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Blog: Blog2
  • Denise Engelbrecht

Pirouetting out of a Black Swan

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

Will 2022 be the year 2020 was meant to be... trapped in my own engineering version of Swan Lake, 2020 was meant to be a pivotal year for me to finally break free and become the woman I was meant to be.

In March 2020 I was perfectly positioned... I had graciously, but not unscathed, survived my 2018 existential crisis, after I walked away from what was meant to be my best engineering project of my entire 35 year career.

Towards the end of November 2017, I was approached by one of the top 5 international engineering consultants, to sub-consult the mining infrastructure design for a copper mine. I was reluctant to engage because I was preparing to launch the EnsO Earth Foundation in March 2018 as part of my 50th birthday celebrations. I had been planning this monumental milestone event for the past 5 years.

So I referred it out to another female colleague in the industry, who was still starting out in her own consulting business. She had infrastructure experience as I had groomed her 10 years prior. But mining infrastructure was not her area of expertise and I soon realised the scope was too big for her to manage on her own, so I agreed to joint venture with her as a 50/50 split on contract value.

My team would undertake 50% of the project value and her team would deal with the other 50%. Kicking off in February 2018 it did not take long to figure out this project was not going to be a 3 month in and out event. Scope creep was at it again. By the end of March the project value had tripled... and we were now looking at wrapping up later than expected. In April there was a major fallout as she had failed to deliver her portion of the contract. Sitting at 60% complete, with most of the work undertaken by my team, I wanted out of this project. It was scope creeping by the week, and the projected completion timeline was sitting towards end of August 2018.

By the end of May, with 75% of the project in the bag and signed off by the client, I decided enough was enough, and I pulled the plug from my side. She was to wrap up the final 25% with her team, but my team would remain in play until the end of June to support her. The last I heard they were still at it in June 2019... but it cost me and I only got paid for 25% of the contract value... after lengthy legal discussions, I had to make peace with it and rather walk away...

But it took me almost 2 years to process that R1m loss (ie a whopping $200k of Big Mac value)... I think she went on to win an award or two, which I think was largely based on the performance of that project on her financials for 2018.

By March 2020 I had stabilised from the financial freefall and had lost my company, house and car in the process.... and most of my professional credibility... But I was ready to rebuild and start over... but I point blank refused to go back into the engineering industry... If I was going to work for FREE, it most definitely was not going to be on a mining project, helping to destroy the future of the planet... I was now 200% more determined to go 180° in the opposite direction. I was ready to launch the non-profit... through the process of financial suicide I had shed all my financial obligations and was surviving on less than 10% my original income.

So when COVID finally hit me, I was never in a better space and all I had to do was sit it out. But it did get really rough in 2021... that was probably the hardest year of my entire lifetime. I buttoned down the hatches and weathered the storm, eventually the washing machine stabilised and the whirling became twirling and eventually a graceful pirouette.

That is how I pirouetted out of engineering through a Black Swan event into my non-profit focusing on business development for regenerative solutions.

"Breaking the spell is a potent theme in Swan Lake. Odette embodies beauty and purity, but cannot fulfill her natural birthright as a woman. Siegfrieds love with is potential to humanize Odette can free her from her curse so she can shed her swan identity and be the woman she was born to be."

It has been a tough year for all of us, but if you would like to support us and donate please do so with the link below

learn more about what we are doing at the EnsO Earth Foundation on the link below

much love and appreciation


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