AURECON’S DR. TONY IGBOAMALU

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AURECON is a global engineering, design and advisory company. Aurecon’s advisory service offerings can be applied across all program and project life cycle phases. From planning and shaping, to designing and building, through to operating and closing, or transitioning.

Aurecon combines deep technical design capability with advisory expertise to deliver technically led advisory services that empower clients to make well-informed capital decisions.

SAprofessionals.com spoke to Water and Waste-Water Engineer at Aurecon Dr. Tony Igboamalu about his personal and professional journey thus far.

Tell us about your early life, your training, professional development to your role today

As a child growing up in Nigeria. I always wanted to be a doctor. I had eye problems and those visits inspired my love for the medical profession and the work done by doctors.  Years later though, I made the change when I was convinced by my brother that engineers could also make a huge difference in society. I went to engineering school. I qualified for a Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering from Anambra State University in Uli, Nigeria. To further my studies, I looked at South Africa as my brother who funded my studies was based in South Africa. I was admitted at the University of Pretoria to do a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Applied Science in Chemical Engineering: Water Utilisation. I completed this with distinction in 2011. I worked for Golder Associates for three months in the mining space. I joined Ovivo Water as site engineer in Botswana and later worked at Medupi Power Station for three years. I obtained a Master of Engineering in Chemical Engineering: Water Utilisation, also with distinction, in 2014. I joined Aurecon in 2016.

I registered as a Professional Chemical Engineer in 2018 and completed my PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Pretoria in 2019. My keen interest in sustainable development has been evident in my work on projects as well as in research. My PhD thesis topic was inspired by the need to develop clean-up technologies for chromium-arsenic contamination at mining waste sites in South Africa and other African countries.

What inspired you to join the industry?

When I did my honours degree at the University of Pretoria, I was introduced to a course on water utilisation. I began to make the link between the saving of lives in medicine, which was my first love, to the saving of lives with the utilization of clean water. I fell in love with biotechnology. I began to understand the importance of water in saving lives; I firmly believe that Water is Life. .

People in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone are dying of typhoid. Typhoid is a serious infectious disease that causes fever, red spots on the chest and severe pains in the bowels, and sometimes death. A medical doctor friend of mine died of typhoid and everyone around him was amazed. I then discovered that typhoid was as a result of inadequate water sanitation and hygiene of which drinking water source is contaminated with our sewage systems. We have normalized the existence of typhoid, which is unfortunate and I refuse to accept that as normal.

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

It has been an honour to serve. In the first year at Aurecon, my role was to help municipalities upgrade their wastewater treatment plants. I was charged with effectively managing the construction, commissioning and assessment aspects of these projects, as well as training of over 40 operational staff in more than 30 wastewater treatment works. I was involved in finding solutions during the Day Zero scare in Cape Town.

I was employed as a technical advisor to EWART to lead the intervention of Vaal River remediation plan implemented by the Government of South Africa.

I was technical process design Engineer on a project; the bulk water supply of the Polokwane Local Municipality and I was involved with the design of the 18ML Sandriver North  and 10 ML/d Sheshego  water treatment plants to meet South African National Standards 241:2015 drinking water limit from preliminary to detail design. I contributed significantly to civil, mechanical, electrical, control and instrumentation design.

In addition to the above-mentioned projects, I am currently consulting with the Angolan Government to develop a private partnership model that will assist them in making wastewater treatment plants an attractive business investment for investors. I have also assisted a number of mining and industrial clients with integrated water management, reuse and security solutions.

What does the role mean to you?

The role means serving the people of Africa. I continuously work to improve the image of the industry through my active involvement in communities, mentoring and events that serve as a platform for me to share my knowledge and passion for water infrastructure and supply and its role in alleviating poverty. I call myself an Environmental Advocate; anything that has been designed should have the end user in mind. Communities must feel safe around the infrastructure we design, develop and hand over to them to operate and manage.

What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term?

I want to nurture and coach future ready engineers and learn from the pool of Professional Engineers in Aurecon. Technology is fast growing and digitalization will take over engineering in the future. Engineers will have to approach the client, bring the expertise, get the client to buy-in and raise money, and deliver on the project. Those are the future ready engineers we will need to bring ideas to life and I want to make a meaningful contribution to this.

