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William Smith

William Smith

project director, CPB Contractors

Expertise

Construction, Project Management

Location

Australia
Career highlights

Worked on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt

Helped to modernise London Underground

Worked on Hong Kong International Airport

A day in my life

My day as a project director on a mega project is hectic to say the least. Much of my day is spent meeting with my direct reports and our contractors.

I’ll use that time to find out what’s going on across the job, making any adjustments necessary to maintain progress.

I’ll then spend part of the day catching up on emails, analysing stats and reading reports that allow me to make better-informed decisions going forward.

The trick is to leave enough time to get out on the job for a safety walk, (with the client If I can) whilst trying to meet as many of the delivery team as possible. They're the real stars of the show.

The last part is by far the best, but sadly I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like.

The language of a civil engineer is universal, and it’s understood in every corner of the globe.

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

I remember reading an article in the NCE (early 90’s) about the new terminal building in Hong Kong.

The accompanying picture claimed the site was visible from space and would have 20,000 people working on it.

My mind was made up, I just had to get there and get myself involved.

Coincidentally the project director at the time was Doug Oakervee (now Sir) who then became president of the ICE in 2003.

The best decision I ever made bar none!

Tunnel boring machine (TBM) for West Gate Tunnel in Melbourne, Australia.
Tunnel boring machine (TBM) for West Gate Tunnel in Melbourne, Australia.

I would recommend a career in civil engineering because …

I can’t think of a profession with more variety. No two projects are ever alike, and no two days are ever the same.

Not to mention the opportunity to travel the world and build some incredible infrastructure.

The language of a civil engineer is universal, and it’s understood in every corner of the globe.

What’s the biggest/most complex thing you’ve made out of Lego? How long did it take you?

I once got halfway through the Millennium Falcon.

It’s still in a box in the garage somewhere, probably buried under dozens of other boxes full of notebooks from previous projects.

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also…

Serious about the environment.

What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?

Knowing that I’m making people’s lives more liveable every day.

What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?

Initially I thought that civil engineers specialised in a single discipline (be it roads, structures or bridges etc).

However, particularly in the contracting side of the business, there’s far more scope to be a generalist.

I love the idea that I’ll probably never build the same type of project twice in my career.

Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?

The Channel Tunnel.

I was still at school when this project was underway. Building a tunnel under the sea to another country seemed like the most ridiculously ambitious idea I’d ever heard.

I wasn’t even sure at the time if it was even possible. Now, projects on this scale/complexity are relatively common and I’m glad that I’ve been involved in some of them.

Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust.

That you need to be a maths genius to be good at it. You don't.

Any hobbies?

All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.

My distractions are volunteering as the VP of my local rugby club (Moorabbin Rams, Melbourne) and following the F1 season like a super-nerd.

Build a new international airport for Hong Kong that can withstand climate extremes

Hong Kong international airport

Build a new international airport for Hong Kong that can withstand climate extremes

Connect the UK to continental Europe with a very long undersea tunnel

The Channel Tunnel

Connect the UK to continental Europe with a very long undersea tunnel

Crossrail – also known as the Elizabeth line - is a new railway through London. With the capital’s population set to reach 10 million by 2030, it’s designed to improve a public transport system already struggling to cope.

Crossrail - the Elizabeth line

Crossrail – also known as the Elizabeth line - is a new railway through London. With the capital’s population set to reach 10 million by 2030, it’s designed to improve a public transport system already struggling to cope.

William's career path

I started as a trainee site engineer with Balfour Beatty in 1988.

I never missed a day’s work, and I never missed an opportunity to learn something new. I volunteered for everything (even the dull stuff). It took a while but eventually I was rewarded in spades.

When I was a young site engineer, I left the UK to work on the Hong Kong International Airport.

It was there I got an appetite to build the biggest, widest, tallest, longest, most expensive ‘whatever it is’ in the world.

I then went to Egypt to work on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. From there I went back to the UK to upgrade the West Coast Mainline from London to Glasgow.

Then I had a four-year stint in London to modernise the Tube, followed by stints in North America, South America, back to the UK and most recently in Australia. Six continents in all!

Major projects

  • Hong Kong International Airport
  • Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Egypt)
  • West Coast Route Modernisation (UK)
  • Metronet LUL (UK)
  • CALTRANS (USA)
  • Metro de Santiago (Chile)
  • Reading Viaduct (UK)
  • Crossrail (Whitechapel Station) (UK)
  • Caulfield to Dandenong (Australia)
  • West Gate Tunnel (Australia)