A passion for results

Stephen R. Wiggins, an associate partner for Newcomb + Boyd, talks about his experiences in the commissioning industry


Stephen R. Wiggins, Associate Partner, Newcomb + BoydWho: Stephen R. Wiggins

What: Associate Partner, Newcomb + Boyd Commissioning Group

Where: Atlanta

About: Stephen grew up in the commissioning industry, having the privilege of being trained by some of the industry’s great pioneers. Prior to Newcomb + Boyd, Stephen was president of the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB). Commissioning is a passion that has driven his career, and he feels blessed to work and share this passion every day.

Q: What is working well in the engineering profession today?

A: I think the realization that what we are currently doing does not provide our best. More and more professionals are publicly stating that there is a need to implement an approach that is cradle-to-grave in nature. There must be open lines of communication during the building process that feeds information smoothly in both directions. Most design professionals get little, if any, feedback on what works well with their designs. Also, few engineers truly get involved in the execution of their designs down to the day-to-day operation level.

Q: What’s the most challenging project you’ve worked on professionally?

A: I led an effort in 1990 to retrocommission part of the Berlin Tempelhof Airport. This facility at one time was the world’s largest airport and the world’s fourth largest building under one roof. The main hall of the building was approximately 1 mile long, and the building had seven stories with three basement levels below that. The airport was started in 1923, and the building was redesigned and upgraded by Adolph Hitler. When we performed the project, all of the original equipment was still installed and operating—only three fan motors had been replaced. There were no original documents that had survived the war, and we were working with a language barrier that at times was very challenging. I was very disappointed when I heard that the building was being closed in 2008.

Q: What product or technology has changed your job the most?

A: The advent of digital controls—this has led to the majority of controls professionals being focused on computer programming instead of the systems that they are controlling and how to properly operate those systems.

Q: Who has mentored you in your engineering profession, and what have you taken away from this relationship?

A: There have been a number, too many to list everyone. The two with the greatest impact were my father and Bob Coleman. They both taught me that integrity is the most important credential that a professional has. Also, that if you ever give it away, you can’t get it back in this industry. As a consultant, your client must be able to trust your word above all else.

Q: How has being a member of an association helped your personal career, and enhanced your leadership role within the engineering community?

A: I have had the privilege of volunteering with some of the current giants of our industry at NEBB. The NEBB volunteers are tremendous. Most of these folks are owners of their own businesses and they still find time to give back to the industry through their service. I have been challenged at every level of expertise while working with these industry leaders. One project was the writing of the Design Phase Commissioning Handbook, which took two and a half years to author. We met as a team every week for that time frame and four weeks each year until the project was complete. This process exposed me to professionals from every region in the country and increased my systems knowledge of proper application relating to geographical concerns.

Q: How do you think commissioning will change in the next 2 to 3 years?

A: I hope that it continues to mature into the commissioning professional being the owners’ testing authority. There currently are two main divisions in the industry, with the largest segment focused on documentation of the process and the other segment focused on the performance of the facilities being commissioned. We must focus the industry on the results of commissioning and not only on the deliverables. The industry needs to be unified into one approach where all projects deliver properly optimized building working as intended.

Q: What one word best describes you?

A: Passionate.

Q: How do you give back to your community?

A: I have been an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church in America since 1980 and have served in a number of churches over the last 30 years. I believe that your spiritual life has to be right before the rest of your life can be. As my two children grew up, I served as coach for their soccer and basketball teams, and working with the kids on those teams has provided some of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

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