How would you describe your management and leadership style?

As a Christian, my leadership style is that of serving the people, motivating others to succeed. Have a vision, share and convince others about the vision and get their buy-in. I give a fair chance to everybody to have their input heard and acknowledged. Everybody must be given the chance to follow their dreams and grow. I value people in my team, I believe in skills transfer and managing that skill.

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

I am concerned that water is not recognised as a resource that is important in saving lives. I am worried that as a continent, we don’t take the utilization of water seriously. I

How have you taken part in mentoring others?

I believe in continuous learning and development. Yes, Aurecon supports mentoring and I believe it can play a key role in one’s career. I mentor five Master’s students at the University of Pretoria. Through the church I belong to, I was introduced to a “Youth Engagement Forum Initiative” which is aimed at secondary school learners, and we run a STEM skills transfer programme in Diepsloot. I am able to share my love of engineering, research and the positive impact the profession can have on society, with future engineers.

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

The highs would be achieving my PhD, and Master’s Degree with distinction, joining Aurecon in 2016 and my recent commendation in the CESA Young Engineer of the Year. While I didn’t win, it’s humbling to be recognised by your peers. . I take inspiration of this quote Jack Ma, the founder of  Alibaba: “Between 20 – 30 years, join a very good company to learn, 30 – 40 years, make mistakes in life, because you can afford to, 40 – 50 years, don’t make mistakes, and stick to what you do best, 50 -60 years, go and stay with your grandchildren”. So, I guess I am on track in my working career – at the age of 32, I can still make some mistakes.

The lows would be the scarcity of mentors, who really understood your struggle. It’s always better to have people who can walk the journey with you and help you learn from your mistakes. I have learnt from my mistakes on my own and that is painful. I don’t want that to happen to other  younger professionals.

What notable accolades have you and your organisation achieved?

I received a commendation for the CESA Young Engineer of the Year 2019. I was honoured to be invited to the 2019 World Water Day celebrations hosted by Water and Sanitation Minister Gugile Nkwinti. I have won numerous academic awards during my studies, including membership to the University of Pretoria’s Golden Key Society. Aurecon as a global engineering and advisory company has received multiple engineering awards; the most recent being wins in the CESA AoN project excellent awards 2019.

Highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant profession your professionals are part of.

My biggest contribution to the engineering profession is my active involvement in large-scale projects that significantly impact the wellbeing of communities. I am passionate about sustainability and understanding the link between water and poverty alleviation. My work is focused on improving the lives of impoverished communities throughout Africa by being involved in projects that directly affect their access to critical resources.  My work in the water sector and as an environmental researcher is focusing my research portfolio on improving, and developing water and sanitation infrastructure and environmental sustainability to improve communities.   Aurecon also supports numerous community projects.

How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?

One learns a lot from the professionals we work with in terms of ethical conduct, integrity and good governance. We have annual continuous development programmes that keep us up to date with best practices locally and internationally.

What values do you hold dear and why?

Let us make the end users happy. There is no purpose of engineering if the infrastructure cannot be safely used by the end users. Safe, reliable, well designed and maintained infrastructure is what will help communities live better lives and as an engineer that is what drives me to leave a lasting legacy that future generations can use.

Do you think your organisation is a great company to work for? If so, please elaborate in detail what makes it different from others in its field?

Of course, you work with professionals and great mentors who are bringing ideas to life. Aurecon provides the resources for one to succeed and break away from any fears one might have.

When you not at work, what do you get up to including family life?

I have collaborated with the research team at the University of Pretoria‘s Department of Chemical Engineering, Water Utilisation and Environmental Engineering Group and published a book chapter, titled “Biological Intervention and Efficacy of Bioremediation of Toxic Heavy Metals and Radionuclides in Soil and Aquatic Systems” in the Bioremediation of Industrial Wastes for Environmental Safety journal. In the last few years, I spent a lot of time in the laboratory doing research. For now, I am learning to spend quality time with my wife (Dr Chidimma Igboamalu) and two boys.

Where can people follow you online?

People should follow me on LinkedIn as Dr Tony Igboamalu where I actively share my thoughts on water issues. They can also follow the Aurecon website and all the social media platforms to follow the amazing work we do.

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