AURECON’S DR. EDUARD VORSTER

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What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with the position you hold in the company?

I am very grateful to Aurecon to have allowed me to realise and unleash my full potential within this dynamic company.  I am privileged to serve in different roles.  I lead the foundation design for the iconic super-tall building, the Dubai Creek Tower.  In my role as Client Director (Resources) I can play a role in harnessing the effectiveness of multi-discipline teams working in the Petrochemical, Mining and Manufacturing industries. This team contributes to several very significant multi-disciplinary projects where we are able to assist our clients in ensuring they have sustainable businesses.  Sustainability in this context means that we can provide a lasting and positive impact to the communities in which these projects occur, the environment they impact and we also ensure financial sustainability for our clients.  How rewarding is that! I am very privileged.

What would you like to have achieved by the time you leave the company?

I am proudly South African and would love to have made a lasting difference in my field of expertise, Geotechnical Engineering.  I would love to have done that by brining my South African expertise to iconic international projects.  I aim to create a cohort of alumni mentees that are empowered to move us forward for the greater good of South Africa and the broader sustainable business context.

How would you describe your management and leadership styles?

In terms of leadership, I lead from the front.  It is very important for me to show passion for where we should be going.  I believe in working for the greater good of all of us, as opposed to just fulfilling individual dreams.  In doing so, we are able to create something lasting and very fulfilling.  I enjoy leading us in a collective vision.  If I believe it, you can believe; if you can believe it, others will too and we can make a difference. I strive to ensure our workplace allowed for the opinions of all team members to be heard.  There is nothing worse than not being able to take on-board the inputs of a diverse team.

From a managerial point of view, I enjoy empowering individuals to bring their best to the management of our business.  I demand action and I am very demanding on those elements of managing our business that we absolutely need to nail to ensure that the business runs smoothly. I enjoy diversity of team.  That is to say, age doesn’t matter, race doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter; but, to be on the team a team member must believe where we are going or challenge ideas openly so that we could take opinions on-board and improve. Diversity is strength!

 

What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?

I take full ownership of my life and my work.  It is a passion. I love making a difference to people around me and I love the notion that in our work, we contribute to making our communities and the environment we live in, sustainable, by helping our clients to have sustainable businesses.

I lay awake at night dreaming of the next lasting impact we could make.  I worry about the happiness of my team and that they feel fulfilled in their jobs.  If that doesn’t exist we are unable to make a lasting difference. I think about keeping the conveyor of deep talent fed for our business.  Talent is so important.  Honed with deep skill it makes for a fundamental building block of a successful and difficult-to-copy business.

How do you take part in mentoring others?

I love being hands-on involved.  Mentoring is what one makes of it.  It takes both the mentor and the mentee to be engaged and wanting to develop the mentoring relationship.  I currently have three mentees across different parts of the firm. Apart from the three formalised mentorships, I also mentor on a project-by-project basis and as part of leading my senior team.  Mentoring for me really works when I also get something out of it.  I find that often my mentees teach me as much as I hope they gain from interacting with me.

 

If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?

I have had many highs in my career. My career had been truly blessed and I have been privileged to be able to have many opportunities to excel.  Some examples of the highs are:

  • When I started out working as a young geotechnical engineer I had the privilege to work with Kallie Strydom, one of the great geotechnical engineers of South Africa. Kallie taught me humility and that people make a business.  He was one of my greatest mentors.
  • Under Kallie’s leadership, I got involved in some excellent projects around the Mohali Dam, designing some of the construction platforms for the TBM for the Mohali Transfer Tunnel in beautiful Lesotho.
  • Under his leadership I also became involved in several schools’ projects. These projects were small in capital, but so large in appreciation from the local communities that they served.   I was touched by the way communities rolled up their sleeves to help me do my work in the field.  It is an experience that will stay with me forever.  I really felt we were making a difference to their lives.  That is why I became an engineer, after all; to make a difference to society.
  • In 2002 I got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study at the University of Cambridge, sponsored by the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI). CMI had the objective to incubate entrepreneurship and bring research projects to prototyping and ultimately businesses.  What an experience to work with experts from Cambridge and MIT on a project that considered the very real issue of the effect of tunnelling on pipes.  This project arose out of some significant issues encountered during the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, that was underway at the time.  I was able to produce an award-winning PhD thesis.  The work on cutting edge fibre-optic sensing technologies set me up for the next part of my career.  The interaction with international students and experts created a network and friendships that last to this day.
  • In 2006 I was offered the opportunity to start a geotechnical group in the then Africon (now Aurecon). The CEO at the time, Dr Gustav Rohde, saw the promise in me and offered a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to build a new geotechnical group.  I was so excited.  This turned out to be a massive success. Today we have some of the most highly regarded geotechnical engineers and engineering geologists in South Africa and work on some of the most iconic projects in the world, such as the Dubai Creek Tower and some cutting-edge stadia in Doha, Qatar.
  • A career-defining project as a young geotechnical engineer was leading the geotechnical design for work package 5, the dolomite section, for the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link. I was so proud to be involved in this iconic South African project.  We made a real difference, not only in public transport in South Africa, but also in excelling the science of engineering in dolomite in South Africa. Working with world class engineers and engineering geologists such as Isak Venter, Prof SW Jacobsz, Dr Peter Day, Ken Schwartz and Roger Storry shaped the way I thought about problem solving.
  • In 2010 I became involved in the major Nacala Railway Project for Vale. I led a US$11m geotechnical investigation across 950 km of greenfield and brownfield railway line.  This was another career-defining project for me and for my team.  What we learnt in data handling, working across a vast site, safety, working with communities and working in multi-disciplinary and multi-national teams were immense!
  • My love affair with the Middle East started in 2002 with the designing of the foundations for the Madinat Jumeirah development in Dubai. It is still one of the most visited and iconic Arabic themed shopping and hotel complexes in Dubai.  Through 16 years I have been privileged to work on projects from master planning to execution, spanning shopping malls, iconic hotels (e.g. St Regis Hotel, Abu Dhabi), contributing to codes for Abu Dhabi ports (e.g. Gabbro Port Terminal) to tall buildings (the last being the Dubai Creek Harbour Tower). Working in the Middle East taught me so much about working with teams of multi-nationals in a very fast paced environment, where the objective often is to build projects that will create legacy for their countries.  What a privilege to be part of that!
  • I am now leading a very dynamic team of multi-disciplinary people working in the Mining, Petrochemical. Manufacturing and Ground and Underground Engineering spaces in Africa and the Middle East. What a joy and privilege. The team are so talented. Despite challenging market conditions, we find ways to add value to our clients and society through the work we do.  This is a high for me.
  • I am now part of Aurecon’s global leadership team and get to interact with our top leaders in South Africa, our African Offices, Middle East, South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. To be able to take part in such forums is exhilarating.

I am usually a very positive person and looking at lows is not natural for me.  There are however 2 occasions that can be highlighted and that taught me some good lessons:

  • The death of Kallie Strydom in a preventable accident during a geotechnical investigation still haunts me. Kallie was in his prime.  Such a great mentor and friend and one of South Africa’s greatest geotechnical engineers.  This taught me that life is short and one must commit fully to make a difference and to enjoy life. It also taught me that safety is personal.  Take care of yourself.  You are important to others and to yourself.
  • In 2015 I was involved in the retrenchment of part of our team. This was one of the most emotionally challenging times of my career.  It taught me that we must take charge of our own destinies.  Make your own success.  Commit fully to make a difference and hunt down the opportunities.  If one waits for a solution the solution that comes may not be what one needs. Rather be part of sculpting it.

Are there any accolades that you have received recently or your organisation during your leadership?

  • I have published over 29 No. papers, industry articles and opinion pieces, amongst which are four international journal papers and a State-of-the-Art report.
  • I am the SAICE 2014 Engineer of the Year
  • I am a two-time recipient of the JE Jennings Award (2006, 2010)
  • I won the prestigious Prix de Mécanique des Sols JACQUES VERDEYEN awarded on a 4-year rotation for outstanding research in Belgium in 2007
  • I was awarded the Cambridge Turner Prize (2005), Barry van Wyk Award (1998) and the DW de Vos Medal (1997).

