Chief Technical Officer at Naval Group Australia, Gerard Autret has over 30 years’ experience as a naval architect and engineer. During his extensive career he has worked in France, the USA and now Australia.
Tell us a bit about what you are responsible for at Naval Group:
My current role is Chief Technical Officer at Naval Group Australia (formally DCNS Australia). My job involves the management of the Future Submarine technical activity and establishing an Australian Design Authority. Prior to coming to Australia, I was the Lead Naval Architect for Naval Group in France, tasked with designing Australia’s Future Submarines.
What was your very first job, and what was the best experience you took away from it?
After completing Engineering School, I joined Naval Group in 1986 where I was responsible for the maintenance of propulsion and ancillary systems for the French Surface warships in Brest, France. Those five years working with my customer, the French Navy, gave me a lot of insight on their requirements and needs and taught me the value of working as a team.
Tell us about how you got to where you are today:
Over 30 years of my professional career has been shaped and developed by Naval Group and the opportunities the company has provided me with. After completing my first assignment for Naval Group in Brest, I moved to their design office in Paris where I worked as a naval architect to help design surface ships including Destroyer, amphibious assault ship and helicopter carrier vessels.
From there, I moved to the USA as an exchange engineer with the US Navy to work in the Naval Surface Warfare Centre Carderock Division. On returning home to France in 1996, I work as the Naval Architect of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and as a Wholeship Architect on numerous projects including the definition phase of the Mistral class LHD. I then moved to the submarine architecture department where I was the naval architect for the definition phase of the BARRACUDA SSN – the next generation submarine for the French Navy.
I continued to develop and expand my career accepting the job as the Head of Safety with a focus on nuclear studies.
In September 2014, I started my latest exciting venture as the Wholeship Architect of the SEA1000 program which has seen me relocate to Adelaide with my family.
What are three things that you think have contributed to your success so far?
I believe the most important ones are:
- Honesty – it is of utmost importance that people can trust you, for both the good news and the bad news. People can make mistakes; but they must understand that they need to report it as soon as possible, and that they will not be punished for these mistakes.
- Team spirit – either sustaining naval ships or designing them is a team effort. All the skills needed to design such a complex system cannot be mastered by one person, so you must work with a team. You should build that team spirit and give your team the data they need to understand the constraints and goals.
- Pedigree – working for a company which has a lot of experience in the naval technical fields. You can be very good but if you do not have the experience, data and feedback from previous projects, it is much more difficult.
What are the most critical problems faced by people in your field? How do you think these problems should be handled?
The most critical problems that I have seen are related to people to people relationships, i.e. the problems related to people working closely in a team. Technical problems are not always easy to solve (some of them do not also have a solution) but they are easy to define, and for engineers they can even be fun, which is not the case when it comes to managing human relationships. This is where I believe honesty and trust are crucial in a working environment.
What is most rewarding about your job; what makes it all worthwhile?
Growing up in Brittany, France, I was surrounded by naval architecture. To now be a part of that industry and lead the design of Australia’s future submarines is a thrilling experience. It is very rewarding to collaborate with other naval architects to design one of the most innovative and complex pieces of technology in the world.
The most rewarding experience is when one of the ships you have worked on goes to sea for the first time, it really is a thrilling experience.
What would be one piece of advice you could offer someone looking to take a similar career path?
Technical skills are needed as they form the basis of your career. Without these, it isn’t possible to go further. You also need:
- curiosity – because without it you will never be able to try new things and go further;
- honesty – you need to be able to trust your team, and if you manage a team, it is imperative that they trust you; and
- team spirit – there will be a lot of problems, so you need an effective and committed team in order to solve them.