Citizen of the World
Michael Fletcher started traveling early. At the age of three, he boarded a Pan Am Constellation Clipper in Shannon, Ireland, to travel to North America.... and kept moving ever since.
Michael was born in 1943 in an East End London town called Leytonstone, also the home to David Beckham and Alfred Hitchcock. His father was a power signal lineman for the London Underground and his mother owned a grocery store, inherited from her parents. Michael had two younger siblings, Margaret and Robert. However, Robert died in infancy of pneumonia during the bombing of London in WWII. "My mother used to say," remembers Michael, "the Germans would come over and drop a few bombs... and when they turned around and came back, they had a few left over, so they dropped some more. Our house lost the roof and we lost all the windows, and that's how my brother contracted pneumonia."
In 1946, his uncle sponsored the family to move to Canada. On the flight from Shannon, Margaret was the first baby to fly the Atlantic in one of the Constellation's special bulkhead seats. After landing in New York, they took a train to Toronto, and then on to Vancouver where his father found work as a construction electrician. When he took a job with the Aluminium Company of Canada the family moved to Kitimat, British Columbia. They later relocated to Kemano, British Columbia.
"Kemano was truly a company town," explains Michael. "Every Friday night, the freighter would come in and drop food off. We had a boat that would go between our town and the next town, a five-hour trip each way, twice a week. There was no radio until late at night and no TV until the summer of 1962. Basically, the whole world could have gone away in a heartbeat and we wouldn't have known about it until five days later."
Because there was no high school past ninth grade, he had to board with family and friends in Kitimat to complete high school and his first year university classes. He then joined the Canadian Air Force where he trained in electronics and aircraft instrumentation, moving among bases in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. He continued to take courses while in the military. When his service ended, he returned to college at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton where he received a degree in process control.
After college, Michael briefly returned to the military, joining the Canadian Army as a combat engineering officer and platoon commander in the Royal Canadian Engineers. His first job in the private sector was as a process control and instrument engineer at RM Parsons Canada. Then he moved into their business development department as a company sales representative for oil and gas projects. He met his wife there.
"I was working with personnel out of the main offices in Montreal, Quebec," Michael smiles, "And I said, 'I would like to take French lessons.' So this lady came in as part of the company language training initiative with Berlitz training, and I looked at her, and fortunately, she became my teacher. One night I said to myself, 'Self, I’m going to marry this lady, and I think I might be better off having her as my wife, instead of just my French teacher.'" Over 40 years later, Michael and Françoise are still married and have five children, four daughters (Sylvie, Nathalie, Tara, and Jennifer) and one son (Todd).
While he was involved in more recent work in England, he got a call from Mark Mallett. Jean-Marc Martel, FLNG's quality manger and a co-worker of Michael's in several locations, referred him to Mark. FLNG had lost their construction manager, and Jean-Marc felt he was a perfect fit. "I said, 'Well, Jean-Marc, here's my resume. Throw it into the pile,'" recalls Michael. "So he did, and Mallett said, 'Do you think Fletcher would be okay working with us? Is he a team player?' And Jean-Marc said, 'Hell, yes!'"
And so, globe-trotting slowed a bit. His family no doubt was glad to see more of him. But all the traveling was not a major point of contention. "The day my wife says, 'That's enough, come home,' I'll quit," says Michael. "My wife understood that the operative statement I lived by was 'when you go home, you are theirs one hundred percent.'"
In the same vein, Michael has always said that, "The day I don't enjoy this job, I'll quit." But that day may not be very imminent. "Michael Smith asked me one time," Michael remembers, "'what are you going to do in retirement?' and I told him, 'Michael, I'm ill-equipped for retirement. I don't do anything but working like this.' So he said, 'Well, maybe I have to build Train 4,' and I said, 'Yeah, there you go.'"
Most importantly, work has been easier because of the professionals he works with. "Construction is not a one man show," he observes. "You have to support each other, because this is family. On this project at FLNG, it is family. We spend a lot of time together, and by God, even though we may have a little squabble, we have a lot of laughs and we support each other and we get the job done."
He began his career in oil and gas as a process control engineer and project engineering manager that would take him around the world. In 1977, Michael moved to Skikda, Algeria as part of the Sonatrach team (including what is now KBR) for constructing LNG facilities (units 40, 50 and 60). From there, Kellogg would send him to England (for Mobil Oil at their Corrington refinery), what was then Yugoslavia (just after Tito died), a brief stint in Houston, to Indonesia (fertilizer complex and LNG), Argentina (refinery job), Uzbekistan (a gas reinjection project), Switzerland (for Sandos), Saudi Arabia (computerized maintenance management), Cameroon (Chad/Cameroon Pipeline Project), Nigeria (fertilizer complex) and projects in Japan, Qatar, Tunisia, Turkey, France, Australia, India, Pakistan, China, Korea and domestic assignments to California and Canada. "I think I've worked almost every continent except Antarctica," Michael says proudly.
Skikda, AlgeriaHe also made an unexpected return to his first major international job in Algeria when he was asked to return to the Skikda project after unit 40 exploded, which took out units 30 and 20 as well. Michael was in charge of the rebuild, and put them back into service in less than two years. In all, he spent over 15 years on Algerian projects from the Sahara to the coast.
"We have a lot of laughs and we support each other and we get the job done."
— Michael Fletcher