Alumni Profile - Dr James Glastonbury

Dr James GlastonburyPhD Civil Engineering 2002
Engineering Director Laing O’Rourke
Member CVEN Industry Advisory Committee

When James Glastonbury joined the multi-national privately owned engineering firm Laing O’Rourke in early 2013, he knew it wasn’t a typical engineering career move. Rather, he realised it could be considered an engineer’s dream role.

James is a director with the Engineering Excellence Group at Laing O’Rourke, a global team of technical specialists and innovators that seek smarter ways to do things, to challenge traditional practice. He sits in between the ‘blue sky thinkers’ and project teams and brings them together so that the innovations and thoughts can be manifested in real situations.

“The challenge for us in the current economic climate is that infrastructure owners are spending less money on constructing new assets and seeking more from existing assets,” said James. “We offer opportunities that help clients better understand and optimise their assets without increasing their capital spend.” This in turn helps clients plan the design of new assets to be more efficient, saving time and money in the long run.

James relishes the conversations he has with clients about how new ideas and technologies could be integrated into projects to provide greater efficiency. He focuses on innovative engineering solutions that can provide smarter, faster, cheaper and safer delivery, increased quality and improved performance.

Laing O’Rourke was recently listed in the top 10 of the BRW Most Innovative Companies, in part due to some of the ground-breaking work happening within their Engineering Excellence Group. They recently worked on a project to optimise the power supply at remote project sites – which is unreliable at the best of times. They were able to develop a hybrid solar-diesel power system that has had significant operational, commercial and environmental benefits – a massive improvement.

“Laing O’Rourke is an exciting organisation to be part of – there is an inherent appetite to explore and invest in new ideas,” he says. Sometimes the technologies he uses come from completely unrelated industries or are unproven in the construction sector, so the challenge lies in having clients prepared to “go on the journey”, to find a better way.

So where did he begin? James comes from a long line of engineers and, after studying a combined undergraduate degree in civil engineering and geology, it was the Thredbo Landslide in 1997 which led to a PhD in geotechnical engineering at UNSW and really focused his career. He looked at slope behaviour prior to a landslide, and developed slope risk management tools that have been used by various agencies for better managing landslide risk, igniting a passion for innovation which has remained to this day.

James believes that stepping into his role at Laing O’Rourke was like having a second career, and one which he hopes to continue indefinitely. “I love what I do – it’s both exciting and challenging at the same time.”