Dr Peter Collins
Dr Collins leads Permasense, the world leader in non-intrusive continuous integrity monitoring systems with a customer base on every continent.
Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?
"My studies at Imperial were challenging and demanding because of the calibre of my research team: not letting them down was a big part of what motivated me to stretch myself and grow.
We always had a tremendous sense of purpose, that the research we were doing was worthwhile. The blue chip companies that we were working with – ICI and Unilever - funded the research, and key people from those companies invested significant time in interacting with us to understand what we were delivering, to critique it, and to ensure that their companies adopted it."
What is your fondest memory of your time here?
"I remember us working hard as a team to crack really tough development challenges, and the deep friendships forged from being able to rely on one another - friendships that have lasted to today."
Describe your career
"I started as a development engineer with Sulzer, Switzerland’s pre-eminent engineering group, where my Imperial Ph.D. that I gained aged 26 made me a peer amongst engineers from Swiss and German universities all of whom were in their 30s before earning their doctorates. My heat and mass transfer expertise contributed in an identifiable way to the breakthrough units we developed for chemical processing – a source of real satisfaction.
I spent my last years in Switzerland selling the processing plant I had been developing – the first step in overlaying commercial skills on the technical. I did my MBA at INSEAD. I feel strongly that engineering companies should be managed by engineers; the Sulzer sales experience and the MBA gave me the skills and knowledge to interact confidently with financiers, lawyers and accountants as an engineer.
The four years I spent with Arthur D. Little, then one of the world’s leading management consultancies, gave me insight into how companies developed strategy and were evaluated to be bought and sold. This was the springboard to joining a private-equity-backed buyout of Pipeline Integrity International, the British-based world leader in the inspection of oil and gas transmission pipelines using proprietary ‘pigging’ technology, as the technical director. We bought our main competitor in Germany, and my being at ease in working in German along with my Imperial PhD were instrumental in gaining the confidence of the German engineers. I am particularly proud of having moved the development and design teams in Karlsruhe and Newcastle from mutual mistrust to realising that 1 + 1 was much more than 2: we married the discipline and commitment to production quality of the Germans to the creativity and free thinking of the British-based technologists. Our common sense of pride and purpose meant we could mould the strongest team in our field, anywhere.
Most recently, and most satisfyingly of all, I have spent the last 6 years leading Permasense, an Imperial College spin out, from the laboratory to a business with a customer base on every continent. The technologies developed at Imperial are what make our corrosion monitoring systems the best in the world - the acknowledged standard in the US, Germany, China and Brazil, and in all of the world’s oil majors. We have proved that it is possible to build a vibrant business from the brainpower of researchers at Imperial, still possible to build a business based in the UK that manufactures its product in the UK, and possible to build an engineering business that offers well-paid career paths for technologists – from technicians to development, production, sales and support engineers, doing what they have been educated to do."
What would be your advice for current students?
"I would advise current students to seek to learn from fellow students as much as from the faculty. Those students come from many countries – one of Imperial’s great strengths – and in an increasingly global world the understanding you can gain from them about different cultural perspectives will stand you in good stead.
And after College: have the courage to step out and offer a lead. To make it to Imperial you have already shown you have above average ability, and Imperial will give you both a truly excellent technical education and the chance to absorb from an international student body. Use that - to create material reward for yourself and to create opportunities –especially by building businesses – for others coming after you."