Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Our OB this month is Australia-based Jeff Cheema, whose inspiring career history includes delivering around $1B of infranstructure across Australia, ranging from telecoms, to oil and gass, iron ore mines, roads and buildings. We were delighted to catch up with him at last year's OB Sydney dinner in December, and hear more about his life down under. 

When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?
I joined the Junior School in 1978 and progressed into Ryle House at the College in 1984 until 1989.
In hindsight I realise I didn’t know what I actually wanted to follow as a career path. I thought I wanted to go into commerce and work in the City because it was ‘what I was supposed to do’. After I left the college I opted for a year off prior to university and stumbled into a job at a structural engineering firm through a family connection. It was then that I realised I loved everything about civil and structural engineering. I cancelled the Commerce degree I was enrolled into and reapplied for Civil Engineering at University of Nottingham.

What do you do now, and what does your job involve?
I live in Sydney Australia, far away from Brexit and have been here since 2002. I have progressed on from project managing civil projects and now assist with the running of a national civil contracting business. We are a family Australian owned business called Georgiou and I have an operational role in the New South Wales business. My job involves contributing to business strategy, peer reviewing tenders, presenting tenders to clients including government, recruiting project based staff for our rapidly expanding portfolio of projects and I have accountability for the performance of our project managers. I visit our sites regularly and mentor our engineers.

What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?
As a civil engineer I have delivered around $1B of infrastructure across Australia ranging from telecoms to oil & gas, iron ore mines, roads and building. It’s just so satisfying when you drive past a project you were involved with to know you have left a legacy for the community that created jobs and provided an essential piece of infrastructure for future generations.
People are the most challenging, and at times rewarding, part of my job; driving a positive and diverse culture in the workplace is always challenging in what historically was a very male dominated industry. When you create a diverse high performing team there’s no better feeling.

What are you most proud of so far?
I should pick a project but honestly the best thing I have ever done and will ever do is marry my wife Tanya and raise our two children Ryan 12 and Bridie who is 9.

What is your fondest memory of school?
I think it would have to be the Ryle House annual Punt-a-q Oliver Smyth organised. They were up at Barcombe. I can’t say any more but safe to say Oli Smyth is a legend as we say in Australia.

Who was your favourite teacher and why?
Oli Smyth – he was my housemaster at Ryle and got me through my Maths A level. He was really hard on me and held me to account pushing me outside my comfort zone. He made Ryle House a brilliant inclusive house where it didn’t matter if you were in the 1st XV or not. Second would be Chris Hatcher our Latin teacher. The list could go on – the College attracts some of the best teachers one could wish for.

What was the best piece of advice you were given whilst at Brighton?
Show respect when you are being pulled up for poor behaviour and grow from it – I learnt this from Sgt. Major Chris O'Connell and I it stays with me today.

What advice you give to your 18 year old self?
I’m lucky I fell into the career that was right for me. It could have been very different - my 18 year old self should have looked beyond the present and made a 5 year plan. I should have tried harder to work out what my strengths were and match them to a range of careers. Sometimes parents will push you towards a career that’s not suited to you; make sure it’s you that controls your life journey. I now always have a 5 year vision.

Is there a book, song or film that changed your life?
When We Were Kings is a documentary about the build up to Muhammad Ali’s fight with George Forman. It shows you what shear self-belief and unwavering determination can achieve in the face of what his detractors said was certain defeat. Learning about people like Ali taught me that without self-belief and integrity you’ll never get to the top.

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