A lifelong passion for the sea and adventure has taken Gordon Foot FIMarEST from Cold War submarine missions to senior roles in the offshore sector. Now, he aims to inspire others to join the industry – and to make it a safer and more equal workplace for female employees.
1. What should IMarEST members know about you?
I have had a passion for the sea since I was five-years-old and visited Portland Navy Days. Throughout my youth, I understood that the sea could take you to all the world’s different countries and cultures, and I longed to be a part of that.
I have now spent four decades of service at sea, and with so many fulfilling career opportunities that presented themselves, I have enjoyed so many amazing adventures. Currently, I am an ambassador for Maritime UK, Merchant Navy Welfare Board, Inspiring the Future school outreach programme, Women in Maritime, and I am an advocate for lifelong learning.
I have also been featured in podcasts where I call for sustainable change and being a decent human being by leading with kindness.
2. What inspired you to join the maritime industry – and why?
Primarily the spirit of adventure. With cheap air travel availability still in its infancy and well beyond my horizons, all schoolboy books and movies at the time presented sea travel and the space race as the big adventures. NASA was only something I had heard about on TV, but I was fortunate to live by the sea and could feel her size and majesty and how the seasons made her both crazy and calming.
I also had visions of wanting to be a marine engineer, I loved to fix things. My late grandfather would spend weekends teaching me how to build things in his garage. Creating draft plans, measuring twice, cutting once and the art of precision when creating things with tools taught me the discipline of quality in allied trades.
3. Please describe your early career
Aged 17 I joined the Royal Navy. The Navy provided me with life and engineering skills and a sense of duty and belonging. With intense training, it also affords very early career management and leadership skills, and I thrived.
I didn’t see much of the world due to my volunteering for submarine service. As an engineer I wanted to work in the extremes, and as NASA still had not called me it seemed the remote, high-tempo and mysterious world of submarines on special operations was my calling.
During the latter Cold War period it provided me with operational covert missions around the world – but more importantly, it was the cutting-edge technology, band of brothers and striving for professional excellence that drove me onward.
4. How did you get to your current role?
My senior rank and years of experience meant nothing when transitioning to the civilian sector, so I set myself some simple goals: to retrain where required, and to find my next adventure.
As an advocate of CPD and lifelong learning, I strived to gain civilian equivalence to my many and varied military skills. This included leadership and management, safety, and engineering.
I was provided with my first step into the offshore industry by a seismic company, TT Surveys, and I never looked back. I eventually worked with the top companies of the day – Racal, Thales Geosolutions and Fugro. I was self-taught for the main part, but also gained formal qualifications along the way.
I started at the bottom of the career ladder in the offshore industry, but this led to a progression of responsibility and senior positions. TenneT GmbH and TotalEnergies gave me my first break as the role of client representative. I did the first ever client representative training at Aberdeen’s National Hyperbaric Centre in 2010.
5. Describe the maritime industry’s biggest challenges
We are not a diverse workforce at sea. In nationality and cultures it is definitely a United Nations melting pot, but for gender, it still remains a challenging prospect for women to thrive in. Currently, 2% of employees in the maritime sector are female. Myself and many other like-minded seafarers are trying to address this. This includes equity, and is most prominent in pay, career choice, advancement and – embarrassingly for the industry – the simple aspects of appropriately fitted PPE, toilets and sanitary provision. Most crucially we are afflicted by those that believe bullying, harassment and sexual assault is OK at sea, and this must end.
The headline challenges remain alternative fuels, sustainability, and of course future training and skills, but the bottom line is that people make the maritime sector tick and we must do better. I remain a staunch ally to those calling for the end to the abandonment of seafarers. In the 21st century, this should be made illegal for shipowners and operators, and they should be sanctioned appropriately.
6. What are you most passionate about in maritime today?
I believe that broadening horizons, striving for your dreams, and youth engagement to encourage a greater awareness of the UK’s rich maritime history and careers is vital. Education, training and skills are an important foundation to any dreams.
In partnership with the University of Plymouth, the MLA College provided me with the opportunity in 2022 to research this important area through their MBA programme. I have since made that research available to academia and industry. It has been well received and the UK government are implementing many of my findings, not least engaging with the maritime community to gain their viewpoints and suggestions.
7. When did you join the IMarEST, and what does it mean for you?
I joined the IMarEST in 2012 and have since been awarded Incorporated Engineer, Chartered Marine Technologist and Fellow in 2016. I engage with the Seafarer Mental Health and Wellbeing and Ocean Plastics and Marine Litter Special Interest Groups.
The institute is a friendly amalgam of disciplines that make up the modern maritime community. It presents the modern way of knowledge sharing and supporting each other within the maritime community.
8. What’s the best career advice you’ve been given?
During my first service at sea the Captain of my submarine instilled the ethos of “There is no such thing as a stupid question, just ignorant sailors.” Safety at sea is built on trust across teams in many disciplines, and this simple notion has saved many lives.
We now use the term psychological safety, but even back then the ability to speak up, own situations, acknowledge responsibilities and challenges, and consider others as a whole team helped avert adverse outcomes when operating in high-risk environments.
9. And what advice do you give to those starting out?
Take control of your own career based on your aspirations, and just be the best you can be. When you struggle, never be too proud to seek assistance. I am a great believer in mentoring. Maritime is a community, and there are so many out there willing to provide assistance.
10. What’s next for you?
I am still seeking adventure, but my next challenge is land-based. I will soon embark on the Mt. Kilimanjaro Trek October 2023, sponsored by Swire Shipping. I am fundraising primarily for Sailors’ Society, a fantastic 200-year-old charity helping the seafaring community. I am also supporting the awesome volunteers of the seafaring charity Safer Waves.