March 22, 2023

Felix Okoth was Destined for Engineering and Thermo King

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From humble beginnings in Kenya where he built his own toys to innovating a rail refrigeration unit that meets industry needs, Felix has always been up for a challenge.

Felix Okoth’s path to engineering started in his youth with a natural curiosity and inquisitive mind.

“I always enjoyed challenging tasks. It started out as a way to entertain myself when I was a child,” said Felix. “I’d make all types of toy cars with tiny rubber tires, sticks, battery-powered light bulb signals, thin metal rods that slid through holes in an old can making honking sounds, and more.

“Soon I realized that I was pretty good at math and sciences, so I kept taking the dreaded high-level math and physics classes. I took engineering-related classes that set a strong foundation for me.”

That foundation presented opportunities through a college admission program available through the orphanage Felix called home. Opportunities that led him to Concordia College, small school in Moorhead, Minnesota where Felix pursued a Bachelor of Applied Science degree, played soccer and ran track. He later transferred to the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering to obtain his mechanical engineering degree.

“Little did I know that my life experiences were not only preparing me for an engineering career, but they were instilling in me the value of diversity and inclusion, which is a big part of the culture at Trane Technologies,” said Felix. “From living with kids from different tribes when I was growing up, to moving to first a small college and later a major university that embraced varying cultures and ideas, my experiences have defined who I am as a person and leader.”

Today, Felix is the New Product Development (NPD) Technical Lead Engineer for Thermo King Americas, a role he assumed in 2021. The role allows Felix to use his strengths of perseverance and focus to align project team and leadership decisions and drive significant business results. He is currently directing the NPD project team of experienced engineers through strategic customer focused engineering solutions and providing technical leadership for a new transport refrigerated domestic rail container (DRC) being launched later this year.

“I’ve worked on similar product launches in the past but not as a Technical Lead,” said Felix. “This project is bigger – in size, scope and speed to market demand. I’ve been involved from project initiation, planning and accelerated engineering execution to meet a challenging development schedule, market needs and internal goals. It’s very satisfying work, and I’m proud of the project team’s collaboration and outside-the-box creativity to make what at times seemed impossible possible. As a result, we will soon be able to deliver an end-product for our customers that will further transform the rail industry.”

Connecting skillset to opportunity

Felix first learned about Thermo King back in 2017. He was immediately attracted to the diverse product lines that aligned with his expertise and experience. He vividly remembers seeing the Precedent® trailer unit on display in the lobby and sharing his ideas on how to reduce thickness of the plastic casing to improve productivity and quality. Ironically, Felix was given that task when he was hired and made an immediate impact by reducing the material by 15%. The project, combined with others Felix has worked on through the years, has contributed to millions of dollars in productivity savings for Thermo King.

Inspired by Legacy

There are many things about our company that inspire Felix, including Frederick McKinley Jones. “His legacy and the uniqueness of Thermo King products that play a very important role in peoples’ lives today is very motivating. I enjoy working on challenging customer-focused solutions with the goal of making reliable high-quality products that meet customer needs. I am amazed at the perseverance and commitment to innovate no matter the challenges – pandemic, supply chain, environmental, and more.

“This is a result of strong leadership, cross-functional collaboration, engineering execution, accountability, ownership, and multiple attempts to finding innovative/creative ways to keep things moving. It’s a culture and a mindset that was instilled by Mr. Jones and continues today as we strive for continued innovation with a strong focus on the future and more sustainable products.”