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Insights Mastering mid-career change at SNC-Lavalin

Meet William Wachsmann, head of Safety and Assurance for AtkinsRéalis Rail & Transit in Australia. Having trained as a mechanical engineer, a large proportion of William’s 35-year career has been in specialized equipment manufacture for rolling stock and the mining industry. Mid-career he progressed from design and project engineering to general management. We caught up with him to find out more about his career evolution with AtkinsRéalis .

What do you do?

I lead a talented and truly collaborative team of AtkinsRéalis and Atkins consultants. We work in the transport sector with clients who are operators, asset owners, contractors and suppliers. Liaising closely with internal and external clients, I try to understand what they want to achieve through their projects and programs. After that the team gets together to design a service that provides the best possible value and quality to our client. I also oversee the projects we deliver, making sure we meet our client’s expectations. Another exciting part of my role is developing and growing the team.  

When did you join AtkinsRéalis ?

I made the change to consulting in 2009. I knew some of the consultants at Rail & Transit (formerly Interfleet) and they painted a positive picture about their work experience there. I also appealed to me as a great opportunity to learn about many different aspects of the transportation sector. Plus, it provided an opportunity to work on the client side – previously I’d generally been on the supply side. I got in touch with the managing director of Rail & Transit, and he gave me an opportunity. 

What do you love about your job?

We do a lot of work in the capital cities on the eastern seaboard of Australia. These projects are connecting people and making their lives more fulfilling. What we do, safety and assurance, is critical to transport – so I’m pleased I can make a difference by leading a team of professionals who make this work possible.

Tell us about some of your career highlights at AtkinsRéalis .

Two projects have been highlights for me. The first was a project assisting a rolling stock manufacturer in Japan with documentation to export a metro train to Bangkok. Initially I was only providing a small amount of training, but through a lucky encounter this morphed into providing a full suite of documentation for testing and commissioning the new trains.

The task required a wide variety of engineering skills, so the team needed a number of consultants with a wide range of skills to assist. It was rewarding being able to engage with my colleagues, some of whom I had not worked with before, and appreciate their skills and experience, while learning so much myself. Also working with our client from Japan, with different cultural expectations, was interesting, bemusing and satisfying, all at the same time!

The second project was planning and procurement for the Parramatta Light Rail system in Sydney’s western suburbs. We did not necessarily expect to win the engagement in our role as operations and fleet advisor. My first challenge as project manager was to assemble the expertise that we required. Being part of AtkinsRéalis , we were able to tap our global network to bring specialized insight to the project. As work progressed it was a challenge to identify the resources needed to address the activities that were changing as the project evolved.

On both of these projects, seeing the skills and experience of others, and acknowledging their hard work, was a humbling experience for me.

What has driven you through your career?

I’ve always been focused on pushing past client’s expectations. This could mean a using an innovative method or looking at a problem in a way that might not have occurred to our customer. To make it happen it’s been important for me to build a team made up of diverse and complementary skills. At Rail & Transit we can achieve this through training, and opportunities that build our experience on challenging, end to end projects.

How have you grown mid-career at AtkinsRéalis ?

At AtkinsRéalis my skills are being used in new ways that are compatible with what excites me about my work. It took me a while to learn how to work well as a consultant – it’s more than simply providing engineering or strategic advice. One needs to take the point of view of the client and work to understand what they’re trying to achieve. This can be a challenge, and I've learned to be open minded, taking the time to understand the imperative of various project stakeholders. It’s allowed me to grow beyond my previous experience within the manufacturing sector.

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