My engineering life Q&A: Joe Walsh
21 October 2019
Joe Walsh, centre, with the Beca project team.
He could easily have been a farm manager but his first love is construction and airports; his mentors include Michael Corless and Sir John Egan, while he admires the Shawshank Redemption’s Andy Dufresne; he’s excited about digital engineering and the progress to 7D; and his two Irish Water Spaniels and Aussie Rules keeps him grounded.
Joe Walsh, chair of Engineers Ireland’s Australia/NZ Region, is director of aviation at Hatch for the Australia-Asia and Africa, Europe, and Middle East regions.
He leads the development and expansion of Hatch’s aviation practice, building on past Hatch aviation projects in Australia and South Africa.
With 28 years’ experience in the aviation sector, Walsh has worked for airport clients and consultants, most recently as project director airports and airports market lead at Beca. He is a former managing director of Galway airport.
His roles ranged from operational airport management to project, design, and construction management of major airfield infrastructure projects across the globe, including the UK and Ireland, Hong Kong, and Australia.
He holds a BE in civil engineering from NUI Galway and is a fellow, CEng, FIEI with Engineers Ireland. He is also a fellow, chartered professional engineer, and engineering executive of Engineers Australia.
1) When did you first become interested in engineering?
Growing up in a home with a retail (grocery) and farming (dairy) business, my parents had us involved from an early stage dealing with customers and working on the farm.
With a keen interest in maths, accountancy and an outdoor life, civil engineering – and specifically construction-related activities – seemed to tick all the right boxes.
NUI Galway also had an excellent reputation for civil engineering and it was on my doorstep – home being Portumna in east Galway. My brother had also completed construction management in Galway RTC (now the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology), so looking over his shoulder had an influence also.
2) Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?
I met my first mentor during a summer break working as a site engineer on a ground works project in the Isle of Dogs, London. Barry Smiley, the resident engineer for the project, gave me great encouragement in what I was doing and also provided me with a vision of what I wanted to become as a professional civil engineer.
On finishing university, I joined the BAA graduate programme (formerly the British Airports Authority). It had seven UK airports within its group: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Southampton, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Prestwick.
John Cairns was my supervisor during my civil engineering placement. Our paths have continued to cross over the past 28 years in several countries and I would consider John as being my most influential mentor in the aviation sector.
In my time at Galway airport, our then chairman, Michael Corless, a retired partner with Ernst & Young, was hugely influential and gave a huge amount of time and energy to the business. His approach and focus was on the development of business management and stakeholder engagement skills.
Today my managing director, David Moran, who has spent his career in the contracting environment and is now leading the growth and development of the Hatch infrastructure business in Australasia, is my newest mentor. It is very important for our continuing development as engineers to have mentors and, also, to act as one to the next generation.
3) Your engineer hero?
Bruce Benjamin who was the construction manager for the airfield works contract at the new Hong Kong airport. He was an inspirational leader with major multinational projects experience. Sadly, he passed away before his time.
4) An engineer you wish was better known?
All engineers who have ended up leading significant businesses outside of the field of their original degree. I would specifically mention Sir John Egan, former chairman of BAA, and a key player in the development of the New Engineering Contract (NEC).
5) Your idea of project heaven?
A project that has a clearly defined scope, realistic design programme and a collaborative delivery model which is reflected in the contract form and on the ground among the different players and their respective culture and behaviour.
6) And project hell?
Poorly defined scope, inexperienced contractor and adversarial approach to delivery on the ground.
7) What are your favourite engineering feats?
Hong Kong International Airport in Chek Lap Kok. My choice is heavily influenced by my involvement in this project.
Also, the Heathrow Express link because it has created a new underground rail link into one of the busiest airports in the world crossing under existing London Underground routes, and for its use of the New Austrian Tunnelling Method (NATM).
In terms of current projects, I would mention the Metro Tunnel in Melbourne, which will be transformational for the city.
8) What is/are the most important trend/s in engineering right now?
Digital engineering and the progression to 7D (whole of life cycle approach to project delivery driving digital models to the next level).
Resourcing and encouraging the next generation – especially at secondary level – to take up engineering subjects. As engineers and industry there is an obligation on all of us to enhance the role of the engineer in society.
With the evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will remove a lot of the more mundane/repetitious tasks, our industry has to evolve to create the next generation engineer who enjoys the challenges posed and drives change with technological advancements. Climate change issues across the globe will require engineers to come up with the solutions.
9) If you could, is there any one measure you would introduce to help improve the gender balance within the profession?
Engage with children in primary schools and have very clear role models for both boys and girls to emulate. Industry is taking more focused action on flexible working initiatives and I believe with an enhanced work/life balance that comes through this approach, careers in engineering will become more attractive and improve the gender ratio.
10) What book is on your bedside table?
Atomic Habits by James Clear. It drew my attention while reading the author’s blog. It focuses on the formulation of good habits and the concept of the ‘one percenters’ – taking little steps and making small changes when it comes to habits can have a significant impact on your life.
The concept of ‘habit stacking’ where you build on existing good habits using them as a trigger for new habit formation. The importance of the environmental setting when establishing new habits to be successful was also enlightening.
11) What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?
Decide on your pathway as early as possible – be it a technical or management orientated role – and link it to key experience. Seek out your mentors to better understand decisions and, ultimately, to inform your choice.
12) What is your favourite film?
The Shawshank Redemption. I’ve watched it many times and still enjoy it. I admire the determination and focus of the lead character, Andy Dufresne, and his desire to help others despite his own challenging circumstances. Willpower and determination trumps all.
13) If you weren’t an engineer, what might you have become?
Having spent my formative years working on our family farm and having developed a strong work ethic from my parents, a role in the agricultural sector would certainly have been a serious option. It would probably have involved managing a large-scale agricultural operation – crops or dairy.
14) What is a typical day for you?
I get up at 4.50am to take the dog for her morning walk, then head to the gym (twice a week) for a 30-minute strengthening session (one-on-one).
If I have calls to North America then I try to co-ordinate these for 5am or 6am to catch the teams in the latter half of their day in Vancouver or Toronto.
Later, I will drive or take the train to our main office in Melbourne, spend the day with the infrastructure team and carry out general management activities, project delivery and business development.
The end of day can then involve calls to South Africa to catch the team at the start of their day. Being in Australia we have the ability to operate in all three regions in the day.
Hatch put a huge focus on flexible working and I’m actively co-ordinating working from home to engage with our teams across the various areas to drive the growth and development of our aviation business.
15) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
In a presentation to the group chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, Geoff Muirhead, who was also a civil engineer, as director of planning and development at Bournemouth airport I had a number of points to cover. The broader team were pushing to move on with the meeting but I persisted in covering the points. At the end of the meeting, Geoff noted to me on leaving the room that, “if you have something to say then say it”, and closed the remark by saying “well done”. This comment/moment has stuck with me ever since. For me, it’s all about adding value and encouraging engagement and contribution from the entire team.
16) What do you do to relax?
Life outside of work evolves around our two Irish Water Spaniels. They are a fantastic and engaging breed and hold a very special place in our hearts in Australia. My original dog, Tory, made the trip to Australia with us and was a huge part of getting established so far from home.
From a sporting perspective, rugby is a passion and I now proudly follow Ireland and Australia. Australian football is slowly taking its place in my sporting diary – it’s an incredible game.https://www.engineersjournal.ie/2019/10/21/my-engineering-life-qa-joe-walsh/https://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/a1a-1.jpghttps://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/a1a-1-300x300.jpgCivilAustralia,construction,NUI Galway