
This is not a huge time commitment – about 15-20 workdays per year. I enjoy the camaraderie and the product!
Unretired in September 2021
In 2019, before I retired, my good friend Tony asked me if I would like to help him with his office in the Bay Area – he is the Construction Manager and was moving to the General Manager (GM) role as the GM was retiring at the end of 2020. My friend asked if I would help him with business development. My answer then was no thanks – I need to be retired first before I figure out what I am going to do with the rest of my life.
In March of 2020 (after I rotated out of Kazakhstan the last time but still not retired), my good friend John (who is Tony’s boss) asked if I could help Tony with his transition to GM (he was not aware of Tony’s 2019 request). I gave John a similar answer regarding my need to figure out retirement before committing to working again. To be honest I appreciated the respect my friends had in my abilities but was unsure if I could help them. My focus was on becoming fully retired and spending more time with Karen.
And then the pandemic happened. The pandemic had a significant impact on their business – a lot of work was shut down or delayed in 2Q2020. Their business is a nation-wide Industrial Electrical and Instrument contractor – their home office is in Baton Rouge with a couple local offices including one near me in Martinez California. For background I met Tony and John when I was working for Chevron on a large fire rebuild project in the Richmond Refinery in 1999. We worked 11 months straight, 6 days a week – friendships built on completing a safe and successful rebuild of the instrument portion of a $300 MM project (aka the Burn Job).
In October 2020 we connected again – I said I was interested but not sure how much time I could commit as I was actively progressing the unit remodels of our apartment building. Both John and Tony said I could work when I was available. So, we signed a consulting agreement, and I started helping. I gave myself the title of Management Coach – I did not want to be known as a Consultant (though many of my TCO expat friends predicted I would come back as a Consultant).
My first efforts were a 360 Feedback Survey of employees from the Martinez Office for Tony and helped organize the new Construction Manager selection – replacing Tony (with the selected candidate starting in January).
At the start of 2021 I helped plan and participated in the Martinez Office strategic plan meeting; purpose of the meeting is to identify the high priority improvement areas the office wants to work on over the next year. I shared facilitating duties for the meeting with a manager from Baton Rouge – it was a good way to meet many of the core Martinez Office employees. I prepared a report and organized the results into Improvement Opportunities including project frames and initial action items. Via the strategic plan and discussions with Tony we agreed my future efforts would be helping implement improvements in the following areas:
• Business Development
• Employee Development including Mentoring Program / Developing Leaders / Employee Motivation
• Job Descriptions / Employee Accountability
• General Manager Coaching (delegation and soft skills)
At the beginning of 2021 I committed to working part-time (~ 2 days/ week) through June 2022. My goal was to implement sustained improvements that support office revenue growth. Note I do not name the company I am consulting for – some friends may guess who this is. Primarily sharing that I enjoy helping others through skills and knowledge I developed over a 40 year professional career.
As 2021 year progressed I continued to try and figure out how to help Tony in his transition. We onboarded the new Construction Manager and began working on the improvements. Then the Martinez office was hit by the “Great Resignation” – several key employees in Project Management and Estimating resigned in the first half of 2021 for better opportunities, and then the new Construction Manager and 10-year Engineering Manager resigned in August / September respectively. With support from Karen I returned to work full-time effective September 1, replacing the Construction Manager, and sharing the responsibilities of the Engineering Manager with Tony.
I made a commitment to Karen that returning to work full-time would not affect our (her) travel plans. I negotiated vacation plus un-paid time off when needed. To be honest, I prefer being in the middle of the work vs. the coaching / improvement support I was providing. I observe that I prefer helping from within – believe it has more impact, get to know the people better, and I enjoy it more. The challenge has been to keep all the other activities described above going but it is working – my “wise” approach is “it’s not a crisis,” we can figure it out, and make sure I get my sleep.
I will close by saying I am still keeping up with friends far and wide. I truly enjoy staying in contact with people who have enriched my life. If you would like to contact me please use firstname.lastname@example.org.