Jeff-Foley-254x300A creative thinker in a dynamic industry

When he started tertiary studies in chemical engineering at the University of Queensland, Dr Jeff Foley faced a range of possible career pathways. Like many creative thinkers he avoided traditional choices for chemical engineers in the oil and gas industry, and has spent time developing better ways to manage water.

Today Jeff is Western Australia Operations Manager for GHD, a leading operator in global engineering, architecture, environmental consulting, and construction services. Jeff’s career spans more than 15 years in the areas of wastewater treatment, integrated water management, life cycle assessment, and greenhouse gas emissions. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia, and undoubtedly has an eye on the bigger picture.

“What we do actually makes a difference to communities,” Jeff says. “We take for granted that we can fill up a glass of water, and not even think twice about whether it’s safe or not. In the broad sweep of human history, it’s only really in the last hundred years that this has been possible. It’s actually a real luxury.”

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Jeff says he finds empowering his large team the most rewarding part of his work. GHD employs around 8,500 people, with about 500 of those in Perth. “I have line management responsibility for quite a few of those people,” he says. “They’re all professional people grappling with challenges and frustrations. Resolving those issues at the same time as achieving great outcomes for our clients and delivering a profitable project for the business can be a complex task.”

CRCWSC as key to GHD’s core business

According to Jeff, the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) provides a way to stay connected with what matters to GHD’s clients. He certainly finds this link valuable; it assures GHD that the solutions they’re proposing represent leading best practice. “Being involved with the CRCWSC helps to demonstrate to our clients that they’re dealing with a company that’s invested in the industry, that knows what the current trends are, and that has connections to the people who can influence those trends.”

Diversity of participants and projects is the real driver behind the CRCWSC’s success, Jeff believes. As an industry partner with the CRCWSC, GHD has opportunities to work with water utilities and local councils to manage water right through its dynamic cycle, from administering water resources, to supplying customers, and then to treating wastewater. “The CRCWSC includes an enormous number of participants, which is great because it shows how relevant it is to lots of different organisations and sectors. And I think they’re working well to maintain a high level of industry engagement, which is really important to the success of the CRCWSC.”

Water: a powerful tool to transform lives

One of the most challenging aspects of water management is the level of geographic diversity. As Jeff points out, “it’s a real challenge to ensure that solutions we come up with in partnership with the CRCWSC are adaptable to different contexts and different regulatory regimes. That’s pretty tricky, but it’s great to have the leadership of the CRCWSC in grappling with this challenge.”

Now in a leadership role in the industry and in GHD, Jeff remains true to his original vision, and inspired by the work he is doing. “The stuff that we do as a community of practitioners – whether it’s making drinking water, treating sewerage, or dealing with stormwater – those things measurably impact people’s lives, keeping them safe, keeping them healthy. If you think about those three things together they’ve probably saved the lives of billions of people across the last 150 years. It’s really quite an amazing profession to work in.”

Averil Bones for the Mind Your Way team