General Authority relates engineering project management procedures to real life problems

Elder Peter F. Meurs, General Authority Seventy, spoke to students about his engineering background and his work with Fortescue in Northwestern Australia. Meurs shared important lessons he learned while working on several multi-billion-dollar projects with Fortescue and told students how they can apply those lessons to their own lives.

Fortescue Metals Group was formed in 2003 by Andrew Forrest. He had the idea that China needed iron ore and that Australia had it. The company started production in 2008. Forrest formed the company based on the values of safety, frugality, integrity, generating ideas, determination, enthusiasm, empowerment, and family. The value that stood out to Meurs most was the family.

“He (Forrest) wanted all the employees at Fortescue to see themselves as a family, and have the same kind of relationships that are honest and tough, but also helpful to each other as family members,” Meurs said.

Meurs was working with WorleyParsons and did a project with Fortescue. Forrest then invited Meurs to join the company and run a huge expansion project. He joined after negotiating total freedom to run the project how he wanted to. Coming from an engineering background, this project gave him an opportunity to take the things he learned and try new things he’d always wanted to try.

Meurs went on to talk about how Fortescue was able to complete one of the multi-billion dollar projects 6 months early and for $9.2 billion, surprising both the market and competitors. He told students six things that differentiate Fortescue from other companies, all principles they could use in their own lives.

  1. Start with Ambitious Stretch Targets
    • Stretch targets are ones that people may think are impossible or at the edge of belief.  The idea is starting with the target and working backwards to solve it.
  2. Get the whole company to focus on targets
    • “The idea here is this project was the most important thing for Fortescue,” Meurs said. Everyone working on the project knew how much work and money was being put into the project, so they knew they had to get things done. The project was finished in record time because of this.
  3. Create unique supplier engagement
    • Fortescue only met with the best suppliers and shared the vision of the project. Instead of meeting with project managers and telling them exactly what was expected, they met with CEOs and chairmen. They asked how their companies would do the project and instead of telling them exactly what Fortescue wanted and needed. They also asked for specifications, commercial terms, and how they were going to deliver and meet project requirements. "We need to change our thinking,” Meurs said. “Let’s engage and get the help of those that we work with in industry, get their input, and then we can talk together and get a much better solution."
  4. Find solutions when things go wrong
    • “Expect some things will go wrong,” Meurs said. He gave a couple examples of when things went wrong in his work, both with WorleyParsons and Fortescue, and talked about how they found solutions. He said to not look back, but focus all energy on solving the problem. Don’t accept any excuse for failure and use innovation and flexibility to achieve a result. One big ideal Fortescue used was to focus all its attention on solving the problem instead of finding people to blame.
  5. Facilitate contractor success
    • Fortescue chose about one hundred second-tier contractors for the project for their special skills, which resulted in many different contracting methods. They were concerned more about the contractor being successful than making the project successful, which lead to incredible contractor performance.This project was the biggest and most important project many of them had worked on, so it was a top priority for them, making the project a success for Fortescue.
  6. Use the all in the family approach
    • “This is where you get every single person involved in the project engaged and understanding what the big picture is,” Meurs said. He said there was no using “us” or “them.” It was about creating a strong focus on milestones, having consistent, unified communication to all levels, and sharing an “all in the team” attitude. This made it so everyone was responsible for himself or herself and everyone knew the end goal.

He ended the lecture by saying these six principles, not the same applications, can be used in many aspects of life because not everyone will be working on a multi-billion dollar, iron ore project.  

“This is about getting everyone involved in an activity engaged and contributing to it,” he said. “It’s not accepting failure, saying when things go wrong we’re going to find a solution, and things like understanding that when we’re working with people, we can help them to be successful. That applies to interpersonal relationships as well as contract relationships.”

He also added that good results don’t come from fighting, they come from working together because every single person is important and can contribute.

After the lecture, Meurs stayed and answered multiple students’ questions. When asked about his goals as a college student and how he ended up where he is today, Meurs brought it all back to the gospel.

“I found that throughout my career, the differentiator is the gospel,” he said. “Sometimes we think that when we go out into the world we have to be different. The things that make you most powerful are the things that you learn in your family, in church, and from prophets and apostles because those principles apply everywhere and I think you can see them in this project.”

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