ANZAC reflections: Defence in our DNA
24 April 2020 | 6 min read
With social distancing, ANZAC Day 2020 will be like no other. This year, we acknowledge those from the RPS community that began their careers in the Australian Defence Force.
Here, we share the story of Michael Thompson, a Project Director in our Brisbane Project Management team, who began his career studying civil engineering at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and later joined RPS specialising in the delivery of Defence projects from the other side of the fence.
You’ve worked in project management with RPS for more than eight years, but before this you were an engineering officer in the Royal Australian Engineers. What attracted you to a career in the Australian Army?
"Since early high school, I set my path on becoming an engineer. My father was also an engineer, so I had a good understanding of what it entailed, and I enjoyed maths and physics. During school, I was also a cadet and a scout, and loved being part of a team and drawn to organisations focussed on serving and helping others.
"When the time came to leave school, studying engineering with ADFA in Canberra was a natural fit. Out of all the armed forces, I was particularly attracted to the Army as the role of an engineering officer in the Royal Australian Engineers was so diverse. Army engineers do everything from supporting elements on the battlefield to move and fight, through to providing essential services to sustain a force or constructing infrastructure in Australia or overseas.
"While in the Army, I was deployed twice to Afghanistan from 2008-2009 and then from 2010-2011 – a total of 16 months overseas. During the first deployment, I managed a team of army engineers, trades supervisors and interpreters, to design, manage and supervise local Afghan contractors constructing projects of local need to assist in the reconstruction.
"The projects were Australian funded and consisted of schools, hospitals, bridges, government buildings and local community facilities. For a young engineer, this was an amazing and thoroughly rewarding experience that you would not get anywhere else except in Defence.
"I was also deployed to Indonesia in 2009 as part of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) disaster assistance to Padang, Sumatra after a major earthquake. Providing building assessments, inspecting damaged areas, and providing recommendations on the assistance that would be needed to restore their country, was an experience I will never forget."
Why did you decide to leave the Army and why RPS?
"During my time in the Australian Army, I set myself goals of what I wanted to achieve. I was fortunate that during my twelve years, I not only fulfilled these goals but exceeded them in many ways. I wanted to stay in a hands-on project role and unfortunately, the next step in my Army career would have taken me further away from engineering. I left the Army in 2012 and shortly after joined what is now known as RPS.
"What some people may not know about RPS is that our Australian Project Management business was established by two ex-Army engineering officers, who had a passion for Defence and built a business to deliver specialist client-side project management services.
"Because of these origins, the culture centred on personal leadership, teamwork, good communication, valuing people and seeking to develop and support them. Other organisations that I interviewed with at the time of leaving Defence could not see past my engineering degree and didn’t understand the transferrable nature of the Defence skills I had. But Point Project Management, later to become RPS, not only understood my skillset, but was looking for it.
"Today I’m a Project Director and team leader at RPS, leading the delivery of the Northern Territory Training Areas and Ranges upgrade project, working alongside the Defence Capital Facilities and Infrastructure Branch.
"I’m pleased to say that the culture that attracted me to join RPS still exists today. Many of the team from those early days are still in the business and we have continued to recruit from the ex-services pool. We strive to maintain our culture and bring everyone new into the group."
What do you love about working on Defence projects?
"I am extremely proud of my time in the Australian Army. And I love that the job I do today allows me to stay involved, feel connected and contribute to projects that are part of a bigger picture. It really is more than just a job to me.
"Working on the other side of the fence means I have a deeper understanding of Defence as a client, what they want from a project and how they function. A key differentiator for RPS is our project leadership ethos to delivering project management – and we take this very seriously. I enjoy mentoring our junior project managers to help them better understand the intricacies of how Defence works and how we can best deliver for them."
ANZAC Day in isolation – how will you mark this occasion?
"ANZAC Day is a time to reflect on those I served with, those who didn’t come back and those who are suffering as a result of their service. But it’s more than that. It’s also about all the wives, husbands and children who supported their loved ones and shouldered all the burdens at home while they were away.
"I have two small sons and I continue to teach them about the importance of ANZAC Day and remembering those who have served their country.
"In 2018, I was fortunate to walk the Kokoda Trail, Papua New Guinea as part of a fundraiser for Soldier On, which RPS very generously supported me in. Spending ANZAC Day that year on Brigade Hill was an incredibly moving experience, particularly the local porters and villagers singing en-masse as dawn broke. It certainly put our Australian singing of the national anthem to shame.
"This year will certainly be different; however, our family will mark the day with a ‘driveway at dawn’ service with other neighbours on our street."
About Soldier On
Soldier On’s mission is to work side-by-side with those who serve and protect Australia to secure their futures. Soldier On teams work with individuals and their families to strengthen resilience and develop meaningful connections with family members, mates and the local community through health and wellbeing services, employment opportunities, learning and education programs and participation in community, social and sporting activities.
RPS has taken the Soldier On Pledge to provide greater access to job opportunities for veterans. Learn more about Soldier On’s mission and work at www.soldieron.org.au
Founded in 1970, RPS, A Tetra Tech Company (RPS) is a leading global professional services firm of 5,000 consultants and service providers. Operating in 125 countries, working across six continents we define, design and manage projects that create shared value to a complex, urbanising and resource-scarce world.
RPS delivers a broad range of services in six sectors: property, energy, transport, water, defence and government services and resources. Services provided across RPS' six sectors cover twelve service clusters: project and program management, design and development, water services, environment, advisory and management consulting, exploration and development, planning and approvals, health, safety and risk, oceans and coastal, laboratories, training and communications, creative and digital services.
RPS stands out for its clients by using its deep expertise to solve problems that matter, making them easy to understand. Making complex easy.
For further information, please visit www.rpsgroup.com.