Our organisation has recently been awarded one of the top 5 most innovative companies in Australia.

In you view, how has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?

Aurecon has done exceptionally well to position itself in the market as an agile and innovative company that cares about its people and making a difference in the environments we work in.  Being a multi-national company, we are diverse in terms work force and skill sets. We have such strong leaders across our business and it shows in the way we are weathering the economic storms. Our journey remains however one of persistence and fighting complacency and requires us constantly searching for and developing the best talent to take our company into the future.

In your view, through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains high level of ethics and integrity?

We put great emphasis on leadership and our Aurecon principles, which are creating a legacy, being playful with serious intent, believe it, say it do it, making the complex simple, being nimble and mastering one’s craft.  We spend time in nurturing and developing leaders through formal and informal training.  We also subscribe to international best practice regarding Anti Bribery and Corruption.  Each staff member undergoes mandatory training on an annual basis to hone awareness of bribery and corruption.  In combination with leadership development, practicing our Aurecon principles and a strong mentorship programme we maintain high levels of ethics and integrity.

In your view, is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, and if so, how is it attended to?

Transformation is a key imperative in the firm.  We value diverse teams to bring fresh thinking and new ideas to enable us to serve the broader society through the work we do.  We spend our time at every opportunity to attract and select the best diverse individuals (from the perspective of race, gender, culture, thinking and Aurecon attributes) to build teams that would have an unfair advantage over our competition.  Alas, we are not yet complete on our journey.  We are currently a Level 2 B-BBEE contributor in the South African context. We are striving to create more opportunities for female professionals in the work place and developing aboriginal people of Australia, for instance.  By taking a personal interest at individual leadership level (for instance me taking a personal interest to develop and transform teams in my influence, and others doing the same) we are transforming the Aurecon of 2018 to the Aurecon of the future that remains a truly local company in the regions we work.  In South Africa we are proudly South African and hence will reflect South Africa in our future state.

Kindly highlight some recent contributions by you and your firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of.

At Aurecon, we know we are only as strong as our people. And we believe that our business’ future relies on the education and skills of tomorrow’s leaders. We invest in various bursary programmes, to help develop and support passionate, driven and innovative individuals. Aurecon bursaries are awarded to deserving students for studies at various tertiary institutions in fields specifically related to the company’s activities. Students from approved universities which offer programmes that lead to professional careers in engineering are considered, with bursaries available for students studying towards a BSc or BEng in the fields of Civil, Mechanical or Electrical Engineering.

Recently, we launched a rather exciting initiative.  Aurecon partnered with Engineers without Borders South Africa to run a series of workshops at universities across Gauteng, where students were taught to use design led thinking to problem solve but also to bring creative thinking into what and how we impact society through our work.

How do you and your firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?

Aurecon is first and foremost a client-led organisation.  That means that our strategy is to acknowledge clients at the centre of our existence as a company, through our clients we are able to make most of the difference we aspire to make in society.  So, it serves a personal goal for many of us as engineers and shapers of the future.

In this strategy we invest in cultivating deep relationships with only a few clients in the aspiration to get to know them well, and for them to know us well, that we become true partners to each other in the objective of bringing ideas to life. We pride ourselves not merely in winning the work, but delivering it with value.  In that way creating an enjoyable experience where our clients want more of the Aurecon Experience. Our staff are excited and relish the opportunity to weave the Aurecon magic, partnering with our clients we make a difference to wider society. By cultivating this working and client experience we achieve the best out of our staff to deliver the best value to our clients. We feel quite passionate about this.

On the pointier end, because the Aurecon Experience is so important to our strategy, we are clear in our expectation of staff and endeavour to practice being hard on performance, but soft on people.  We don’t tolerate substandard workmanship or bad behaviour that put our future at risk.  We do also take a personal interest in developing our staff to achieve their best and thereby bringing that valued Aurecon Experience to bear.

 

 

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