The John Grill Centre for Project Leadership hosts inaugural roundtable dinner

Guests at the inaugural John Grill Centre Roundtable Dinner

Industry and government leaders at the inaugural John Grill Centre dinner.
From left to right – John Plugge from ExxonMobil, Robert Edwardes from Woodside, John Grill,
the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, and Jeanette Roberts from Kvaerner Oil.


The John Grill Centre hosted its inaugural roundtable dinner on 25 September 2013. The dinner brought together industry and government leaders to discuss the need for executive education in project leadership to support the successful delivery of major projects in Australia. Guests included The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, Leigh Clifford, Chair, Qantas and Bechtel, Ged Kearney, President, ACTU, Catherine Livingstone, Chair, Telstra, and John Mulcahy, Chair, Coffey International and Mirvac, as well as CEOs and 2ICs from overseas and interstate companies.

The centre was established with a $20 million gift from University of Sydney alumnus John Grill, announced in October 2012.  John Grill, the former Chief Executive Officer and current Chairman of WorleyParsons, will chair the centre. He also sits on the board of INSPIRED – the Campaign to support the University of Sydney.

In Australia the value of projects currently underway is more than $408 billion – an all-time record. While projects become ever larger and more complex, the overall track record of delivery shows there is significant room for improvement. Guest speaker Tony Shepherd, President, Business Council of Australia spoke about the importance of the development of a centre of excellence in project leadership to improve the competitive environment in Australia and reduce project costs.

“The creation of the John Grill Centre is vital and timely for Australia and our region,” he said. “The Business Council of Australia supports this initiative and we congratulate the University of Sydney and Mr Grill.”

During the dinner, the Centre unveiled its high-level project leadership executive education program for feedback from industry and government. For current and aspiring project leaders, the program will take advanced project management and technical skills to a higher level, focusing on the four ‘project practice domains’ of value creating planning, execution agility, high performing teams, and stakeholder alignment. The program will also address the core capabilities of leadership practice, design thinking, strategic mindset and collaborative engagement.

Diagram showing core capabilities of Project Leadership

The dinner follows eight months of consultations with industry and government to understand the challenges and requirements for improving project delivery, and to offer a program in executive education to fill the project leadership skills gap. The consultations identified common themes highlighting a need for experiential executive education focused on project leadership.

David Thodey, Chief Executive, Telstra said in discussions that it is in Australia’s national interest to ensure we have a workforce with the expertise, knowledge and skills to deliver the kinds of large-scale projects our country needs.

“The John Grill Centre for Project Leadership – a unique collaboration between industry and the University of Sydney – will ensure our nation has the strategic leaders it requires to compete successfully in the global economy,” said Mr Thodey.

Co-design and co-delivery of the program with industry and government is key to its success. The Centre is establishing a Program Advisory Committee comprised of individuals experienced in major project leadership to guide and support the development of the Centre’s executive education programs.

The executive education courses will be delivered in two week blocks during the year and will include site visits to major project locations. The first course is expected to commence in the third quarter of 2014. A thought leadership forum will also be held in 2014 for senior executives focusing on current thinking, gaps and performance trends facing large-scale projects globally.

See more photos from the event.