The Groundwork

Darren Watt, CEO, Senior Principal Engineer

Darren brings to ATC Williams thirty years of leadership, consulting and engineering experience across mining, waste, water, infrastructure, oil and gas, and manufacturing industries. Engineers Australia twice recognised him as one of Australia’s Top 100 Influential Engineers during his career. We welcome Darren and talk about the exciting plans that await the future of ATC Williams. 


Hi Darren, how is ATC Williams navigating the recent leadership changes?

ATC Williams has a strong culture of technical excellence, and we are unwavering about our technical capability underpinning our client partnerships. Paul Williams and Keith Seddon are founders of that culture, strengthened and supported in recent years by Allan Watson through his organic growth of the company. When Keith stepped off the board in April, we took the time to farewell him and paid tribute to his significant commitment through thick and thin that helped build ATC Williams. Allan now takes on the role of Chair, and we will continue to work together on the company’s future vision.


Mariel Mendoza’s role as head of People and Culture is vital here, and it says a lot about the board’s commitment that they had Mariel in place first before they sought to appoint a new CEO. I’m excited about opportunities to build a collaborative culture and springboard on our company’s depth of knowledge and experience. I feel privileged that I get to continue the legacy of leadership to ATC Williams and guide the current and future generations, who are all here to do great work.


Can you share what’s on your agenda for the next 24 months?

Year one will be focused on building the organisational foundations to support the growing company. Year two will be focused on making the us work interdependently as one ATC Williams, actively sharing our knowledge, strengthening our core disciplines and diversifying our service base. High on the agenda is the ability to grow our geographic footprint, especially overseas. Our goal is to have operating entities in 2-3 strategic countries off the back of our projects and clients. Concurrently, we will be expanding our water and waste management capabilities.

We want to be part of the conversation on how to get more people interested in science and engineering. We are strengthening our relationships with Australian universities such as Monash University, University of Melbourne, James Cook and The University of Queensland.


An area of enormous potential is the value we can add to our clients through data analytics and digitisation of our work products. We possess forty-plus years of history and insights into tailings, water and waste. Our company’s rich history can be leveraged to provide valuable insights to our clients to assist them in making better decisions.


Do you have a perspective on the future role of engineering & science?

Engineers are best when we seek to provide solutions for economic, environmental and social benefits. We are independent experts who need to have a seat alongside national and regional debates and decision making that shape our society. I aspire for engineers and scientists to have strong voices in not just executing a project on behalf of our clients and governments but actively being involved in shaping the economic, environmental and social decision-making frameworks.

Engineering has a front and centre place in today’s social agenda to bring reality and constraint to the conversation. Often too much attention is focused on thinking about sustainability as a black and white debate instead of simply creating an environment that fosters constant and incremental improvement over time.


What do you mean by ‘learning culture’?

As we continue to grow, our growth must be underpinned by a learning culture that encourages sharing of technical knowledge. As we all know, learning involves trying new things, some ideas work, and some don’t. A healthy culture is when we can all constructively challenge each other and produce a better outcome as a team. This culture grows from both a recognition of excellence and a sharing of near misses or observations. What can’t be stifled is the courage to innovate.


What would you say are your proudest career moments?

Do I have to choose just one? I’ve been involved in a legacy of projects that have added value to society, including tailings dams for copper and gold mines, community infrastructure projects, and revitalising old industrial land for community use. The opportunity to develop a global strategy for a nine-thousand person company was certainly a career milestone. However, my proudest moments come from small cumulative actions each time I play a part in someone else’s success. Knowing I’ve been part of a team’s broader success is very important to me.

I’m also proud of contributing to the careers of others such as sponsoring visas for engineers who are now vice-presidents and CEOs. I know the opportunities I received in the past have shaped me into who I am today, so it is fulfilling to impact others and see that ripple out into the world.

Tell us one thing not many people know about you?

My wife, Carrie and I have been making gin for a few years and perfecting our vintage with very small bottlings. I can’t escape being a chemical engineer at heart! I also bring the discipline of process engineering to my leadership style, focusing on cause and effect relationships in how I choose to implement management initiatives. I think that’s why I love organisational development and leadership because there is an engineering rigour to leadership that I enjoy.


You can follow Darren on Linkedin here

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