Volunteer Spotlight: Tan Geok Chai

Article by Adam Duckett

Shining a light on the valuable work of IChemE volunteers

Geok Chai, you volunteer as Southern Regional Ambassador for IChemE. Tell us a little about yourself.

Currently retired, I was previously Managing Director with Pacific Oleochemicals until August 2018.

I started my career with Akzo Nobel Oleochemicals (now Pacific Oleochemicals) in 1980 as Plant Manager, and I was promoted to General Manager in 1997. The plant was solely manufacturing various fractions of fatty acids and refined
glycerine from palm oil and palm kernel oil. I was further promoted to Managing Director in 2001 and worked till my retirement in 2018.

What subjects did you study, and why?

I studied Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering with Honours at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK.

The chemical engineering degree provided all the technical knowledge required for my job in the early part of my career as a chemical engineer in the palm oil industry and subsequently in the oleochemical industry. This requires technical knowledge of chemistry, physics, biochemistry, material science, mathematics and more. Besides, chemical engineering subjects like unit operations, process flow, heat and mass transfer, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics provided the relevant knowledge that must be applied within the industry I have worked for over the last 43 years.

How long have you been volunteering for IChemE, and why do you do it?

I have been volunteering for IChemE in the role above since 2012.

Volunteering with IChemE allows me to engage people with similar skills working in different industries. It helps me to learn new skills, at the same time making new friends and expanding my network, and boost my social skills. As a volunteer within IChemE, it provides opportunities for me to develop my non-technical skills, like organising technical seminars and social events. It is rewarding to bring people together at technical and social events and raises awareness of the range of people and skills that exist in the Southern region. All these events and activities can support chemical engineers to share knowledge and promote the profession at a regional level.

What skills or qualities are required for your volunteering role?

I must be able to effectively help to disseminate information about IChemE membership and activities, and to offer to arrange and host events such as technical meetings, presentations to students or company groups. Besides I would need to provide networking in order to raise awareness of the important contribution of chemical engineers make to business and society.

What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteering experience?

The most rewarding part of my volunteering experience is to make new friends and strengthening existing relationships by committing a shared activity together. It also gives me the opportunity to practise and develop my social skills, as I am meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. By being an IChemE volunteer at a regional level, it’s rewarding to see chemical engineers I mentored becoming chartered after they have shown their commitment to chemical engineering.

What is your proudest achievement in your professional life to-date?

The proudest achievement in my professional life was in 2012 when I was involved in organising the 4th Regional Process Safety Seminar held in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, the first time it was run by IChemE. The event was successfully organised and went smoothly with good participation of chemical engineers from the southern region. The achievement was largely due to hard work and support from the co-workers and good networking in the region.

I’m also proud of being able to serve in Malaysia’s palm oil industry for 43 years, and as one of the pioneer chemical engineers in its oleochemical industry. This journey is indeed my most gratifying experience in my career.

What would we find you doing outside of work on the weekend?

During the weekend, most of my time is spent with the family and close friends – this has given me most pleasure. Besides I do exercise both indoor and outdoor to keep fit and healthy. Occasionally, I also attend Buddhist teaching classes and activities.

What is your advice for others who might be considering volunteering for IChemE?

Volunteering for IChemE is a responsible task which requires you to dedicate considerable time, especially when an event is being held in the region. You may need to be available as a local channel for information about IChemE membership and events such as technical seminars.

It is preferred that you are a Chartered Member of IChemE, and you will need to comply with the necessary constraints on use of membership data.

This is the ninth article in a series that highlights the variety of work done by IChemE member volunteers. To read more, visit the series hub at https://www.thechemicalengineer.com/tags/volunteer-spotlight

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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