Dr Ozak Esu CEng MIET is a Nigerian-born electrical engineer who was inspired to study engineering due to the energy problem in Nigeria, so she moved to the UK aged 17 to study at Loughborough University. Today, she is a chartered electronic and electrical engineer who has spent her time, post-PhD, working within the construction industry, initially joining global, independent, multi-disciplinary consultancy, Cundall, in 2014, before moving to BRE Group in 2019 and then Liechtenstein-based Hilti Group in 2021.
“Engineers are difference-makers, pivotal in shaping our society, and with great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. It is essential to represent the diversity of thought of our world, especially within the problem-solving teams in the engineering profession.”
International challenges need international solutions
I completed my primary, secondary, and A-Level education in Nigeria. At 17, I moved to the UK in 2008 for my undergraduate studies. I graduated from Loughborough University with a first-class electronics and electrical engineering degree. In 2011, I was awarded a scholarship to advance straight to my PhD, also in electronics and electrical engineering.
In 2014, I joined the construction and built environment industry at Cundall, leading electrical building services (lighting, power, data, containment, fire alarm, and security systems) design and installation on-site for award-winning national and international projects. I delivered thirty construction projects across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Notable projects include Priority School Build Programme (PSBP), Dubai Creek Harbour (DCH) Retail District, Dubai, UAE, and Heritage Place Ikoyi, Nigeria.
In 2019, I joined BRE Group as the Smart Assets technical and team lead to pursue strategic research in emerging innovation trends like smart buildings, the Internet of Things (IoTs), and new technologies.
I led the team and developed the Smart Assets programme scope, projects (including demonstrators), and delivery strategy on the £72 million UK Government funded ‘Construction Innovation Hub (CIH)’ project to digitise the UK Construction Industry. The same year, I achieved professional registration as a Chartered Engineer through the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).
Since 2008, I have been an Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) member. I have served in numerous governance, partnership, and leadership positions, recently being appointed Communities Committee EMEA Chair (2022 – 2025).
Following my successful 12 years in the UK, I relocated to Switzerland in 2021 to join Hilti Group at its Corporate Research & Technology Center in Liechtenstein, as a technical project manager for research and development (R&D), leading innovations in fastening and fire protection applications.
In early 2023, I was promoted to chief service owner, integrated project solutions within the Hilti Business Unit, Fastening & Protection Solutions.
Solving problems and developing solutions
As the chief service owner, I develop and continuously improve the global end-to-end (E2E) service blueprint for integrated project solutions, delivering value to our customers, like integrated design and prefabrication of modular support systems, including fasteners and fire protection.
I have a unique and picturesque cross-border commute from Switzerland, where I live, to Liechtenstein, where I work. My commute mode depends on the weather forecast. On sunny days, it’s a 20-minute cycle to work; on rainy days, it’s a 12-minute bus journey or a five-minute train ride to the office.
I start at 8am with a café latte and a croissant, planning my day and responding to emails. I oversee multiple projects within the service programme. I often have progress update meetings and presentations from 8.30am with stakeholders, depending on time zones.
Most of my day is spent exploring opportunities to bring innovations into our services to create added value for our customers. I pause for my hour-long lunch break at noon, and have a couple of tea/coffee/ice cream breaks to recharge throughout the day. I typically end my day at 5.30pm with a rough schedule for my next day.
Making electricity accessible to all
I am drawn to sustainability from my experience growing up in Nigeria, with limited access to electricity, despite being a crude oil-rich nation. I recall often reading about the disasters, rarely experiencing the merits, and constantly seeing the devastation and depravation in the pursuit of fossil fuels. (I spoke with The Guardian about this in 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2019/jun/25/women-in-power-why-the-energy-industry-needs-more-female-engineers.)
At university, I learned about renewable energy systems. I enjoyed it so much that I pursued my PhD in Wind Energy. (You can read my thesis here: Vibration-Based Condition Monitoring of Wind Turbine Blades). I was intrigued to learn more about any alternatives, and it’s a significant reason I chose to specialise in electronics and electrical engineering.
In my spare time, I am a video host at Climate Now, a multimedia resource, explaining the fundamental scientific ideas, technologies, and policies relevant to the global climate crisis. I am passionate about advancing society through education and the practical application of sustainable engineering.
I create engineering content (presentations, hands-on activities, explainer videos, published articles, etc.). I communicate my passion to schoolchildren, teachers, parents, politicians, journalists, and the general public, intending to inform and inspire their engagement within the profession.
Inclusivity advances society
Engineering is a profoundly creative activity that involves imagination and innovation. “Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought” – Albert Einstein.
Engineers are difference-makers, pivotal in shaping our society, and with great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. It is essential to represent the diversity of thought of our world, especially within the problem-solving teams in the engineering profession. It creates a better work environment where we can collaborate and learn from each other and, most importantly, inclusively advance society.
(Here is a talk I did on the importance of inclusion and diversity: https://youtu.be/2xWv0hFK8oc)
Passionate and inclusive
With over 32,000 team members and over 135 nationalities, Hilti’s passionate and inclusive global team is at the core of its success. The Hilti Group aims to be a great employer for everyone, everywhere, continuously undertaking initiatives to deliver on its promise of a caring and performance-oriented culture.
One of many initiatives is its efforts to build a more balanced leadership while filling 80% of leadership positions from within. The organisation reached 25% female representation in its global management team in 2022 and plans to grow this ratio further. (Source: https://careers.hilti.group/en/who-we-are/diversity-equity-and-inclusion/) Although there’s still some way to go, the organization has a clear stance and understanding that being inclusive makes us more innovative, flexible, and ultimately more robust.
Hilti encourages employee-led groups, which own discussions on diversity and inclusion topics. These groups play a crucial role in enriching the organisation’s campaigns and expanding the conversations around topics that have high importance for our work environment.
Hilti aims to be its customers’ best partner for productivity, safety, and sustainability. Hilti has enhanced its contributions to reducing carbon emissions both in its own operations and across their entire value chain. Hilti is committed to becoming net-zero by 2050 as part of the Science Based Targets initiative. Their holistic strategy is based on three equally important pillars: Environment, People, and Society. (For more: https://www.hilti.group/content/hilti/CP/XX/en/company/Sustainability/Sustainability.html)
International Women in Engineering Day
It is essential to mark International Women in Engineering Day to celebrate women’s contributions to engineering, which are often overlooked and underrepresented within the profession. It’s a unique opportunity to reflect on the past and take stock of the status quo (which may include challenges like bias, inequity, pay disparity, and poor workplace cultures, leading to a lack of retention, high staff turnover, and low promotion rates for underrepresented groups). The day allows the profession to consider what improvements may be needed and address them.
We also need to consider the best way to go about promoting engineering to future generations, such as by highlighting trailblazing female colleagues.
To mark the day, I go for some celebratory ice cream with my colleagues, as we do yearly. I will catch up on all the inspiring content that will be shared across social media platforms under the tag #INWED.
I aspire to continue to develop myself, my colleagues, and my professional career within the construction industry. It is the most critical sector with tremendous opportunities to innovate. Think about it: We spend, on average, 90% of our lives inside buildings for various reasons, including shelter, security, and privacy, to store belongings or to live comfortably, learn, and work. That’s INCREDIBLE! There’s so much on offer to keep me engaged and positively contributing to advancing our world.
I plan to continue volunteering my time, talent, and voice, to champion engineering as a difference-making, society-shaping, exciting, collaborative, and inclusive career option for young people.
When writing this article, Hilti has open positions. I encourage readers looking for new and exciting opportunities to apply.