From Helicopter Design Engineer to Infrastructure Asset Management Consultant
John van Rooyen – John served in the South African Air Force for 11 years, mostly in Directorate Arms Acquisition, where he was a member of the Technical Evaluation Team for the $5 billion Strategic Defence Package to modernise the defence equipment of the South African National Defense Force. John now works with EY consulting on major infrastructure projects.
‘I spent my last six months leading the operational test and evaluation of the maritime helicopter between the South African Air Force and the South African Navy. I joined the Air Force on the Engineering Graduate Scheme. That meant that I completed my Bachelor’s Degree during my time in service. My time in the Air Force has taught me the ability to deal with complex systems and different (and difficult!) personality types. The Officer Forming and Leadership Training was immensely useful and it still influence the way I conduct myself today. My transition from managing operational Air Force Squadrons to leading large teams to complete complex infrastructure design and construction programmes was relatively easy.
‘After leaving the Air Force I joined Network Rail in the Infrastructure Investment division which delivers some of the most iconic rail investment programmes; including Kings Cross and St Pancras, Reading Station, Birmingham New Street and many others. My role was the Senior Development Manager on the Crossrail Programme where I managed the development of £280 million of safety critical signalling systems.
‘I moved to join EY’s growing Infrastructure Sector where I work as a Management Consultant advising Infrastructure Asset Management Clients in the development and implementation of business strategies to increase their profits whilst reducing operational, financial, reputational and other risks. I lead large technology and business transformation programmes and have a particular interest in how digital technologies can be used to collaborate and drive efficiencies in the construction sector.
John found that the skills and qualifications gained during his time in the military were invaluable in the transfer to civilian work.
‘As a Management Consultant I work with the senior leadership of high profile firms to help them develop and deliver programmes that will drive benefits to their bottom line. I still have to deal with complicated technologies, situations and personalities. I use my experience and advice and help solve client problems.
‘The move to the build environment from the military is relatively easy; there is a clear hierarchy and clear leadership. People in the sector are passionate and loyal, and they believe that what they do contributes to making everyone’s live better.
‘When I joined the Crossrail Programme my Programme Director was an ex-Brigadier General and my project Director and ex-Colonel from the British Army. Our joined military experience meant that we managed the programme in a similar way as we would a military operation.
The teams that I managed, on hearing about my military background, had an appreciation and respect for the experience that I brought to the role. When I left the military that also seemed to be the time when large construction programmes were always delivered behind schedule and over budget. The construction sector was looking for people with military leadership skills to provide a step change within the sector. I believe that is still the case.
‘Leadership and management are key military skills as is ability to solve problems and sometimes think unconventionally or out-of-the box, plus staying calm and keeping a cool headed under pressure. The ability to look after your team and to ensure that they are coping well during what can be very stressful periods of time is immensely valuable too.
‘I’d advise anyone moving from the military and looking at a career in the construction industry to go for it. It’s rewarding, challenging and there is a lot of camaraderie.’