Engineering The World: How Design Firm SMEC Is Redefining Exceptional

The Snowy Mountains Engineering Company (SMEC) was established 70 years ago when construction commenced on Australia’s iconic Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. The name has since become synonymous with engineering excellence through the delivery of global projects which have cultivated SMEC’s reputation for technical expertise, design leadership, and innovative solutions.

SMEC’s CEO, Hari Poologasundram, who is also CEO International of parent company Surbana Jurong, firmly believes that the SMEC brand has been built on the tenacity, drive and skills of the company’s specialists.

“We’re able to draw on our deep expertise and extensive project portfolio to deliver practical, advanced solutions to a high standard of technical excellence.”

Spearheading Socio-Economical Initiatives

SMEC stands apart through its historically diverse, globally connected workforce of more than 5,500 employees operating out of more than 40 countries with strong local relationships. SMEC’s footprint in the South and Central Asian region alone spans more than ten countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“In India, we are continuing to deliver projects that add value to the socioeconomic context of the country,” says Mr Poologasundram.

“This year our presence in the water resources sector has expanded leaps and bounds and has been critical to help bring drinking water to large parts of India.

“We are currently part of an initiative to design water systems to serve over 30 million people across rural India in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

“We have also established a multi-national team, working remotely from all parts of the world to provide Chennai with a long-term water resilience plan through a 400MLD desalination project, the largest in South Asia.”

In addition, SMEC’s strong pedigree in underground structures and tunnelling have supported remarkable transformation in the region.

SMEC’s design involvement in major highway projects such as the Atal Tunnel and Zoji La Tunnel in India, as well as Salang Corridor in Afghanistan, support strategic transport corridors and economic growth

Resilience Through A Global Pandemic

Amidst the slowdown of the private sector as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, SMEC has managed to confidently stay on course in a competitive market.

Mr Poologasundram agrees that the recent changes presented SMEC with significant challenges, but the company’s core work on publicly funded projects has proved sustainable.

“A focus on national development received early support from many nations’ governments, allowing us to continue essential infrastructure projects in a COVID-safe manner.”  

He adds that ensuring SMEC’s employees can continue working safely is an ongoing challenge.

“The ability to continue to serve our clients whilst also ensuring the health and wellbeing of our people is our priority.

“We are managing this through frequent discussions with our clients and employees. There is no one-size fits all approach, and we deal with each of our corporate offices or project sites in a unique manner to ensure we always have the appropriate information to make informed decisions and protect our employees whilst delivering critical infrastructure.”

Mr Poologasundram adds that the global pandemic has brought lasting changes, and that the way SMEC conducts its business practices in the future will be different.

“For example, we’ve learnt that it’s not essential to house all employees full-time in offices to deliver our services.

“There will be lot more flexibility for our teams and the work environment will predominantly be used for workshops, brain storming sessions and for holding key meetings that are more productive in an office environment. Much of the work undertaken on an individual basis will be done remotely.

“We are also preparing for new opportunities in data centres, logistics and distribution, city regeneration and building refurbishments.”

Talent & Technology – SMEC’s Formula For Success

SMEC is recognised as one of the world’s foremost engineering consultants in urban, infrastructure and managed services industries. The organisation combines strong leadership with the necessary geographical and market diversity to power through many localised market downturns.

Mr Poologasundram says that SMEC is known for providing expertise via the best people who possess the required high-end technical expertise.

“We are constantly looking to stay ahead of the technological curve and are committed to the adoption of the latest technology including digital engineering.

“I am proud of the long-term partnerships we have built with our clients who see us as their trusted technical partner and consultant.”

Another important element is providing employees with diverse and interesting project experience to develop their professional skills and the ability to participate in high profile projects globally.

“At SMEC, diversity is in our DNA, with employees who hail from many different countries and backgrounds. We are focused on continuing to build greater gender diversity in our business.”

A Values Led Culture

SMEC’s core values represent what the company stands for and articulate standards for its employees, operations and service delivery. Integrity has been embedded as a collective responsibility and SMEC is committed to supporting honesty, transparency and accountability through the organisational culture, systems and operational environment.

Mr Poologasundram emphasises the importance of all employees acting responsibly and conducting business with the highest ethical standards.

“This is demonstrated through our commitment to professionalism, integrity, purpose and partnerships.

“We value our global and diverse talent by creating a safe, inclusive and supportive environment where our people can thrive.

“The SMEC team always aim to act in the best interests of our clients and deliver innovative solutions with high standards of excellence. We work hard to build trusted and enduring relationships with clients, partners and colleagues to achieve win-win outcomes.”

Thinking Locally, Acting Globally

In addition to infrastructure projects, SMEC’s global teams actively contribute to the communities they live and operate in, often supported by their local leadership teams and through the SMEC Foundation.

“Something I really value in our people is their passion for making meaningful impacts on our communities and the environment” Mr Poologasundram said.

Established in 2001, the SMEC Foundation is a core part of SMEC’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program and supports community development and sustainable poverty reduction. Locally based SMEC teams actively collaborate with selected charity partners to implement the initiatives funded by the Foundation. The Foundation supports a range of projects, with a particular focus on health, education, environment, community development and emergency relief.

 “We’re privileged to have the opportunity to positively impact the individuals and communities we work with through our SMEC Foundation,” says Mr Poologasundram.

Designing For Future Success

SMEC has an exciting future ahead.

The demonstrable innovation, tenacity, drive and technical expertise of its teams and specialists are unparalleled when it comes to delivering design solutions for their clients.

Another strength is SMEC’s decentralised business model. Mr Poologasundram explains that this is effective because the company can operate through locally based offices and teams with access to significant global experience.

“This has been our mantra and we have made it easy to reach out and connect our clients with the best resources available across the world.

“Bringing in international experts while developing local market expertise, we have built a model of growth and sustainability for our business over the years while gaining trust and assurance, especially with public sector clients.

“Our business model is very simple: We invest in our people and support them to acquire global expertise to provide world-class services to our clients around the world.”

Sustainability is a key focus for the organisation. SMEC provides a broad range of environmental and sustainability solutions that are tailored to location, local market conditions and industry dynamics. Mr Poologasundram says the organisation is continually realising opportunities to incorporate resilience and sustainability principles into their projects, for example by increasing the use of recycled materials in temporary and permanent works, and minimising carbon emissions in design and construction methodology.

“Where possible we are taking a broader view of sustainability in our business and ensuring that principles cascade through all stages of the project lifecycle,” he explains. “Our focus on sustainability is aligned with our parent company Surbana Jurong’s strategic aims in this area. This can range from specific services such as guiding clients’ projects through sustainability ratings schemes, to collaborating more closely with key clients on adopting management plans to minimise or offset impacts from development projects.”

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