Meet Willie Knouwds, Sales Business Unit Leader

Willie Knouwds arrived at Lithon in March 2020, just days before the start of the Covid pandemic. But joining the company as the team was forced into lockdown certainly hasn’t stopped him from getting down to business and becoming an invaluable member of the Lithon family. As the Sales Business Unit Leader, Willie leads and manages the tender process – no small feat given that he co-ordinates contributions from across the business and managed up to eight tenders simultaneously at one stage last year. All that while at the same time working on several active projects. 

Engineering aside, Willie has an incredible heart for the planet and is an enthusiastic ambassador for Lithon’s Go Green project, a recently launched initiative committed to reducing Lithon’s carbon footprint. We sat down with him recently to find out what he loves about his chosen field, which projects he’s enjoyed most, what he’d choose as a superpower and more.

What made you decide on a career in civil engineering?

As a kid, I loved making dams in the soil with my construction toys. But I always thought I’d grow up to become a game warden, living and working in the veld, surrounded by nature and wild animals. Then I reached the end of my matric year, I realised that I wasn’t clear on the career path I wanted to take. Thankfully, my parents were very proactive and sent me for an aptitude test with a career counsellor. That’s when civil engineering first landed on my radar. 

Where did you complete your studies?

Once I’d decided on engineering, my parents secured a bursary through the Department of Agricultural Engineering in Namibia – that even paid me a small salary while I studied! I completed my studies at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in 1999, and in 2000 I returned to Windhoek to work and complete my B-Tech degree part-time at Tshwane University of Technology.

What do you love most about your chosen field?

I’d have to say the permanence that comes with creating a structure. I love being able to show my children something I’ve helped to design and build and know that it will still be there for decades to come.

Where do you see civil engineering heading in the future?

The technological changes in this field have been substantial. Digital modelling is being used more widely and Lithon is also in the process of transitioning to building information modelling (BIM), allowing us to work simultaneously with other engineering fields, architects and other stakeholders. This means huge gains in productivity, output and time.

What are your strengths and how have they helped you in your career?

I’m the type of person who likes to get things done – if I start something, I want to see it through to the end, and that’s important in our industry. I also love problem-solving and that’s a skill that we engineers use every day. I also like to think of myself as someone who works well with people and who can mobilise them to get the job done.

What have been some of your favourite projects to date?

I loved the challenges that working on the Eros Airport project brought – having to complete our work between fixed hours when the airport wasn’t operational, having to adjust to night work etc. I’ve also enjoyed working on several projects across Africa – in the Ivory Coast, I worked on a bridge for a gold mine located in a tropical forest, while in Madagascar I completed a road project on a nickel mine. I’m also fortunate to have worked in Ghana and Angola. 

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Being able to teleport would be a game-changer for me. Imagine being in the office one minute and on-site the next! The amount of time I’d save in my day would be incredible.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

One of the things I love most about working at Lithon is that the company understands the importance of family time and actively advocates for it. From my side, I make sure that I hardly ever bring work home with me and that my weekends are dedicated to quality time with my wife and children. We have some cattle on a farm just outside Windhoek and we often spend time there, braaing wors in the veld and enjoying being together.