After Delft

Travelling from Delft to a wedding in southern India by motorbike in 2011, Henk Wapstra met a British agricultural inspector in Iran. They got talking and at the end of the evening the Brit said, ‘Henk, you’re a mountain climber. The only problem is, once you’re at the top you can’t enjoy the view because you’re busy thinking about the next mountain.’ ‘He hit the nail right on the head.’


Name: Henk Wapstra
Place of residence: Bloemendaal
Marital status: Married, one daughter
Study: Mechanical Engineering
Association: None

It was an attitude that he had from very early on. As a boy, Wapstra wanted to become a carpenter like his father, to make something you could hold in your hands. Having completed gymnasium (pre-university education), he went to work in the building trade with his father, until he decided he wanted to continue his studies. He flew through his Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, completing it in three years, and found his next challenge in the Unitech exchange programme: six months studying abroad and a six month internship.

Wapstra chose Chalmers in Sweden, immediately adding another six months to get a fast-track Master’s in Management and Economics of Innovation. ‘I thought, I can do that faster.’ His internship was at the Swedish bearings company SKF, where he also carried out research into hybrid bearings used in particular in very cold applications such as LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas). ‘I could have gone to Shell then’, says Wapstra, ‘but I thought I still needed more of a challenge technically-speaking.’

Back in Delft for the Master’s in Solid-Fluid Interaction, he discovered that the Formula Student dream team was looking for a technical manager to design, build and drive a racing car in competition. ‘Technical. Manager. Two words that give me energy’, says Wapstra. Despite a lack of management experience, he got started. ‘You find out pretty quickly what works and what doesn’t.’ And that was true. He found it difficult to get everybody in the multidisciplinary team thinking along the same lines. ‘Sometimes you look around you and think: wow, it’s just a big vacuum behind me. There is an old proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ There is a compromise somewhere in the middle.’

The dream team was good experience for his job at Shell in Moerdijk, as Maintenance Supervisor for the ethane cracker. Managing a team, defining the broad outlines, keeping everyone on board: he learnt it all in Formula Student. So, is there another mountain he wants to climb? ‘I want to build a big, floating LNG plant, that would be fun’, says Wapstra. ‘Status quo makes me uncomfortable.’

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