Engineering business success: Stuart Fowler, CEO of Norman Disney & Young
CEO of Norman Disney & Young, Stuart Fowler believes the people-first approach to management — “look after your own and look after them well” — is the key to future success.
Consulting engineering firm Norman Disney & Young (NDY) takes its leadership seriously. So much so that throughout its nearly 60 years of existence, it has had only 3 CEOs, all of whom have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to the organisation.
The first was its original founder, David Norman, who started the business in 1959. The consulting mechanical engineer expanded the Sydney-based business into Melbourne and Perth before the dissolution of the original company, after which it swiftly reopened as NDY when David partnered with Allan Disney and Peter Young in 1971.
NDY subsequently grew from a boutique Australian and New Zealand operation into a global leader, embracing new market sectors, geographies, and a global talent pool of 500-plus employees. Almost 60 years later, the firm is still one of Australia’s leading engineering consultancies.
When David retired in 1994, Ian Hopkins was appointed as the new CEO. Joining the business in 1977, Ian went on to serve 38 years with the company. In 1988, some years before Ian would take the helm as CEO, an ambitious student named Stuart Fowler would sign up for the NDY graduate engineer intake program. Stuart’s progression through the NDY ranks has since seen him manage several Australian and New Zealand offices, including a stint as Australian regional director and his recent global role as chief operating officer and member of the NDY Board.
His similar dedication and loyalty to the business are what saw Stuart selected to become the third and current CEO of NDY in 2015 after Ian stood down, following a long period of service and a rigorous succession process from the Board.
“It’s been a fantastic journey, starting at the ground level and working my way up,” says Stuart.
“I like to think of it as having a 27-year job interview.” After an official handover from Ian, Stuart was ready to lead NDY through a period of continuing growth and transformation.
“I love the organisation and derive immense enjoyment out of what we do. I’m really proud and privileged to now be leading the firm after all this time,” he says.
- To enhance the lives of others by engineering outstanding projects, mindful that every project matters.
- To sustain deep and trusting relationships with our clients, through solving their problems and serving them with utmost reliability.
- To engage our people with meaningful, rewarding and inspiring opportunities.
People are first and foremost
In a competitive global property sector, NDY has emerged as one of the few leading private engineering consultancies that represents the key pillars of sustainable design, advanced technologies and diversity.
But while its lattice network of experts, sectors and geographies has been achieving amazing feats of engineering, Stuart’s enthusiasm seems most deeply planted in the care and development of NDY’s people — the 1 key constant of an otherwise future-looking machine.
“At the end of the day, even though we are heavily tech-influenced, we are still a people business. Putting our own people first is absolutely fundamental to the way that we conduct ourselves, because without good people, we don’t have a business,” says Stuart. “It’s a simple but vital concept, making sure you look after your own and look after them well. We have always believed in doing the right thing by our own people first and foremost.”
Perhaps it’s this steadfast appreciation of what it takes to nurture talent that is behind the company’s ability to retain its people from graduation to senior leadership. Without knowing it, Stuart could be setting the career path for his own successor 20 years down the track.
“The professional development of our people is an important focus. We’re putting the right programs in place to ensure that learning and development is ongoing throughout their career, and not necessarily just the subject matter they work in directly, but more broadly,” says Stuart. These programs contain a heavy focus on technology and the implementation of key systems to streamline operations.
For instance, human capital management software PeopleStreme ensures its people have access to up-to-date personal performance analytics and career development information. With easy access to broad digital tools and supporting platforms, staff members are better able to meet client needs, deliver on project specifications, and advance their careers.
“We want to develop inspired and connected leaders throughout the business, and continue to deliver on our employee promises,” says Stuart. As early technology adopters, NDY’s digital capabilities have grown exponentially since installing its first computer system in 1981, followed by the first computer-aided design (CAD) software 6 years later.
NDY is now a leader in advanced automation and building information modelling (BIM) systems. “We are investing considerable time and resources into understanding digital trends and the way in which these technologies produce improved client outcomes,” says Stuart.
Given NDY’s emphasis on providing clients with specialised expert consulting across all its operational fields, the firm also partnered with NexSys IT for customised technology services based on the vendor’s expertise across the engineering, architectural and construction sectors. “One of the really interesting things about being involved in a broad matrix organisation like ours is you get such fantastic insight into so many areas of business, industry and society,” says Stuart.
Ndy's 3 planks for business success
Putting people first
Human capital is its greatest asset
Expansion, partnerships and acquisitions
Tailoring services for clients with specific needs
Champions of diversity
With offices spread across 6 different regions — and projects across commercial, residential, public, health, industrial, transport and sport sectors — there’s a very broad spectrum of project opportunities that NDY engineers and designers are involved in at any one time.
“We have a fantastically diverse and interesting workplace,” says Stuart. “And for all those sectors and geographies, we employ subject-matter experts that lead our involvement in them. Their knowledge is shared throughout the group, allowing us to better collaborate, share information and experiences.” Putting people first also means championing diversity initiatives, and NDY is proactive when it comes to inclusivity. The company is involved in initiatives to encourage a wide range of people with various backgrounds to get involved in the business as well as the engineering profession generally.
“Inclusiveness is something I feel very strongly about. The engineering profession needs to improve its gender diversity, so addressing this issue and doing the right thing is something NDY actively champions,” says Stuart. “The change needs to start pre-employment, pre-graduation, even pre-university. That’s why we’re actively engaged with programs that work with secondary schools to improve the diversity of our talent pipelines and properly address those opportunities at an early stage.”
The company has also made great strides at an industry level with its recent list of hires and promotions featuring numerous prominent women. In 2013, former CEO Ian Hopkins also joined a cohort of other engineering leaders in signing the charter of the Consult Australia Male Champions of Change group, demonstrating NDY’s commitment in actively advancing equality across its businesses.
This commitment exists in all regions the company operates in, which now extends across Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the UAE, South East Asia, and just last year, Canada. Looking ahead, expansion prospects could include some acquisitions across the Asia–Pacific.
“It’s pleasing to see the business grow its geographical footprint and embrace projects beyond our borders, working with global clients. We get to be involved in projects that have a positive impact on people’s lives, our cities and our communities.”
It’s this passion for positively contributing to the built environment that led the firm to establish the NDY Charitable Trust. “In the 5 years since our Charitable Trust was established, we have made a meaningful difference to communities in Zimbabwe, Guatemala, Vietnam, Solomon Islands, Ecuador, Tanzania and other global hotspots through financial aid and staff volunteering,” adds Stuart. “This is an incredibly meaningful part of it for us.”
With almost 3 decades at NDY, Stuart says the excitement and meaning has never eased for him, and he feels a huge affection for his profession and the organisation that helped it to bloom.
“It’s an exciting time to be a consulting engineer: I love the work that we do, and I have enjoyed my time as an engineer in the property and infrastructure sector. It’s great to be part of a business that is constantly growing and evolving and delivering great projects that, ultimately, make a meaningful difference.”
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