Valontino James heads up Lithon’s Structural Engineering business unit. We discovered that not only is he one smart guy (he is currently pursuing his PhD) and passionate about structural engineering, but he’s also a half-marathon runner, enjoys a good braai, and loves music with soul.
1. When did you join Lithon?
In October 2021, but officially 1st November 2021.
2. Why did you decide to become a structural engineer?
As a young boy, I used to go to construction sites with my grandfather where he would install or repair glazing. I really enjoyed the experience of seeing guys work on site, especially on buildings. Initially I thought I would become an architect, because I wasn’t too bad at drawing. But because I always did well in science and maths, I was urged to consider engineering instead. Civil and structural engineering in particular, provided a good blend of my aptitude and interests.
3. Tell us about your background and why you decided to join Lithon.
I grew up in Khomasdal in Windhoek and was raised by my grandparents for the most part. After high school, I made my way to Cape Town to study civil engineering at UCT. With my degree, I gained some valuable experience at a consulting firm in Windhoek, and then registered as a Professional Engineer. My next chapter saw me move back to Cape Town for a Master’s degree in structural engineering and begin my PhD as well. Here, I worked with my supervisor and research unit on some specialised projects (including non-destructive and vibration testing on concrete structures such as dam walls etc.). Right before the first Covid lockdown, my girlfriend and I came back to Windhoek, where several opportunities started popping up, but nothing quite as promising as the one at Lithon. The chance to lead the structures business unit of an established company like Lithon presented a unique career growth opportunity, that I simply couldn’t resist!
4. What does a typical day in your role as a structural engineer at Lithon look like?
I start my day with my coffee and newspaper and then we welcome the day as a team. This is followed by management and business unit huddle sessions to plan the day’s work. Daily tasks can vary anywhere from working on structural designs and drawings with the team or responding to emails, liaising with project teams, meeting with clients or compiling tender submissions, to mention a few.
5. What do you love most about your job?
Seeing the projects come to life, and seeing the expression on the clients’ faces when they see the end result.
6. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned during your time at Lithon?
Dare to dream big, plan for it and execute diligently! Also the importance of focusing your efforts as Greg McKeown highlighted in his influential book, Essentialism.
7. How do you think engineering can contribute to building a better future for all?
My interests gravitate towards shelter and food. Those are two very basic human needs. If engineers, property developers, landowners, and capital partners can develop solutions to offer affordable agricultural land for profitable intensified farming opportunities, it would assist in making average Namibian households more self-sustaining in terms of food security. And by operating profitable ventures, they can afford to build homes on the land. Engineers can contribute to ensuring sustainable resource utilisation such as water and electricity. We can also develop neat infrastructure for processing and packaging goods that are cultivated through intensified farming ventures.
8. Do you have any favourite projects at Lithon? Why are they favourites?
My current favourite has to be a legacy project – a mixed-use development in Windhoek comprising office space, a restaurant, and an art gallery. The architects explored several materials, forms and levels, and this really excites and challenges me.
9. Who has been your greatest inspiration (both in your personal life or your career)?
The people who made the biggest impact on my formative years were my grandparents, Eddie and Willemina James, and my mother, for giving me stability and love. I learned a lot from them about being resourceful and compassionate. In my twenties, my father and a good friend of mine’s dad guided me. To varying degrees they were/are ambitious men and more importantly ‘doers’. That had a big impact on me for sure! At the moment, I don’t have to look far for inspiration – there’s an abundance of it at Lithon. I’m also inspired by people who have built profitable self-sustaining businesses (operating systems) that don’t rely on their being there all the time.
10. What is a personal goal you’d like to achieve this year?
The main goal I had, I managed to achieve in April 2022, which was to do the Two Oceans Half Marathon.
11. What is something most people don’t know about you?
I enjoy being alone in my own space, that’s when I am most creative.
12. What do you get up to while you’re not working?
I enjoy braaiing and listening to music, especially Soulection Radio.
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