Maureen Thurston

Aurecon looks set for a Deloitte-style overhaul after new chief executive Giam Swiegers announced high-level appointments to prepare for headwinds facing the sector.

Mr Swiegers, who hails from Deloitte, where he is credited with a successful makeover of the accountancy firm, has identified disruption in technology, finance and business from a fast-changing macro environment as part of the challenges ahead.

His new hires include Andrew Muller as new chief financial officer (previously CFO of Lendlease Construction & Infrastructure Australia); Deloitte principal, design leverage Maureen Thurston as global design to innovate director; Michael Shirley, previously with Jacobs and Sinclair Knight Merz, as client relations and business development; and Dr Andrew Maher, previously at Arup as chief digital officer.

Mr Swiegers said on Tuesday that there were big challenges facing the engineering sector and that it was “essential that companies ready themselves for future that is, as yet, unwritten”.

As with all races, the winners will be those with the foresight to anticipate the full spectrum of changes disruptive technology may bring about, and see this disruption as a chance to innovate.

“For Aurecon, that means finding new ways to transform our clients’ businesses and help them become more competitive through innovation,” he said.

“The engineering and infrastructure industry faces huge change and challenges over the next few years.”

Among these were major disruptions in technology and financial and business change.

“Innovation is grounded on deep technical expertise, but it’s not enough to invest in being ‘smart’ – we need to foster creativity, challenge the ‘status quo’, explore and experiment to envision what’s possible. We will achieve this by creating a culture of ‘design thinkers’ at Aurecon.”

He said the company was “privileged to welcome Maureen”, who was also previously at Deloitte and whose background is as an industrial designer, educator, entrepreneur and author.

Ms Thurston was a “globally recognised leading design thinker” and her role would be pivotal to create a “future-ready” Aurecon.

At Deloitte she implemented design practices to help transform the Australian accounting firm from a traditional professional services organisation to a “bold innovator,” he said.

“Giam has given me a mandate to liberate creativity and cultivate change throughout Aurecon,” Ms Thurston said. “I’m leveraging design thinking as a capability to capture and convey new value. The character of our thinking is our competitive currency.”

Mr Swiegers said that on the financial side Mr Muller was well-skilled to deal with the coming business environment, especially in “driving business transformation, mergers and acquisitions, including post acquisition integration, and complex project execution”.

Current Aurecon CFO Tony McCusker has stepped down from the role but will continue working with the company on a part-time basis.

“Given the pace of disruption, companies need to ready themselves for a future that is not yet written,” Mr Swiegers told media.

Business pressures in recent times have come from rapid consolidation on a global scale. In Australia, the dimming mining boom has also impacted workflows, though sources say east coast demand has picked up some of the slack. Even so there has been a swag of cuts to the industry, including, it is understood, 300 staff cut from Aurecon last year, 180 in Australia; 45 cuts to Hyder, now part of Arcadis; and 300 from Cardno.

According to an article in The AFR Mr Swiegers said the plan was to “rewrite the rule book” on how Aurecon engages with clients. While “engineers lagged the accountants in their recognition and response to technological disruption and globalisation, they are closing the gap faster, and will quickly overtake the number-crunchers”, he said.

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  1. Phantom got it right. I would just add: how about not burdening the price with overheads of the likes of new hires. When have the engineering companies become research institutes? No problem in introducing clever solutions into projects, but they have to be the response to the brief rather than converting projects into trialling ground

  2. How about producing documentation and specifications that are coordinated and somehow reflect what is to be built. This is a new way of thinking granted. However it will work well with your clients and end users.